Cannabis companies need to be as ethical and rule-abiding as other companies in other industries, if not more so.
The newly-developing cannabis industry in Canada has been in turmoil of late, with news of one of the largest players—CannTrust Holdings Inc.—found in breach of Canada’s marijuana industry regulations. If you’re unfamiliar with the story, CannTrust had been discovered growing in unlicensed rooms at a greenhouse in Pelham, Ontario. As of August 12, 2019, additional reports have surfaced that the company’s manufacturing facility located in Vaughan, Ontario, was also in violation.
Unsurprisingly, the news has caused a drastic drop in CannTrust’s stock prices—it is down by more than half for the year. The problem, though, is bigger than this. Cannabis has just begun to emerge from the shadows in recent years. Stories like this damage more than just the company and its stockholders. It hurts the industry as a whole.
Problems are Industry-Wide
CannTrust’s violations of Canadian cannabis regulations are the most public thus far but are unfortunately far from unique. In the U.S., with regulations varying drastically from state-to-state, “bending the rules” happens more than most in the industry would like to admit. Though it might be argued that some states’ regulations are unreasonable, cannabis businesses hoping to be taken seriously need to remain diligent in following the laws. This news should serve as a reminder to anyone who isn’t playing by the rules—the cannabis industry is under close scrutiny, not just by regulators but by the public at large.
The fight for legalization has been a long one, and despite the huge progress we’ve seen in the decade, the battle is far from over. Those involved in the growth of this enterprise have an obligation to work against the idea of cannabis as an “outlaw” product. Even as acceptance among the public grows, a stigma still exists. Those who use cannabis have been criminals by definition until recently and that perception isn’t going to fade as long as the most visible and vocal cannabis advocates continue shady practices.
Work to Change The Rules
This is something we’ve gotten pretty good at. Just seven short years ago, after more than 70 years of prohibition, Colorado enacted Amendment 64, allowing adults to legally grow, possess, and use cannabis. And in those few years since, 10 more states plus Washington D.C. have legalized adult use of marijuana, two countries—Uruguay and Canada—have legalized, and federal legalization in the U.S. appears all-but-inevitable.
It’s very clear—we’ve made a lot of progress. It hasn’t happened by living in the shadows. It has happened through raising awareness and educating the public. More and more, people are seeing that not only is cannabis, not a “dangerous drug;” it has legitimate medical benefits. Most, particularly among the younger generations, now recognize that cannabis is less harmful than substances that are more widely accepted: From a recreational standpoint, its negative effects are far fewer than alcohol; medically, its side effects pale in comparison with many over-the-counter and prescription medications.
It is the responsibility of all who advocate for legal reform to continue this work of spreading information. Yet every time we are “caught” in violation of the new rules, we reinforce old, negative stereotypes. If the public and our politicians continue to view cannabis advocates as “stoners” who are unprofessional and always looking to skirt the rules, it could slow or even halt the progress we’ve fought so long to realize.
For the foreseeable future, there will continue to be rules that many in our industry will find unreasonable. Things are happening at a rapid pace, and it would be unreasonable for Cannabis advocates to expect everything to fall into place perfectly. We must work within the system and keep demonstrating that as a whole, we are law-abiding, responsible businesspeople filling a demand in the most ethical way we are able.