Living/Working January 19, 2018

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Shadow of prohibition still looms over cannabis industry

Everything but cannabis at Lift Cannabis Expo convention in Vancouver
Cannabis activist Daron Rutter: “we figured we would pop up a little farmers’ market outside just to see if there was any supply-and-demand forces in action, and apparently there is” | Trevor Jansen

At first glance, the January 13-14 Lift Cannabis Expo convention in Vancouver was like any other industry gathering of insiders and curious onlookers roaming between rows of well-lit showcase booths, weaving through dense crowds in the habit of stopping abruptly to check their phones in the middle of the aisles.

But for a cannabis industry convention, one thing that was noticeably absent was cannabis itself.

With legalization still months away, attendees were instead greeted upon entrance by a table teeming with branded tote bags and a “no smoking and no vaping” sign. Those who wanted to consume had to bring their own and use an outdoor vapour lounge and smoking area, while those who wanted to buy could go outside onto West Cordova, where an impromptu market popped up selling everything  from pre-rolled joints to cannabis candy edibles.

“We figured we would pop up a little farmers’ market outside just to see if there was any supply-and-demand forces in action, and apparently there is,” cannabis activist Daron Rutter told Business in Vancouver. “There’s a huge demand for it, but there was no supply at the convention.”

Rutter was selling $2 sample “dabs” of his own shatter concentrate as he’s done for more than two years, often at the pop-up cannabis market at Robson Square, which was recently singled out by the mayor after a string of negative media coverage.

While Rutter remains, as he says, civilly disobedient in the face of looming legalization and continued criminalization, wary of the large-scale corporatization and commercialization of cannabis, other longtime activists have embraced the coming change.

“Next year when this expo happens, you’ll be able to just go to the weed store outside that’s legal and come in here and maybe sample it,” said Adam Greenblatt, who ran a compassion club in Montreal for years and now works as Canopy Growth’s (TSX:WEED) Quebec brand manager.

“It’s unrealistic to expect there to be no penalties for operating outside of a regulatory system that we have been asking the government for, for decades,” he said. “This is what winning looks like.”

Alongside Greenblatt was Hilary Black, founder of the BC Compassion Club Society, now Canopy’s director of patient education and advocacy.

“I like to think of this as legalization 1.0, and that the work isn’t done, and we have to keep evolving,” she said.

In her role, she spearheads the company’s corporate responsibility initiatives, such as organizing a grant for the creation of physician’s guidelines for cannabis for AIDS patients. As well, she said, with industry growth come increased resources for advocacy that grassroots activists could never match for things such as insurance coverage for medicinal cannabis like any other prescription drug. Black continues to do government relations work for the compassion club, while her past activism remains front of mind in her current role.

“To me it will always be imperative to remember our history and to remember where we came from,” she said.

Dispensary owner and activist Dana Larsen, in an interview outside the convention’s vapour lounge, said the coming legal regime will be far from perfect at first, but he believes incremental change will improve it over time as long as public pressure on policy-makers is maintained.

“I think the proliferation of dispensaries was very instrumental in getting us to where we are now, and even though many politicians are kind of seeing dispensaries as the enemy, or as a bad thing, to me there’s no doubt that the reason we’re moving toward legalization – not the only reason, but one of the very big ones – is because they’ve lost control over prohibition,” he told BIV. “With this massive civil disobedience, not only with head shops and rallies, but dispensaries selling cannabis everywhere and the inability of the police and courts to stop or punish this, I think that’s a big part of why we’re at legalization now.”

While debate rages over the role of large-scale licensed producers versus small “craft growers,” Larsen said he’s bothered that prohibition is still ongoing at the same time the industry is booming.

“I find that part of the discussion is lacking,” he said.

“This is just the beginning of a decades-long process, and we’re getting over the hump when the laws change; it’s going to be easier, hopefully, to make more change in the future. There’s going to be plenty of people who like things the way they are, just like plenty of people like prohibition the way it is on both sides because a lot of growers make a lot of money off prohibition, they don’t want to see it legalized; it’s going to hurt them too.”

Back outside at Rutter’s tent and table dab setup, he laughs about the high-tech machines being showcased at the convention to make extracts like his “that you’re not allowed to buy, use or have on you.”

He said he’ll continue his business and his activism as long as he has something to sell, admitting there’s a way to go before he’ll declare victory.

“We have to push hard to get where we want to be,” he said.

