Non-profit Organization Marches on Canadian Capital To Fight for Therapeutic Mushrooms

Over the course of the past two years, TheraPsil has assisted over 130 patients, but it calls the country’s current limitations a “cruel approach” on the part of Health Canada. The organization has attempted to set up a formal meeting with parliament members, but so far has been denied, so it’s taking the conversation straight to the capital to protest between Nov. 28-30.

According to TheraPsil CEO Spencer Hawkswell, there needs to be a proper channel for patients to be able to legally access psilocybin and psilocin. “There is ample evidence of both the safety and efficacy of psilocybin in the treatment of various mental health conditions,” said Hawkswell in a press release. “The previous Minister recognized this and started approving exemptions. Unfortunately, this Minister has stopped and refused to consider reasonable regulations to ensure vulnerable Canadians don’t have to go to Court to access treatment that can improve their quality of life and death.”

Currently, psilocybin and psilocin are listed as a Schedule III substance under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. However, some patients gain legal access with an improved exemption called the Special Access Program

TheraPsil uses the example of Thomas Hartle, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2016, to demonstrate the problems that patients are encountering. Hartle was one of the first to receive approval from former Health Minister Patty Hajdu to use psilocybin to treat “end-of-life anxiety” in 2020, which was valid for one year. His treatments were successful, and he reapplied for continued access in October 2021, but was denied by current Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos.

“We hope to meet with the Minister to find out why he and his officials are being so cruel to us,” said Hartle in a press statement. “Instead of a compassionate response, Health Canada is referring dying and vulnerable patients to a special access program that results in lots of red tape but no access for most. Many, like me have gone over a year without a response to their urgent requests.”

TheraPsil will be arranging media interviews over the next few days to raise awareness both for the medical benefits that psilocybin offers, as well as the need for improved access. “Mental health is a non-partisan issue,” said palliative care physician Dr. Valorie Masuda. “Reasonable treatment options should be available to Canadians who have the right to MAiD [Medical Assistance in Dying]. It is cruel to withhold medicine from vulnerable patients, especially when those medicines have worked for them.”

TheraPsil also sent a joint letter earlier this month signed by medical practitioners and social workers calling for the need for psilocybin regulations. “We believe that our patients have a right to Medical Psilocybin and this open letter is to demand this right on their behalf. We need a compassionate and immediate response and solution to the Section 56 applications for psilocybin access and seek your response to our proposed request for ‘Access to Psilocybin for Medical Purposes Regulations,’” the letter stated.

Meanwhile in Canada, Apex Labs received a “no objection” letter from Health Canada, which effectively greenlit the first North American study on psilocybin as a treatment for military veterans who suffer from conditions such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. “Veterans are already self-medicating with micro-doses of unregulated psilocybin products without knowing the potency and safety of the product they are consuming,” said Apex Labs CEO Tyler Powell. “Our goal is to expand access to pharmaceutical grade drug products through regulated systems, providing transparency and support for patients in need.”

A new study published in The New England Journal of Medicine on Nov. 3 also provided evidence of the benefits of psilocybin in a double-blind trial. “In this phase 2 trial involving participants with treatment-resistant depression, psilocybin at a single dose of 25 mg, but not 10 mg, reduced depression scores significantly more than a 1-mg dose over a period of 3 weeks but was associated with adverse effects,” the researchers wrote. Those adverse effects included headaches, nausea, dizziness, and suicidal ideation.

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Strike at Distribution Centers Could Lead to Shortages at British Columbia Pot Shops

Workers at British Columbia’s only wholesaler and distributor of regulated cannabis products went on strike this week, leaving the province’s legal pot shops scrambling to ensure they have enough product to keep their doors open. Workers with the British Columbia General Employees’ Union (BCGEU), which represents about 33,000 service industry employees, set up picket lines at four distribution centers operated by the BC Liquor Distribution Branch (BCLDB) on Monday in an effort to gain higher wages from their employer.

On Wednesday, the BCLDB announced that because of the labor action, the cannabis distribution centers will be temporarily unable to accept or fill orders, process invoices or ship merchandise to the province’s licensed retailers.

