It didn’t take long for Canada’s cannabis community to ring in 2018 in style, as Lift recently held the Vancouver edition of its annual cannabis expo.

Last held in Vancouver in September 2016, less than 10 licensed producers (LPs) had booths and foot traffic was inconsistent at times over the course of two days.

This year’s event was a completely different story.

For the 2018 edition, more than 20 LPs had booths at the event and it was estimated that over 10,000 people attended at some point over the weekend. One vendor estimated it was a 4x increase from the 2016 event.

There was a noticeable buzz at the event with legalization looming later this year, and it’s a buzz that’s sure to continue when Lift hosts their Toronto expo this coming May.

Like in 2016, we made the trek out west for Lift Expo Vancouver once again, and here are three takeaways from the 2018 event.

Much more education is needed

A speaker's slide during a presentation at Lift Expo Vancouver 2018

During their opening presentation at Lift Expo, Hill + Knowlton Strategies shared insight from their 2017 end of year polling. One slide in particular (above) showed that a whopping 76 percent of participants surveyed responded that they’d like to see more credible health awareness and educational content about consuming cannabis.

While we at Green Relief have a long-term commitment to cannabis education, there is going to be a need for a lot more by the time legalization rolls around as well.

Panel discussions drove home the need for more education in three key areas:

  1. Reframing the discussion and perception that the legalizing cannabis was rushed and is being rolled out too quickly
  2. Police officers and other first responders, encouraging them to take a positive outlook on legalization and be able to focus on harsher crimes as a result
  3. Youth — Blyth pointed out that according to the UN, Canadian youth are the highest percentage users of illegal cannabis

A “no” for selling cannabis alongside alcohol

With legalization will come a slew of hot topics for the government to explore in-depth, such as impaired driving, public use, and other social norms.

One point of much debate is whether or not cannabis should be sold alongside alcohol in liquor stores — and there was a panel discussion about it at Lift Expo Vancouver 2018.

With a speaker panel consisting of Terry Lake (VP of Corporate Social Responsibility at Hydropothecary), Dr. M-J Milloy (Research Scientist with the BC Centre on Substance Abuse) and Sarah Blyth (founding member of the Overdose Prevention Society), the opinion was unanimous against selling cannabis inside liquor stores.

“As a public health professional, I just cannot say it’s a good idea,” said Milloy.

Though legalization has been a federal government initiative, distribution will be left up to provincial governments as they each create their own policy. So far, there’s already been a split across the country as to which side of the issue they’re taking.

Ontario, for example, will sell cannabis in new, standalone stores under the CCBO moniker, or Cannabis Control Board of Ontario. Like Ontario, distribution and retail in Prince Edward Island will both be controlled by the province’s liquor control commission but cannabis will be sold in dedicated stores.

Nova Scotia, on the other hand, will sell recreational marijuana in Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation (NSLC) outlets.

While discussing the colocation of cannabis and alcohol on the Lift Expo panel, a separate conversation was sparked around the buying experience for cannabis inside a government-controlled retail outlet.

In Ontario, for example, you can walk into a government-operated liquor store and ask for recommendations on which wine to pair with your next meal or which whisky to buy for a friend as a gift.

But with the new cannabis stores, it’s likely that even well-trained staff will be hesitant to make recommendations based on health ailments due to varied effects and to prevent any repercussions from consumers.

Focus on edibles

Perhaps no topic was discussed more at Lift Expo than edible cannabis products.

Currently, Health Canada’s Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR) only permits a licensed producer to make and sell dried flower, cannabis oil, and capsules — no edibles.

Fortunately, that’s going to change within one year of legalization, according to a Q&A on the Government of Canada website:

“As per the amendment adopted by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health, the sale of cannabis edible products and concentrates would be authorized no later than 12 months following the coming into force of the proposed legislation. By that time, regulations would be made to address the specific risks associated with these types of products.”

While being able to purchase legal edible products is still a way’s away, cooking with cannabis is moving more into the mainstream and legalization will only help that continue.

At Lift Expo, there were three cooking demos — two by “The Wellness Soldier” Cody Lindsay and one by Diandra Phipps of National Access Cannabis.

For all three sessions, the demonstration stage’s seats were packed. Interest and curiosity were noticeable as crowds looked on as healthy, cannabis-infused dishes were prepared before their eyes.