Kelly Coulter

Ethical Consumption, Cannabis, Feminism, and Environmentalism

Category: Political

What is the perfect price for legal weed?

A hypothetical cost analysis for undercutting the black market

*The estimates in this article are open to debate, but they make the point.

Let’s just say that, hypothetically speaking, the current black market in Canada is based on three models of cultivation. The first model is the seasonal outdoor grower, the second is the hobby indoor grower and the third is the commercial indoor grower. Model one harvests every fall and sells his/her crop based on market prices which vary greatly from province to province, in the vicinity of 900-2500 dollars per pound. The second model harvests casually and sells privately and in small amounts ranging from 125-250 an ounce. The third group harvests every 3 weeks to 90 days and sells based on market prices ranging anywhere from $1400 to $3000.

According to a recent article in Lift, the average price of a gram of cannabis in a dispensary is $10, which equates to $4535 per pound. This price is based on a perverted/distorted marketplace and should not be taken into consideration when trying to set acceptable tax structure. Unfortunately, this is what is being done, and it is a critical mistake.

Examining the profit margins

If the average profit margin on 100 pounds of cannabis, based on an annual harvest for models one and two, is 90-250K and 2-10K respectively, cannabis cultivation would appear to remain profitable and worthwhile. For model three, an annual yield can bring in millions of dollars depending on the size of the operation. Model three also happens to be the most expensive cultivation method and the easiest to trace.

The only way the mandate to defund organized crime will be fulfilled is to effectively remove profit incentive. The fact that only 5% of the cannabis trade is affiliated with “organized crime” should make this goal attainable, but this does not mean that the black market is going anywhere at all. In the wild and wacky world of weed, the average cultivator, farmer and consumer are not gun-wielding gangsters, but ordinary folks who either enjoy farming and the additional income or are just growing a bit extra to subsidize their own consumption.

Defunding organized crime

If the federal government really wants to defund organized crime, two things need to happen. The government should do a cost analysis of what it really costs to produce a pound of weed and then tax accordingly at a rate, bringing the final retail price in under, or close to, what would make this commodity so profitable for the “bad guys.” The current large commercial indoor grow-ops that are typically favoured for covert operations are not the most cost-effective method. By adopting and incentivizing more visible, environmentally-friendly and naturally-grown cannabis the government will effectively kill two birds with one stone.

In the future, the price of cannabis will likely become more in line with other agricultural commodities.  If we approach this from a public safety standpoint, and not from a distorted version of what has been the norm for far too long, the potential for success increases. We have to be prepared to think differently—this is likely our greatest challenge moving forward.

International Women’s Day is an opportunity for the Canadian cannabis industry to reflect

In honour of International Women’s Day, the cannabis industry must take a good long look at how it will not only include and support women, but also raise…

In honour of International Women’s Day, the cannabis industry must take a good long look at how it will not only include and support women, but also raise them up. This will require forward thinking folks, and some fierceness on all of our parts.

There are initiatives from within the sector, but also significantly outside of the industry, that women would be well-advised to tap into.  The recent announcement by the Canadian and American federal governments of the creation of a Canada−United States Council for Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders—a joint initiative meant to help businesses owned by women as a way to contribute to economic growth, competitiveness and the integration of the two economies—is a signal of what is to come for all women.

Some of us may feel like we have been here before.  In her recent editorial for Maclean’s, Arlene Dickinson pulls no punches:

“We already know the challenges that women face when starting a business. We know that financial markets are tilted against women, and that, as a rule, women have more difficulty accessing capital from investors and banks alike.

“But we also know that women-owned businesses, on average, perform very well compared to those owned solely by men. And we know that if a company’s board includes a strong contingent of women, it will more likely do better. So, smart companies are now taking steps to seek out and support women entrepreneurs and leaders—not out of pity, but out of self-interest.”

The women of cannabis should embrace such initiatives with optimism, but also be willing to participate with a sense of pride in their duty to pioneer for the generations of women who will come behind them.

The tech sector has in recent years come to face its own shortcomings in diversity.  Uber, the golden child of the sharing economy, is being hit hard by its own much-publicized misogynistic leadership. This is not only bad for the women affected but it is really REALLY bad for business.  There are parallels here for our own sector that we can learn from as men and women who truly want the best for the industry.

Women are at the heart of the cannabis industry as much as men. When Melissa Etheridge spoke at the inaugural Women Grow Leadership Summit, her words garnered the heaps of affirmation that every woman has known for as long as women have been healing with plants. “We are at a paradigm of all of this wellness and it is now time for us to become balanced.” Ms. Etheridge was referring to our relationship with our healing attributes and our relationship with the patriarchy of money and business.  We owe this shift in thought and practise not only to ourselves, but also  to our daughters and grand-daughters and the young women who will come behind us.