“We sincerely apologize for this disruption and for the impact to your business,” the distributor wrote in a statement to stores published on its website.

Provincial officials have been working on a plan to allow cannabis retailers to accept deliveries directly from licensed producers. But until the plan goes into effect, the BCLBD is the only wholesaler and distributor for the province’s weed dispensaries.

“The BC Liquor Distribution Branch recognizes the current job action being taken by the BC General Employee’s Union may be concerning to wholesale and retail customers,” the distributor in a statement quoted by the CBC, adding that the B.C. Cannabis Store website is also unable to fill or deliver customer orders.

“We do not know the extent of any future job action and therefore cannot speculate on the inventory levels held by wholesale customers nor customer demand and buying behaviours in this dynamic environment,” the distributor added.

Strike Could Lead to Shortages and Store Closures

Cannabis retailers in British Columbia are left to speculate on the effect the distribution center strike will have on their businesses. Omar Khan, the senior vice president of corporate and public affairs for High Tide, said that the company’s chain of Canna Cabana stores faces impending shortages if the strike does not end quickly, adding that it could have long-standing implications for the regulated cannabis industry.

“For the time being, we are managing the situation by reallocating inventory between our British Columbia stores, but if the job action is not resolved within the next 10 days, we could face inventory issues,” said Khan. “We urge the BCLDB and the BCGEU to resolve their dispute as soon as possible, as lack of inventory at licensed cannabis stores risks driving consumers back into the hands of the illicit market, which will endanger public health and drive much-needed revenue away from government coffers.”

Other retailers are worried that the strike will force them to close their stores until the labor dispute is resolved.

“If it lasts more than two weeks, then we are probably looking at closing down the store because there is nothing to sell,” said Jacob Michalow, the assistant general manager at Marigolds Cannabis in Vancouver.

Vikram Sachdeva estimated that his chain of Seed and Stone stores currently has an adequate supply of products, but said that the situation could change in the event of an extended strike.

“I’m hoping that we can survive for a week or a little bit longer, but beyond that point, it’s going to be very difficult,” said Sachdeva, adding that he wished that retailers were given more notice of the labor action.

“It just came as a bit of a shock, and … now the concern is how long before they start delivering to us so that we don’t start running out of products?” he said.

Sachdeva said that he is worried he will have to turn customers away if he runs out of product and fears that medical marijuana patients will have difficulties accessing their medicine. He also expressed concerns that customers who are disappointed by a lack of regulated cannabis will turn to the illicit market instead.

Jaclyn Pehota, the executive director of the Association of Canadian Cannabis Retailers, noted that bars and restaurants are able to better cope with the strike because they can also buy products from private wineries and craft breweries if they are unable to receive goods from the distribution centers.

“That is something that we’re calling on government to explore,” said Pehota. “We would like the same diversity of supply chain for cannabis retail.”

David Hurford, secretary of the B.C. Farmers Craft Co-op, agreed, saying that many consumers in the province are able to find illicit sources of cannabis if licensed dispensaries run out of merchandise.

“We completely respect the union’s right to take this action, but it is up to the government to have a contingency plan in place,” Hurford said.

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British Columbians are Killing BC Bud

British Columbians are killing BC Bud by buying from licensed retail stores. Of course, it isn’t entirely their fault. Only a few BC Bud growers can get past the bureaucratic hurdles the federal and provincial governments have set up. Going from underground to above-board isn’t as easy as applying for a permit. Farmers have to […]

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B.C. Cannabis Consumers Now Free to Use Private Delivery Services

B.C.’s cannabis consumers are now free to use private delivery services in the province. The government-owned B.C. Cannabis Stores have been able to do this since legalization. The B.C. government extended this freedom to private stores last year. But employees of the retailer provided the delivery service. As of July 8, couriers can deliver recreational […]

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Canadian College Campus Is First to Get Weed Dispensary

The University of British Columbia is set to be the first college in Canada to host a cannabis dispensary with the recent approval of a Burb retail store to open at the campus. The new location will be the eighth licensed cannabis retailer in British Columbia for Burb Cannabis Corp., bringing the company to the regulatory limit on the number of recreational dispensaries that can be operated in the province by one licensee.

