(Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of Q&As with participants at the upcoming MJBizConINT’L conference, Sept. 4-6 in Toronto.)
As the first country to regulate cannabis at a federal level, Canada has an opportunity to be the leading force in setting standards for other nations to follow, according to former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell.
She said the integrity of businesses, regulators and products are all key to the credibility of the cannabis industry.
Corporate integrity has been front and center in Canada’s marijuana industry ever since one of the leading growers was caught illegally growing cannabis and selling it in Canada, Australia and Denmark.
What happens when the industry or its regulators lose public trust?
If you get people who discredit the integrity of the industry, that really does undermine trust and does make it difficult. It affects everybody. That’s the problem.
The industry itself has to take a very dim view of enterprises that don’t stick to the rules.
It’s really kind of sad when you have a situation where one player undermines the confidence people have that there is a predictable and well-founded set of regulations and norms and standards.
That can be very frustrating for smaller players, too, who may not have the resources to defend themselves in the process.
What lessons can other nations take from Canada being the first large country in regulating marijuana?
In Canada, if we set up a really good process and create something that has integrity, it could at a business level create great acceptability in foreign markets where cannabis is legalized for Canadian products.
Production, forms and labeling would be respected because it would be coming from a country that has a clear regulatory framework, standards and reliable businesses.
That Canada is a leader in this conversation will expand the confidence that other countries will have to change their legislation.
Do you see other countries following Canada’s lead in legalizing recreational cannabis after they see the benefits outweighing the costs?
I’m quite sure that will happen. That’s why how we do it and our experience will be very important. If it’s chaos in Canada, it’s not going to be helpful for other countries.
Being the businesses who’ve been part of the implementation of a successful, well-respected and apparently well-regulated and socially constructive approach to cannabis legalization will make our own businesses welcome investment partners and participants in the industry as it opens up in other countries.
If you can get it right, all sorts of opportunities will open up.
How does this newly regulated cannabis industry lay a foundation for longevity?
If the cannabis industry can be seen as having integrity, and the medical cannabis producers do not overestimate what they’re doing (the capabilities of their medicine), I think that could be a very important guarantor of their longevity.
(If you only focus on) raking in the money, then (mistakes are made), and someday the chickens come home to roost. The next thing you know, you’ve got gazillions of lawsuits and your name is mud and people are taking your name off the building.
You can’t assume that this is a get-rich-quick scheme. The integrity of the industry is the best insurance of longevity.
It’s a unique and remarkable situation to start (an industry) with a clean slate, taking an open and knowledge-based approach to what you’re creating.
Collaboration with the public, industry, institutions (whose job it is to protect the public) and seeing that go really well and collaboratively is the best guarantor for the success of the business and the possibility of Canada—and Canadian businesses—to be the gold standard and to be well respected.
Did legalizing medical cannabis ever come up when you were justice or prime minister?
No. It wasn’t an issue in the early ’90s. I mean, there’s always been a conversation that it should be legalized … but there wasn’t a push legally to do it.
What trends or opportunities stand out to you from the perspective of a former prime minister?
One of the things I think that’s very interesting (is) in the context of the legalization of medical cannabis and its possible analgesic effects is relieving pain.
The need for safe and effective painkillers is front and center in modern medicine. And if medical cannabis can play a role there, I think it could be a godsend.
But, again, it’s very important to understand its effects, to be very clear on dosing and forms of administration and to be as honest as possible about what help it can present.
That will require a lot of integrity and research and not overselling.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Matt Lamers can be reached at [email protected]