Happy International Women’s Day to ALL the women of cannabis, the future is ours, if we take it!

Featured image via Donnie Ray Jones.

Climate change, cannabis and Trudeau

If the commitment to combat climate change is credible and sincere it should also impact the government’s regulations with regards to cannabis cultivation

Originally published in Lift News.

“We can fight climate change without sacrificing growth and prosperity. In fact, our global push toward a low-carbon economy will produce new companies, new growth, and new prosperity.”
— Prime Minister Trudeau.
World Economic Forum 2016, Davos, Switzerland

Earlier this year Prime Minister Trudeau resolved to combat climate change without sacrificing growth in his speech to the Economic World Forum in Davos, Switzerland. This is a marked difference from our previous government’s attitude towards a greener economy, and was welcomed by the environmental community.

If this commitment is credible and sincere it should also impact the government’s regulations with regards to cannabis cultivation. The current practice of indoor cultivation is driven by criminalization, pursuit of security, pest and disease management, and the desire for greater process control and yields. Once criminalization is no longer a relevant issue in Canada, would it not be responsible to pursue cultivation practices that are environmentally friendly as well as potentially environmentally beneficial?

The good news is we can fight climate change without sacrificing growth and prosperity in a very big way with the help of smart cannabis and hemp cultivation practices. It would be incredibly negligent for the Liberal government and the legalization task force not to take the environment into consideration, as the environmental impact of indoor cannabis cultivation is staggering.

Catherine McKenna, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, is aware of these impacts, as are other environmental advocates, politicians and policy makers. The sustainable cannabis movement is picking up energy in the United States and particularly in Northern California where the future of cannabis cultivation is taking on a strong environmental message. This is partially due to self-preservation but also because the cannabis farmers of NorCal are inherently committed to what is best for the planet as well as their own futures. It would be ideal for Canadian cannabis farmers to adopt a similar strategy for the same reasons.

According to a study published in the journal Energy Policy in 2012, the carbon footprint of the indoor cultivation industry in Colorado is consistently compared to the same usage as small cities. It is estimated that the energy consumption for indoor cultivation in the United States is 1% of national electricity use, or $6 billion each year. “One average kilogram of final product is associated with 4600 kg of carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere, or that of 3 million average U.S. cars when aggregated across all national production.” Jonathan Paige Founder of cannabis biotech company Anandia Labs and Adjunct Prof at UBC, believes that “The take-home message is that if legalization leads to an all indoor industry under HPS lights, it is going to be an environmental nightmare.”

The environment is not the first thing we think about when it comes to cannabis, but it should be. As Canada moves toward a regulated adult-use market, the consequences of decisions made by policy makers will impact future generations.

The Prime Minister also went on to say during his speech in Davos that the next industrial revolution will bring about “enormous change.” If the government implements environmentally responsible cannabis cultivation incentives, enormous change might be an understatement. The world is watching.

Cannabis Clickbait

Originally published on Canlio

“We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.”
— Marshall Mcluhan

The Toronto Star recently ran a story about how the government would not allow home grows. The article was based on zero evidence and frankly the headline,“Ottawa might try to prohibit homegrown pot” was, for me, just clickbait based on a sensational, unqualified claim. Comments on social media were alarming and angry but they were directed at the wrong culprit.

Media likes to sell media and will say the strangest things to do so. The culprit was not the government at all, it was the Toronto Star. This is critical for reasons you may not know. The media acts as a purveyor. Its form has changed with the advent and influence of social media and it can now be seen as a gauge of public opinion. Whereas at one point in history people would write letters to the editor, nowadays the online comments section gives a great indication of how the public feels about issues and events.

The comments that came In response to the Toronto Star article made it evident that the majority felt that denying Canadians the right to grow their own cannabis if they chose to was not going to sit well. The reasons included personal rights and freedoms, costs, and anti-government and monopoly sentiments. Those opposed to home cultivation were very much in the minority, citing potential fire hazards and stolen hydro.

Is the government watching this public discourse? possibly. It is more likely that some of the people who advise individual politicians are paying closer attention to the issue, and that is why this interaction is critical. Politicians and their advisors pay even closer attention to public opinion in their own constituencies. They are always campaigning for re-election even when they are already elected. There is no job security in being an elected official, and less so if you adopt positions and policies contrary to those who are capable of firing you. With this in mind it would be helpful in the future when such clickbait generates comments to go directly to the source, such as The Toronto Star.