Burb is an international cannabis brand with a stated mission of bringing British Columbia’s “BC Bud” culture to the world through a network of retail shops, cannabis products, apparel, and accessories. The company also owns and produces the podcast Light Culture hosted by David Hershkovits, the co-founder and former editor-in-chief of Paper Magazine.

Burb’s dispensary planned for the University of British Columbia, which actually sits just off campus, was approved by the Metro Vancouver Regional District (MVRD) Board of Directors, the local governing body for the area surrounding the university. The approval came despite vocal opposition from members of the local community, which included an online petition that garnered nearly 1,900 signatures.

“This was a big victory for us after a contentious debate around public safety and community fit,” John Kaye, CEO and co-founder at Burb, said in a statement from the company. “Despite concerns grounded in age-old stigma from nearby residents, many of whom were off-shore residential owners, the Board made an informed decision that aligned with the overwhelming voice of the student body as well as the tenets of legalization in our country. We’re beyond excited to bring Burb to campus and provide safe access to students and residents this fall.”

Neighbors Opposed Plan for Campus Dispensary

Neighbors opposed to locating the dispensary near the campus argued that the store would be too close to a nearby high school and two elementary schools and launched a campaign to oppose approval of the shop. An online petition posted by local resident Connie Chen suggested the store would attract people to the area for purposes “unrelated to the university,” according to a report from CBC News.

“By allowing cannabis retail to exist in this business plaza, we are putting vulnerable children at a high risk of exposure to substances they are too young for,” the petition stated.

The proposed cannabis shop was supported by the university’s Alma Mater Society (AMS)‚ the organization representing more than 56,000 students on campus. A competing online petition in favor of the dispensary posted online by Sean Safaei, who is with Burb, received more than 2,000 signatures.

“Since the AMS was in support of the project right from the beginning, it’s definitely good news for the students,” AMS president Eshana Bhangu said of the application approval.

“We just think the UBC student body really deserves to have a safe space nearby where purchasing cannabis is accessible and provided in a stress-free environment,” she added.

Bhangu noted that without the dispensary located nearby, students at the university would have to walk or take a bus more than 2.5 kilometers (slightly more than 1.5 miles) to the nearest cannabis retailer. The only other option would be to buy from illicit dealers.

“Locations like these really do reduce illegal activity and we don’t think that this is going to have any risk to families and underage youth,” said Bhangu.

Burb maintains the new dispensary will not only be the first to be located at a Canadian college campus, but the first in the world, as well. With the company reaching the maximum number of stores allowed in British Columbia, Burb is looking outside the province to continue its growth. A recent expansion to the United States marked the premiere of the British Columbia cannabis strains Beaver Tail, Butter Tarts, and Zyrup to the California market.

“We are west coast OG and breathe the rich history of BC Bud into all extensions of our brand,” said Kaye. “British Columbia has gained worldwide notoriety for breeding and cultivating premium, award-winning craft cannabis strains. We’re honored to bring this legacy, experience and passion to California through careful curation and proprietary innovation.”

Burb Expanding Into U.S. Markets

In May, the company announced its expansion in California’s competitive adult-use cannabis wholesale market, with Burb’s products gaining exposure on dispensary shelves at retailers including Cookies, Dr. Greenthumb, The Pottery, and Mainstage. The company also has plans to expand into Florida’s growing medical cannabis economy.

“We’re delighted to partner with TRP, the wholesale division of Cookies Retail Group, to bring our Los Angeles grown premium flower products to the state of California and look forward to launching in the state of Florida this fall exclusively through Cookies retail stores,” said Kaye.

The Burb brand is under license to TRP for both California and Florida and is working with Los Angeles-based cultivation partner Green Label, headed by Jason McKnight, to provide premium indoor flower supply for the brand.

“We’re innovating with Jason, working with amazing genetics providers and doing our best to bring the flavors we know and love to the California market,” said Kaye.

