Ahead of Canada legalizing recreational marijuana, excitement was high around the industry about the country emerging as a world cannabis leader. As one of only two countries with legal adult-use weed — Uruguay being the other — Canada has had every advantage to building its lead as a leader in research, business, and more. But for one top investment banker, the Canadian efforts haven’t been enough.
Neil Selfe, the INFOR Financial Group Inc. founder and CEO, told Bloomberg Canada “blew it” with regard to legalization, thanks to severe provincial and marketing regulations placed on the industry, as well as lacking innovative approaches to policy. Whatever cushion Canadians had is already eroding, as U.S.-based firms and businesses have outpaced their Canadian counterparts on the world stage.
“I think we had a real chance to be global leaders,” Selfe told Bloomberg in their Toronto office.
“It’s a real consumer product in big U.S. states where it’s legal, and it isn’t that way yet in Canada despite the fact that we were first,” he added.
So far the only global leader in Canada Selfe would identify is Canopy Growth, as other Canadian pot stocks have not exploded as expected, in part because they were overpriced in the first place. Canopy has created a number of high-profile partnerships with big names like Seth Rogen while also partnering with the NHL to study how cannabis can impact concussion and pain relief amongst it players.
Selfe pointed to two major issues as proof of Canada’s struggles. One is Health Canada’s strict ban on effective cannabis marketing. “Unless authorized under the Cannabis Act, it is prohibited to promote cannabis or a cannabis accessory or any service related to cannabis,” reads the regulation. That includes no building a brand, celebrity endorsements, or “appealing to young persons.”
This is why Selfe says branding “doesn’t exist” for Canadian cannabis companies.
“It’s almost like you’re buying something dirty in brown paper bags,” he said. “It’s like liquor in the ’60s.”
Another is the prickly regulation of CBD. Currently, dried flower and oil CBD products can only be sold in dispensaries. Meanwhile, thanks the hemp regulations among other factors, CBD is everywhere in the United States and can be sold in Walgreens and coffee shops. “It’s a mess,” Selfe says, and unless Canada overhauls its cannabis policies, that probably won’t change anytime soon.