‘It’s all unknown’: Cannabis entrepreneurs attend Toronto conference to learn to navigate changing legal landscape
With just over 60 days to go until cannabis is legalized, Brent Parsons has found himself grappling with an ever-changing playing field.
“It seems like every two weeks there’s a big change,” said Parsons, who co-runs a Toronto-based website about cannabis news and events. “You can’t prepare, because it’s all unknown.”
One day after Premier Doug Ford announced plans to allow private cannabis stores by next spring, Parsons was attending the start of the three-day Marijuana Business Conference and Expo International in downtown Toronto.
More than 2,000 people from 31 countries are expected to attend the event, which is holding workshops on regulations and licensing, investments and science to help attendees learn how to navigate Canada’s soon-to-be-legal cannabis market.
Parsons and his brother run dankr.ca, a website that promotes cannabis events and products in Toronto. Arriving at the conference Tuesday, the brothers wore shirts that said “It’s 4:20 somewhere.”
Parsons said it’s been difficult to see how legalization will play out — and as a small company, they don’t have the financial or legal means that larger corporations may have to respond quickly to a changing landscape.
“To come here and see some of the speakers, who actually have a team of lawyers who have been up all night reading about it, that does definitely help,” he said.
Parsons said he doesn’t think another two months is enough time to sort everything out — such as delivery, regulations and tourism — prior to legalization. “There’s so many question marks that you can’t really set anything in stone and prepare going forward.”
To help manage that uncertainty, Parsons said he and his brother planned to use the conference to network.
“You never know what legal doors will be opened in the future,” he said. “And (we’re) just trying to prepare and not do anything illegal.”
Brad Ungar, founder of the website Save on Cannabis which promotes U.S. marijuana brands by providing coupon codes, said he came to the conference to gain a good understanding of the Canadian industry. “I know the California market very well, but I don’t know the Canada market,” he said.
The monopolized system in Canada means the country is “a whole different player” in the cannabis market, Ungar said.
“So I’m actually curious to see — especially in Ontario where they just started to open up licences for retail — how it gets a little more open. Because it’s a very tight and closed-off world right now.”
Cassandra Farrington, CEO and co-founder of Marijuana Business Daily, which runs the conference, said the Ontario government’s move will create a “significant number” of private business opportunities.
In the wake of the provincial announcement, Farrington said the conference will help attendees “understand what’s happening, who they need to know, what approach they need to take, what steps they need to take to be able to capitalize on that amazing opportunity that Doug Ford just opened up.”
About 125 exhibitors packed the conference’s expo, where businesses could network and be introduced to different technologies and other businesses in the industry.
Convectium, a California-based company, creates equipment, branding and packaging for the cannabis industry. Account manager Lindsay Grace explained the company has created a machine that fills 100 vape cartridges in 30 seconds with oil extracted from marijuana.
“Our goal is to get extracted oil to dispensary countertops in minutes,” Grace said.
Canada’s a huge market, Grace said, that’s going about marijuana legalization “the right way” with regulations. “We’ve been really excited to work with all of the companies in Canada.”