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Canadian Firm Seeks Approval to Manufacture MDMA and Other Psychedelics

A Canadian company that produces functional mushroom formulations for health and wellness has submitted a request to federal regulators that would allow it to manufacture MDMA and other synthetic psychedelic drugs. If the request made to Canada Health by Optimi Health seeking an amendment to its Controlled Substances Dealer’s license is approved, the company plans to manufacture MDMA, LSD, Mescaline, GHB and other psychedelics at its production facility in Princeton, British Columbia.

Optimi Health Corporation is a Canadian firm that produces psilocybin and other functional formulations at its two plants in British Columbia following the European Union’s standards for good manufacturing practices (EU-GMP). Operating under a vertically integrated business model, the company is engaged in the cultivation, extraction, processing, and distribution of functional and psychedelic mushroom products at its two facilities in Princeton, which cover a combined total of 20,000 square feet.

The company noted that with its major capital expenditures now completed, Optimi Health plans to expand its product offerings to include a wide variety of synthetic psychedelic compounds, leveraging its state-of-the-art cultivation facility and analytical lab in the process. The move aligns with the company’s transition to commercialization through standardized psychedelic drug research, testing, and product development via approved clinical trials and exemption-based applications.

Growing Market for Psychedelics

Optimi Health noted that ongoing large-scale studies including Phase III clinical trials into MDMA sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) and a move to decriminalize drugs in British Columbia have led to an increased demand for psychedelics.

“Since our inception, Optimi has received a steadily increasing volume of inquiries related to the production of synthetic psychedelics from stakeholders within the sector, made all the more timely by recent developments,” Optimi Health chief science officer Justin Kirkland said in a statement from the company. “Our analytical laboratories were purpose-built to enable us to act as an EU-GMP compliant drug manufacturer for these interests, without in any way detracting from our primary goal of cultivating natural psilocybin.”

Optimi CEO Bill Ciprick said that the company’s EU-GMP compliant operational footprint and production capacity is unmatched in North America, adding that it would likely take new entrants into the psychedelics sector years and millions of dollars to meet Optimi’s scale and clinical efficiency.

“We have a strong idea of our position in the market and how the amendment fits with our strategic priorities,” said Ciprick. “We are filing this amendment following conversations with researchers and drug developers which have led to a high volume of requests for GMP-compliant synthetic psychedelics. The positive reports from trauma sufferers, including veterans groups, for whom substances such as MDMA might make a difference, mean that safe, scalable supply is going to be more crucial than ever to the success of psychedelic medicine.”

“As we continue with our planned year of commercialization, Optimi views the capacity to produce and distribute these substances as integral to our overall positioning and revenue generation within the sector’s supply chain,” Ciprick added.

The psychedelic drugs included in the Optimi request to Canadian regulators are N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (“DMT”); 3,4,5-trimethoxyphenethylamine (“Mescaline”); 2-(2-chlorophenyl)-2- (methylamino)cyclohexanone (“Ketamine”); Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (“LSD”); 1-(1-phenylcyclohexyl)piperidine (“Phencyclidine”); 4-Hydroxybutanoic Acid (“GHB”);  4,9–dihydro–7–methoxy–1–methyl–3H–pyrido(3,4–b)indole (“Harmaline”); 4,9–dihydro–1–methyl–3H–pyrido(3,4–b)indol–7–ol (“Harmalol”); Salvia Divinorum, Salvinorin A; and, 4-Bromo-2,5-Dimethoxybenzeneethanamine (“2C-B”).

British Columbia to Decriminalize Drugs

Last month, the Canadian federal government announced that it had approved a request from British Columbia to decriminalize possession of street drugs including heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, and methamphetamine for three years.

“Eliminating criminal penalties for those carrying small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use will reduce stigma and harm and provide another tool for British Columbia to end the overdose crisis,” federal Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Carolyn Bennett said in a statement quoted by Reuters.