Social media can be a very effective instrument for change, but more so when it is used to its fullest and most effective potential. Sharing articles is good for getting the information out. If headlines are misleading or sensational or clickbait, post a disclaimer when you share. This will help others and will also steer the conversation in the right direction.

Comments are good, but in most cases you are preaching to the choir. Go to the source of the story and comment on their social media if you want to be heard by the influencers outside of your network. Sharing good information is great and not sharing bad information is also great. Cannabis clickbait is going to be a problem, but it is a problem we can control by not rewarding bad behaviour and instead rewarding only good journalism and reporting. We have a part to play in this and the media will need our help as much as the politicians will, they are listening.

Republished with permission from Canlio.

Representing Cannabis in Mainstream Political Discourse

Originally published on Canlio

I attended my first Liberal Convention in 2011. I had always been a member of the Green Party and had even been asked to run on the Federal ticket, but that all changed with Resolution 117.

Resolution 117 was the ‘legalize and regulate’ policy that a group of young Liberals had drafted and made a priority policy at the Convention. It was about to get real and we felt very strongly that in order for the policy to pass we needed to be there and lobby on behalf of it. We were not mistaken. The policy was a contentious one that, even then, Justin Trudeau did not support. I do not believe Bob Rae, then leader of the Liberals, supported it either.

During the course of two extremely hectic days we handed out literature and spoke with the media about why prohibition should end. There were some extremely heated moments with both those in favour and those opposed to the resolution. The Liberal Party had 34 seats in the House of Commons and this risky policy could be a do or die in some minds.

I remember the morning I left Kingston for Ottawa quite vividly as I was excited about real political movement on this issue but also excited that we were experiencing probably the worst snowstorm I have ever driven through to this day. It was absolutely terrifying on the highways, to the point that we were literally the only car on the 401 heading east. We had passed the plough trucks thinking they would hold us up only to find snow drifts over a foot high — really scary stuff and I can tell you now that the thought of death did cross my mind.

Justin Trudeau in front of a crowd

Thankfully we made it and almost fell to our knees in hysterics after checking into Room 420 (by chance), which we took as a good sign of things to come, though there were not many others there speaking directly to the cannabis issue, and we would have to stay on our toes. Then we met Dan.

Dan is an imposing persona, with a handlebar moustache and a crew cut. He is a cop. We heard whispers about him and made it a point to introduce ourselves as allies. It was awkward at first. Why would a cop be the most vocal supporter of this policy? I clearly recall a discussion between myself, Boris St. Maurice, a well-known activist and dispensary owner, and Dan, in which we were discussing the policy, at which point Boris suggested we would be fine with decriminalization and Dan became quite agitated, to the point he asked Boris what he did for a living… it was sublime and unbelievably surreal.

On this same day we were able to speak with Irwin Cotler who was then the Justice Minister. He expressed many doubts about the policy and told us his son had advised him to vote against it. I handed him our literature and asked him to please take a look and thanked him for all of his considerations on the matter as we had met with him in the past and he was always very receptive to what we had to say. I can tell you now that Irwin has since told me he read what we gave him, called his son and shared our talking points. And not only did Irwin vote in favour of the policy, he had his sons’ full support.

The evening before the vote on Resolution 117 the Young Liberals had their shindig. It was held at posh venue very close to the convention center and we made our way over with only one intention — to remind everyone to make it to the vote which was slated for early in the morning. I personally felt like someone’s nanny, but everyone we spoke to was in good spirits and took our nagging with a good sense of humour as they assured us that they would definitely be there.

“Maybe it was the feeling of change, renewal, rebirth, good energy… I am not quite sure, but that room was huge and packed and on fire.”

The next morning was electric. I have no other word to describe the feeling that was in the room. It wasn’t just about the legalization policy. It was just the whole energy of the Liberal Party. Maybe it was the feeling of change, renewal, rebirth, good energy… I am not quite sure, but that room was huge and packed and on fire. There were microphones set up on either side of the stage from which people could address the podium regarding whichever Resolution was being voted on, and there were many.

