The former Surrey city councillor now heads NICHE (National Institute for Cannabis Health and Education) Canada, a non-profit that aims to bridge the cannabis knowledge gap as legalization becomes reality
1. What is NICHE Canada’s role?
The U.S. states that legalized did so through a referendum, so both the pro and con sides spent resources and dollars debating the issue. In Canada, a majority of our population still feel like they haven’t been included in the process of legalization and don’t even understand what it means or how it came about. NICHE’s role is to bridge the pre- and post-legalization communities, but more important, it’s to let the rest of Canada catch up, whether it’s boards of trade, professional associations, women’s groups or parent advisory councils. Because I think there’s a lot of uncertainty out there.
2. Does that understanding vary based on factors like age and location?
Oh, absolutely. I grew up in the era of “This Is Your Brain on Drugs.” I still have those images entrenched in my brain. I know making a fundamental cultural shift in a country requires that people have the right information, and that’s what we’re doing. Opposition has come from parts of B.C. like Richmond, where there are some cultural biases against legalization, particularly within some Asian communities. That’s one of the reasons NICHE is developing a cross-cultural campaign to engage in conversation. Legalization of cannabis is not like the entering of another product into our country, like the whole ride-share debate, for example. It’s not just about the acceptance of something new; it’s actually challenging values in some cultures. The opposition is not only real, but it comes from a place of passion. That’s the other thing NICHE is encouraging: we can’t just shut out the naysayers. We can’t say, “They don’t understand, and that’s too bad.”
3. How do you bridge those gaps?
We engage people in a format that they’re comfortable with. We have taken time to slowly understand the pre-legalization cannabis culture, which is important for us, because now that we’re becoming this bridge, understanding that perspective is really important. So is building credibility with those folks who have been such fabulous advocates and who, I think, have been tarred with some misinformation and some stereotypes. And we’ve been working closely with government. We are publishing a candidates’ guidebook to cannabis legalization for the municipal elections. We’ve been holding meet-and-greets where candidates can start a dialogue with people from the cannabis industry.
4. How will legalization affect B.C.’s business community?
It’s no secret that B.C. is viewed as the cannabis capital of Canada. For the pre-legalization market, I’ve seen numbers like $7 billion in annual economic benefits. All we have to do is look at examples like Colorado, where half a billion dollars in taxes are taken from industry and hundreds of well-paying jobs have been created.
A lot of people who are considering investing in the industry are still looking at the direct services, but that's just a piece of it. Processing and testing will do even better than growing, and people are forgetting about the ancillary businesses, whether it’s transportation, logistics around building the materials for growing operations, and the academic institutions that will have the chance to do credible research, which will be an amazing opportunity for B.C.
5. Do you think cannabis will be politicized before and after October’s municipal elections?
There’s nothing to say that a change in government can’t change the direction being taken. Even at the municipal level, you have a place like Osoyoos saying, “We want nothing to do with government stores.” Look what happened in Ontario–completely different model after the election. So I definitely think it’ll be a pressing issue in the upcoming municipal election. That’s one of the reasons NICHE is in the space, to make sure we get legalization right.