Late last year, provincial officials requested an exemption from enforcing the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to test the impact decriminalization will have on British Columbia’s ongoing epidemic of overdose deaths. Under the plan, personal possession of up to a cumulative total of 2.5 grams of opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA will not result in an arrest, citation, or confiscation of the drugs. The limited drug decriminalization plan does not apply at airports, schools, and to members of the Canadian military, however.

“This is not legalization,” Bennett told reporters at a news conference in Vancouver. “We have not taken this decision lightly.”

Under the plan, possession of larger amounts of the drugs and the sale or trafficking will remain against the law. The limited decriminalization test program will begin on January 31, 2023, and continue until January 31, 2026.

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Is the Canadian Cannabis Experiment A Failure? 

Is the Canadian cannabis experiment a failure? Things may look rosy on the surface, but underneath, Canada’s legal cannabis regime is struggling. Whether it’s smaller craft producers sending half their profits to the federal government in excise taxes or larger producers racking up a record amount of losses. For many, the Canadian cannabis experiment is […]

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British Columbia Plans 3-Year Decriminalization Test

British Columbia will decriminalize personal possession of small amounts of drugs for three years in an attempt to address the province’s crisis of overdose deaths. The Canadian federal government announced on Wednesday that it had approved a request from provincial officials to enact the plan, which will decriminalize possession of street drugs including heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, and methamphetamine.

“Eliminating criminal penalties for those carrying small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use will reduce stigma and harm and provide another tool for British Columbia to end the overdose crisis,” federal Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Carolyn Bennett said in a statement quoted by Reuters.

In November, British Columbia officials requested an exemption from enforcing the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act for a period of three years. Under the plan, personal possession of up to a cumulative total of 2.5 grams of opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA will not result in an arrest, citation, or confiscation of the drugs. The limited drug decriminalization plan, however, will not apply at airports, schools and to members of the Canadian military.

“This is not legalization,” Bennett told reporters at a news conference in Vancouver. “We have not taken this decision lightly.”

Under the plan, possession of larger quantities of the drugs and the sale or trafficking will remain illegal. The limited decriminalization test program will begin on January 31, 2023, and continue until January 31, 2026.

British Columbia Overdose Deaths Soaring

British Columbia, which has been especially hard hit by the nationwide opioid crisis, declared a public health crisis in 2016 due to the spike in overdose deaths. The number of deaths has continued to climb since then, with a record 2,236 fatal overdoses reported last year in the province. According to provincial officials, drug overdoses are the leading cause of death among people aged 19 to 39.

Public officials hope that the decriminalization test plan will help reduce the stigma surrounding drug use and addiction and make it easier for people with substance misuse disorders to seek treatment.

“Substance use is a public health issue, not a criminal one,” said British Columbia’s Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Sheila Malcolmson, adding that the exemption will help the officials address substance abuse issues in the province.

In the request to the federal government, British Columbia officials wrote that criminalizing drug use disproportionately impacts marginalized communities and fails to treat substance use disorders as a health issue. Federal drug policies, the province wrote, are failing their goals and making drug overdoses more likely.

“Criminalization and stigma lead many to hide their use from family and friends and to avoid seeking treatment, thereby creating situations where the risk of drug poisoning death is elevated,” provincial officials wrote in the request for the exemption.

The 2.5-gram limit set by the federal government is smaller than the maximum of 4.5 grams requested by British Columbia officials. In the request for the exemption submitted to Health Canada, the province wrote that limits that are too low have been ineffective and “diminish progress” on the goals of drug decriminalization.

“The evidence that we have across the country and [from] law enforcement … has been that 85 percent of the drugs that have been confiscated have been under 2 grams,” Bennett said to explain the lower limit, “and so we are moving with that.”

Public health advocates, local and provincial government officials and even some chiefs of police have asked Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to decriminalize possession of small quantities of drugs for personal use. In 2018, Canada legalized cannabis nationwide, a drug policy change that was supported by Trudeau.

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart is among the public officials who have championed efforts to decriminalize drugs. Each Monday, he gets an email reporting the number of drug overdoses and resulting deaths in the city. One week, the death of one of his family members was included in the report’s grim statistics. On Monday, the mayor learned that the decriminalization plan for British Columbia had been approved.