As we neared to 117 people began to line up behind the microphones to speak. Those in favour of the Resolution were on the left of the stage and those opposed on the right. There was a longer line on the left but it wasn’t by much and so the fight was on. I noticed that Dan the Cop had made it into the line but looked to be so far behind that it was unlikely he would actually get to speak. There were time constraints which we had been made aware of. I was sitting with some of the authors and members of the Young Liberals who had drafted the policy. After a short huddle I approached the line and politely asked three young gentlemen ahead of Dan if one would mind letting him ahead. We felt quite strongly that Dan’s message would resonate with the delegates. We just knew that Dan was a critical voice that had to be heard. Looking around the room on that Sunday morning it was obvious that the Young Liberal party was a good one and our delegation was comprised mostly of the 40 + crowd. They were going to need some convincing, nothing could be left to chance.

I don’t think I will ever forget my quick conversations with those three young men, but it was the first young man who really got me. He was calm, adamant and emotional. He said “NO WAY,” he also went on to tell me how cannabis had saved his life and that he was not giving up his spot. He was a recovering addict and cannabis had helped him to get off opiates. I completely understood and thanked him. The second young man told me he would not give up his spot as did the third. I thanked them all and returned to the centre of the room to relate the outcome and then watch as the speakers began.

When I spoke earlier of the electricity in the room, I don’t think I would be exaggerating if I said when the speakers began it went to the next level. This was going to be big. It went back and forth between the pros and the cons and it was a combination of anti-prohibition logic and prohibition rhetoric, to start. And then two things happened.

Justin Trudeau and Kelly Coulter

Firstly, the young man who was in recovery made probably the most eloquent and impassioned plea for sanity when it came to plant medicine. I would not doubt he brought on some tears. He was brilliant. Next, behind him was the second young man who was so passionate and alive his words and his enthusiasm were a welcome comedic relief to what was just sinking in to some people and that was that cannabis and the legalization of cannabis was not about getting high or being a pothead. It was about lives and people.

I must have turned away at this point because I clearly recall that the next voice at the mic was the voice I was least expecting and that was the voice of the Cop: the calm, deliberate, persuasive voice of the law, calmly and convincingly telling the room what was wrong with the current system and why it needed to change. It was a watershed moment. The third young man had given up his turn to speak.

The vote passed by over 70%. The room went pretty wild and that is not an exaggeration. It quite literally felt the way I believe it might feel when we actually do end prohibition. The first young man approached me as people were cheering around us and we hugged and we cried for a moment. I will never forget this and I truly hope I can meet him again someday to thank him again for his words and his commitment to his own purpose.

We had the privilege of congratulating Bob Rae later on in the day to which he said, it was really something wasn’t it?

Yes, Bob, it really was something.

Authors Note: Dan remains a true and trusted friend and anti-prohibitionist.

Republished with permission from Canlio.

Avoiding prohibition 2.0

Canada is at risk of creating a “nanny state” model if we over-regulate with marijuana legalization.

Originally published on The Hill Times

VICTORIA, B.C.—When Thomas Mulcair recently asked Justin Trudeau “when the hell was he going to legalize marijuana,” it was almost surreal. For those of us who have been working to end cannabis prohibition for many years these are ‘the days.’ Thankfully Prime Minister Trudeau gave the correct answer that politicians and policy makers need to keep hearing: under prohibition children have easy access to cannabis and prohibition enriches organized crime.

First and foremost, the whole point of ending cannabis prohibition is to stop both of these societal ills. Despite these being ‘the days,’ the point of legalizing cannabis is getting a bit muddied. The number and scope of stakeholders are ever-increasing, which is why it is critical to remain focused on why and how we got here. Just as the end of alcohol prohibition brought about the demise of gangland violence and a more sober approach to alcohol consumption, we all hope for similar results when cannabis becomes a regulated commodity. That being said, we must be extremely cautious of creating just another form of prohibition, or as it’s being referred to in the United States, “prohibition 2.0.”

In the US, anti-cannabis groups and hyper-regulators are calling for legislation which is so extreme and un-American in its approach it is almost certain that if these guidelines were adopted, the black market would indeed continue and thrive as it has done for more than 50 years.

Canada is equally at risk of creating a “nanny state” model if we do not remember the two reasons we are ending cannabis prohibition to start with.

Removing the profit incentive

Public health officials are at the forefront of this issue. Health Minister Jane Philpott announced to the United Nations in April that Canada will legalize cannabis in the spring of 2017. The Health Minister and other health professionals want to regulate a substance that, in its current prohibitive state, is considered potentially harmful to young minds. By regulating it, we remove the majority of the profit incentive for the black market to continue to peddle it to underage consumers. The key is how we regulate it in order to remove the profit incentive and this is where the waters are starting to muddy.