“We’re getting away from that prohibition mindset, I think, finally, and we’re going to start seeing people here in Canada growing lots of cannabis and the free market is going to overgrow the government. I think that the underground, or the black market or whatever you want to call it, the grassroots, the mom-and-pop stores, dispensaries and farmers markets will continue whether or not they continue to be criminalized and shut down and harassed and hurt in the process.”

news@biv.com

@BIVnews

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Infographic: High-tech transports

This infographic provides a look at ships – some still in the concept phase – that aim to make the world’s oceans greener

Infographic by: Futurism. Infographic source: Visual Capitalist

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Don’t just point and shoot

Learn photography at the Shadbolt Centre
Shutterstock

If you’ve been promising yourself that one of these days you’ll get around to figuring out what your camera can do, Burnaby’s Shadbolt Centre for the Arts can help.

The arts centre is hosting a few photography workshops coming up later this winter.

On Saturday, Feb. 24, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., there’s a Beginning Photography workshop, designed for “serious beginners who want to go beyond ‘point and shoot,’” as a course write-up says. You can learn about f-stops, shutter speed, depth of field, focus, white balance and more, with hands-on exercises to reinforce what you’re learning. Bring your camera, manual, batteries and tripod.

On Sunday, Feb. 25, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., there’s an iPhone Photography workshop, which will allow you to discover features such as burst mode, panoramic, video and tools for better composition. You’ll have hands-on shooting to reinforce the lessons.

Then, on Sunday, March 4, it’s Painting with Light Photography, giving students a chance to experiment with time exposures and light sources such as flashlights, camera flashes and other sources of light, with a time to practise shooting in Deer Lake Park. It runs from 4 to 9 p.m.

See www.shadboltcentre.com for more details, or sign up through www.burnaby.ca/webreg.

Burnaby Now

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Digesting the genius of Loblaws’ $25 gift card campaign

Loblaws' gift of $25 to all Canadians is really just part of a smoke-and-mirrors campaign.

In December, Loblaws confessed to running a price-fixing scheme on bread with supplier Weston Bakeries, a sister company.

As of January 8, anyone can go online and register for a $25 gift card, to be redeemed at any Loblaw Cos. Ltd.-owned stores.

While some are saying that gift cards are a good start, others say the amount is not nearly enough to properly compensate consumers for how much more they would have had to pay for bread.

To be clear, what was organized between Loblaws and Weston was never about simply raising retail price points. It was more about gaining greater control over its competitive environment. Loblaws and Weston were dominant enough to be able to influence market behaviour and took advantage of this. This is illegal.

If anything, Loblaws should be compensating its competitors, not Canadians.

Loblaws’ genius was to spin the story in a way that made Canadians feel they were the ones in control, based on their layman’s understanding of how the industry operates. The intricacies of food distribution are foreign to many of us, which seems to have leveraged Loblaws’ strategy in the aftermath of its mea culpa in December.

Price fluctuations affect most sections of a grocery store daily. Prices rise and fall regularly, even for loss leaders – products sold at a loss to attract more customers. And bread, a quintessential staple, is a loss leader. In fact, many bread products are even cheaper than they were in 2013.

Claiming that $25 is not enough for Canadians who felt cheated is based on flawed perceptions, unsubstantiated math and fairy dust. Simply, there is little evidence that the price-fixing scheme affected Canadians financially.

Ever since Loblaws admitted to having broken the law, everyone is talking about the $25 gift certificate. For Loblaws and Weston, that’s a brilliant result.

Few people care how the law was broken. They’re focusing instead on the idea that consumers were simply extorted.

Loblaws has beautifully positioned the gift cards as a distraction, causing the public discourse to shift. Few are asking how a company the size of Loblaws would not have been aware of an illegal scheme it had harboured for 14 long years.

Loblaws’ claim in December that price fixing is an industry-wide problem remains unquestioned. Fascinatingly, it allowed them to partially shift the blame to other retailers.

Loblaws recognized and capitalized on the fact that consumers tend to have short memories, especially during the holidays. The $25 gift cards became the means of atonement for Loblaws’ wrongdoing. But it doesn’t address the deeper issues of how the company changed market conditions and abused its power over its competitors.

Everything else – the ongoing investigation, the accusations, the cartel – is now secondary. The talk is almost exclusively about how we can get our $25.

Few have taken the time to understand what happened, how other food products could be affected by such an approach, and how this might be prevented from happening again. But these remain critical questions.