“I can tell you I felt like crying, and I still feel like crying,” he told the Washington Post. “This is a big, big thing.”

“It marks a fundamental rethinking of drug policy that favors health care over handcuffs,” Stewart added.

Bennet said that British Columbia’s plan to decriminalize personal possession of small amounts of drugs will be monitored as it progresses. If it succeeds, it could be a model for drug policy change nationwide.

“This time-limited exemption is the first of its kind in Canada,” she said. “Real-time adjustments will be made upon receiving analysis of any data that indicates a need to change.”

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First Nation Announces Canada Farm-to-Gate Cannabis Operation

This week, Canada is celebrating Sugar Cane Cannabis, British Columbia’s first farm-to-gate cannabis facility. It is also the first facility of its kind in Canada to be on First Nations land.

The dispensary, located in Williams Lakes, is a major milestone for Canadian cannabis and First Nations people across the country. 

“It has been a very long journey when you look at what we have been through and what the staff has been able to pull together,” Williams Lake First Nation Chief Willie Sellars tells Black Press Media at the May 6 opening of the state-of-the-art, 7,000-square-foot facility that will allow customers to purchase cannabis directly from the facility where it is being grown.

“They realized this craft cannabis tourism vision model. It’s still a little bit surreal but you can see how pumped they are to showcase it to the public.”

This new farm-to-gate cannabis facility has been two years in the making, as Williams Lake First Nation have been growing their brand, Unity Cannabis, across retail stores in communities like Penticton and Merrit. They are also opening a new facility in Lac La Hache soon. The plan is to keep opening retail stores in the province, all full of cannabis grown in Williams Lake. They plan to be able to harvest their first crop soon. 

“It’s not the gold rush that everyone expected it was, but it’s a nice niche little business that provides a revenue stream for WLFN and also provides job opportunities for people not only at WLFN but around the province,” Sellars says.

The plants for the company are supplied by Life Cycle Botanicals, licensed in May 2022. They transplant and grow the plants in five different rooms within the Sugar Cane Cannabis Facility. Each room contains different flavors, strains, aromas, potencies, and pharmaceutical properties, and the rooms are full to the brim with plants. 

Master Grower Brendon Roberts relocated from Toronto to work in this special new facility, where he works around the clock to grow the best buds possible. The plants are on a schedule of 12 hours of light, 12 hours of darkness. 

“They go to bed at 7 p.m.,” he says.

The facility is still under construction, and soon, a mixed-development building called The Osprey Nest that includes a café, gathering space, and open-concept lofts will also be on-site. The company should begin breaking ground on the new building in the next couple of weeks. 

David Coney, B.C.’s director of Indigenous Government Relations BC Cannabis Secretariat, has been working with WLFN and feels this is an important next step for First Nations in the world of cannabis. “It’s fantastic; it’s a beautiful facility,” he says.

However, this didn’t happen without a rocky road forward. WLFN counselor Chris Wycotte opened up about the doubts he had surrounding the plan to open a business like this through and for the First Nations community. 

“We had to take it to the community and the community supported it. There was no opposition. Maybe there were some concerns, but no opposition.”

And this isn’t the only good news on the horizon for WLFN. Earlier in May, the First Nations group announced that they intend to hold a referendum on June 29 of this year so that members can vote on a proposed $135 million settlement with the federal government. If the agreement is accepted, a long-standing claim relating to land displacement from the traditional tribal village lands. This happened 160 years ago, so restitution has been a long time coming. As many as 400 members of the 800-plus in the community are eligible to vote.

This new, innovative cannabis facility represents a major milestone for the First Nations communities. 

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Canadian Airport Could Get Cannabis Dispensary

Travelers visiting Prince George Airport in British Columbia this summer could score some weed for their trip at a licensed dispensary, a sign that cannabis continues to be normalized in Canada since legalization in 2018. 

The Prince George City Council recently gave preliminary approval for Copilot, a cannabis dispensary planned by American business partners Owen Ritz and Reed Horton with the support of airport regulators. The venture was first announced in January by the Prince George Airport Authority (PGAA), which said that Copilot is “pioneering cannabis for travel.”

