Michelle Russell is executive director of the Alberta Cannabis Council.
What is the Alberta Cannabis Council and why was it launched?
Russell: The Alberta Cannabis Council is an industry-wide association that works for and on behalf of the Alberta cannabis sector. This includes producers, retailers, processors, post-secondary institutions, really all organizations that touch the cannabis industry.
Our aim is to provide a united voice on behalf of the sector to lobby for change where required, and accelerate the growth of the sector.
What will the council be doing?
Russell: We will be working with all three levels of government to provide feedback and education with respect to growing the sector, helping to reduce the illicit market, and provide public education and safety on responsible cannabis use.
Can you explain the five pillars that will guide the council?
Russell: Our five pillars are:
- Engage – We want all areas of the cannabis sector to be represented with our membership and through this, we will engage regularly with our members. This collaborative effort will help us to tackle channel specific issues, as well as create effective messaging that will benefit all areas of the sector.
- Advocate – We will be working with all three levels of government on key issues affecting the industry, guided by the needs of Alberta-based companies.
- Educate – There is a lot of misinformation out there, and a lot of confusion with consumers. We aim to help educate the public on safe and responsible cannabis use, as well as on the safety of the legal supply and unsafe illicit market.
- Protect – Through this educational effort, we will work with regulators to ensure consumers are educated through the lens of public safety.
- Give back – As the organization grows, we will be identifying areas where the council can give back to the communities that support the sector.
What have been some of the key challenges for this industry since the legalization in October 2018?
Russell: Alberta has led the way with respect to the number of retail locations and more access to consumers – but it hasn’t been without its hiccups.
Obviously, we immediately saw a supply issue, which forced the hand of regulators to place a moratorium on additional retail licences. We’ve seen a lot of hardships as a result of this and many retailers are struggling.
On May 30, AGLC announced it was lifting the moratorium and would be releasing five additional licences per week. This is great news and we’re now going to see even more access, which is great.
We’ve also seen the illicit market continue to flourish online and this creates confusion for consumers who think they’re purchasing a legal product. It’s very confusing and we hope to work with regulators to find solutions that support the goals of the regulated market.
In terms of activity and reach, how is Alberta positioned compared to other provinces?
Russell: Alberta has led the way with the number of retail locations, currently sitting at 112, and we expect another 120 before the end of the year.
Sales numbers lead the way and we’re only getting started. We have some of the largest public and privately held licensed producers in Canada and around the world in our province, and some of the biggest national retailers, so we believe Alberta is in an excellent position to maintain a market leadership position.
We recently saw the federal government make an investment in research and development into cannabis, and that’s happening here at the University of Calgary. We also have many other post-secondary institutions in Alberta researching the possibilities of this plant.
Alberta is an agricultural giant and we were well poised to lead this sector from the beginning. The future is very bright.