The $25 gift certificates are largely irrelevant to the company, as they should be to consumers. But Canadians will apply in droves for their gift certificates, and that will drive more business Loblaws’ way. Most will spend more than $25 once in the store.

Loblaws has cleverly fooled the media, consumers, investors – everyone. The company’s stock price is up since it released its gift certificates, and it will be surprising if the company suffers financially from this.

It isn’t right that Canadian consumers’ trust in Loblaws can be bought for a miserable $25. It should take more than that.

But the company has masterfully capitalized on consumers’ inability to fully grasp the essence of oligopolistic powers within the food industry, even though it affects consumers every day.

The idea that $25 could change their lives – even momentarily – is much more within reach. 

Sylvain Charlebois is senior fellow with the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, dean of the faculty of management and a professor in the faculty of agriculture at Dalhousie University, and author of Food Safety, Risk Intelligence and Benchmarking, published by Wiley-Blackwell (2017).

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It’s time to pull the plug on self-regulation in B.C.’s forest industry

B.C. has adopted what respected forest ecologist Herb Hammond says is a “crass, colonial approach to ecosystems and the societies that depend upon them.”

Self-regulation by industry foresters means corporate responsibility is virtually always put ahead of ecological and social responsibility, with unfortunate results to B.C.’s forests.

Self-regulation controls B.C.’s resource industries and has been identified as a major setback as we struggle with declining levels of timber and an increase in climate disruption. Known as “professional reliance,” this model relies on industry consultants, employed by privately owned companies, to determine how resources are managed in our province.

The provincial government is currently reviewing professional reliance to ensure public interest is being protected. Since its adoption 16 years ago, communities have witnessed increased damage to wildlife habitat and watersheds from logging and road building that went ahead with the approval of registered professionals and without consultation by either the public or the government.

Registered professional foresters are expected to follow an ethic that protects the public interest, including ecological factors. The reality is that some are compelled to work in the interest of their profit-focused employers.

Veteran forest ecologists maintain that the industry’s “sustainable” cutting rates are propped up by logging in ecologically sensitive areas such as domestic watersheds and steep slopes. These practices result in boil-water advisories, flood conditions and expensive water treatment options.

For example, Peachland in the Okanagan has almost three kilometres of logging roads for every square kilometre in its watershed. The cumulative effects of these roadways contribute to mudslides, runoff and boil-water advisories, due in part to industrial activities in the watershed. Peachland (population 5,200) is considering borrowing $24 million to finance a water filtration system to mitigate impacts.

In 2011, Laird Creek in the West Kootenays experienced landslides caused by trucks traversing poorly designed logging roads. Citizens had voiced their concerns about the risk of long-term damage to their water system before logging started. Now the tenure has been passed on to another logging company, and people are bracing again for more damage to their water systems and a return to bottled water.

The BC Forest Practices Board has found that for some community watersheds, the “protection provided is inadequate” and that “government needs to commit the necessary resources to move ahead with a more integrated approach to planning in community watersheds, especially where watersheds are at risk, and ensure that recommendations in those plans are fully implemented within a reasonable time frame.”

The recently formed BC Coalition for Forestry Reform (BCCFR) is a citizen-led organization made up of 21 non-profit groups who maintain that professional reliance presents a conflict of interest. The coalition is demanding significant changes to forest regulations, including elimination of professional reliance and the addition of public input into the management of public forests.

The legislation that governs the forestry industry, the Forest and Range Practices Act, needs to change. The written objectives to protect water, habitat, biodiversity and ecosystems apply only to the extent that they do not “unduly reduce the supply of timber from British Columbia’s forests.” This archaic law originated decades ago, when timber companies ruled B.C. This is no longer the case. BC Stats records the gross domestic product value for the forest industry and its related fields at about $7 billion. Real estate, construction, retail, manufacturing and tourism all contribute a higher annual GDP to the province than the timber industry.

The BCCFR is united in support of these changes in forestry practices and legislation: long-term forestry plans, mandatory public consultation, the recognition of non-timber values and a third-party monitoring system.

We’re long past our expiry date for preserving much of Super, Natural British Columbia. As stakeholders in our watersheds, the BC Coalition for Forestry Reform encourages citizens to demand change regarding how and when our publicly owned forests are developed for resource extraction. 

Taryn Skalbania is a co-spokeswoman for the BC Coalition for Forestry Reform and co-chair of the Peachland Watershed Protection Alliance.

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