As much as a highly-regulated model sounds good, it is not. Alcohol under prohibition was available at the pharmacy with a medical prescription and was dispensed at said pharmacy. The costs were not the barrier—convenience was. In fact, convenience is currently one of the top three drivers of the black market in states which have already legalized. If we look to the current medical providers, though not necessarily a reflection of what the adult use market will be, there are relevant markers. Licensed medical marijuana producers are currently distributing cannabis through the mail, which is convenient to some but not to others. In Toronto, Vancouver, and Victoria city, regulators are approaching the increased volume of cannabis dispensaries with varying degrees of acceptance. Dispensaries are considered not only convenient but also provide a component which mail order does not: personal experience. Some consumers want that, and some don’t. If Canada is to be successful in stopping the profit incentive of cannabis for black marketeers, it must make access as convenient as possible for all consumers except, of course, underage consumers. If there are cracks in the system, there are those who are ready, willing, and able to fill them and they will not ask for I.D.

Black markets exist in many commodities worldwide. Any commodity which there is a demand for that is prohibited either legally or economically can be sold for profit, and most times, considerable profit. Organized crime gangs are not in the black market business as “non-profits”— it’s all about the money. Once cannabis becomes regulated the illegality of the commodity is removed, which leaves only the economic driver as incentive for any organized criminal activity. If we are to succeed in the mandate of de-funding organized crime, the cost of cannabis must be on par with reasonable production costs, thus removing profit margins. If the costs to the consumer are inflated either by unnecessary regulatory restrictions or excessive taxation the black market will fill the demand for less regulated and un-taxed cannabis as they have been doing for almost fifty years now.

If we are to succeed in not just legalizing cannabis but truly fulfilling the mandate of the Liberal government and the reason we are ending cannabis prohibition we must stay focused on why and how we got here and not get distracted by the supporters of prohibition 2.0.

The good news is the cost of growing cannabis should be quite low; it’s a hearty plant and grows like a weed.


The Ottawa Disconnect

Originally published on Canlio

“Politics has its own language, which is often so complex that it borders on being a code, and the main trick in political journalism is learning how to translate.”
-Hunter S. Thompson

As a writer focused almost solely on cannabis issues in Canada, I am constantly reading what others are writing, partially for research, but also to understand without firsthand experience what is going on in other circles. If I read something that in my opinion is out of left field I usually question the author, but sometimes I don’t because I know that this person is speaking another language and/or has no interest in the truth.

Knowing what motivates messages is key to understanding the message. Most everyone has an MO (modus operandi) method of operation and once you are aware of the MO, it’s easier to filter and translate.

This applies to politicians especially as they are now in the precarious position of protecting their communities from the perceived harms of a substance they know very little about and the real harms of prohibition: the enrichment of organized crime and the criminalization of cannabis consumers. Quite the challenge when it comes to messaging and being on point with critics from all sides.

It would serve us all well as a country on the cusp of legalization to take a step back from hyperbole and inflammatory rhetoric to speak to each other in the same language and to speak to each other as if we are on the same side, which at this point you would think we are. But there is a disconnect and it’s a tough habit to break, until you consider the MO and what motivates it.

Politicians want to fulfill their mandates to keep the confidence of the people who voted for them. When they speak, that is who they are talking to, their base. When lawyers speak, they are talking to their clients. When small business owners speak, they are talking to their customers. When corporations speak, they are talking to their shareholders. The only thing that connects them is the subject of cannabis legalization, and they are all coming at it from different angles.

This is just the beginning of the disconnect, and so we find ourselves on a slippery slope of us vs them which not only creates divisiveness but is also counter-productive and not effective to actualizing the desired outcome. The language barrier is very real, which is why translation is essential.

The industry folk who are most vested in the future of the cannabis regulations should be talking to their local politicians now, municipal, provincial and federal. They should also be talking to their local economic development councils, chambers of commerce, and every other business that is currently affected or could be affected by the regional impact of future cannabis regulations.

These are the translators who are best able to bring your message to Ottawa. Talk to them about jobs, taxes, social equity, the environment , health, and education. Speaking to your local government is critical. We know British Columbians understand one another best, as do Maritimers. GO LOCAL!

Ottawa is the centre of the political universe but it is not necessarily where the most impactful decisions are going to be made. And not only that: there simply is not enough time in the next year to learn each other’s languages. Instead of spending this time arguing over what the other means, we should keep moving towards liberating cannabis through civil, responsible and effective discourse. With this in mind, use your translators, your allies — the people who are fluent — to help you navigate the system and ultimately achieve desired outcomes.

The clock is ticking.

Republished with permission from Canlio.

© 2018 Kelly Coulter

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