“The company approached us in early 2020 with a proposal to open the first cannabis dispensary in an airport terminal worldwide, to our knowledge,” PGAA CEO Gordon Duke told the Prince George Citizen. “We feel strongly that having Copilot here at YXS will enhance our services our other business partners provide to our passengers and the people of our region,” he added, using the airport code for the Prince George travel hub.

Reaching Consumers Where They Are

Cannabis was legalized in Canada in 2018, and each province has since established its own regulations for recreational cannabis retail sales. Ontario had more than 1,100 licensed dispensaries at the end of 2021, jumping from only 183 in a year. Joanne McNeish, a Ryerson University professor specializing in marketing, said that the competition is beginning to concern some dispensary owners.

“The whole industry completely misunderstood what would happen because they thought the only barrier is legalization and once we’re legal, people will just buy,” said McNeish, who added that locating businesses in new locations such as airports and shopping malls could make it easier to reach customers.

“For a user, it could make it that much more convenient,” said McNeish.

As the retail environment for recreational cannabis continues to become more crowded, companies like Copilot are looking for novel location to reach consumers.

“Our goal from day one has been to create a differentiated retail experience that stands out from any store you might see downtown,” Ritz told the Canadian Press last week.

Canadian law allows air travelers to carry up to 30 grams of pot or the equivalent in other cannabis products on domestic flights. To accommodate travelers, many airports have already established areas where consumption of cannabis is permitted.

“One in four Canadians have already traveled with cannabis,” Ritz noted.

In a presentation to the Prince George City Council, Ritz and Howard explained that Copilot staff will check customers’ boarding passes to ensure that they are booked on a domestic flight. The business will not sell cannabis to international travelers or those employed by the airport or airlines. The partners said that they believe the airport in central British Columbia is the ideal location to launch Copilot.

“We felt Prince George was the best place to start because of the size of the airport and the community culture,” Horton said. “We felt the airport was large enough to have enough passenger traffic and enough flights to test out the different aspects of the business model but small enough where we would develop a community feel, and it wouldn’t necessarily feel like our retail store was in a sea of other stores or that it was an overwhelming experience for other passengers given that is a very new concept.”

“If all goes as planned, we are opening the first cannabis retail store in an airport right here in Prince George this summer,” said Ritz.

Airlines Opposed to Planned Airport Dispensary

Locating cannabis dispensaries in airports, however, is facing opposition from the air travel industry, including Canada’s two largest airlines. Air Canada director of local and provincial government relations Serge Corbeil said at a public hearing in February that the measures taken to ensure customers are not traveling internationally may not be effective in cases where passengers have more than one boarding pass. 

“This could be highly problematic,” Corbeil said. “(And) while rare, there are instances where a flight may be domestic, but be diverted into the United States.”

Additionally, the airline industry is concerned that allowing cannabis sales and consumption sites at airports may lead to more intoxicated passengers in the skies. WestJet director of government and regulatory affairs Jared Mikoch-Gerke noted in a written statement that the International Air Transport Association recently reported a 55% increase in unruly behavior in the span of one year.

“WestJet, similarly, has also seen a significant increase in unruly behavior of passengers, and in many cases, the underlying cause is found to be intoxication,” Mikoch-Gerke wrote. “Unruly behavior onboard an aircraft is a fundamental safety issue, where the most severe cases see passengers physically assaulting crew members or other passengers, and, in some cases, attempting to open cabin doors or emergency exit windows and resulting in the diversion of aircraft. An aircraft cabin is not an appropriate place to be intoxicated.”

But Prince George City Councilor Cori Ramsey says that the fact that airports already have cannabis consumption areas and businesses that sell and serve alcohol makes dispensaries located at airports appropriate.

“To me, the precedent has already been set that this is an acceptable land use for an airport,” Ramsay said. “I know it’s strange going first. (But) looking 10, 15 years down the line, I can see cannabis stores available in most airports in Canada.”

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