Q & A: Lisa Campbell
Q: As we enter a new “cannabis era” with legislation being set forward for cannabis consumables - How do you think and envision Edibles & Beverages will change the way new consumers interact with cannabis?
A: As we enter the new cannabis era of 2.0 products, Lifford Cannabis Solutions is pivoting to meet market demand. We are relaunching our sales and marketing agency across Canada as Mercari Agency Limited. Mercari works with licensed cannabis processors to bring their products to market, including premium flower, pre-rolls, ready to roll, cannabis oils, as well as a whole range of new products from vapes to beverages and edibles. While many new cannabis products have been submitted to Health Canada, it will take several months for them to pass review and be procured into the provinces. Unfortunately, edibles, beverages, topicals, vapes, won’t arrive in time for Christmas in the majority of provinces, but medical patients might get them early!
Many new consumers are averse to smoking or vaping, so edibles and beverages are a game changer as more discreet alternative. Cannabis companies are banking on new consumers as their target market, but it’s actually the mature market that will be consuming the majority of products so it’s important to go beyond the canna curious category. Canna curious consumers are less likely to spend money on cannabis and consume less frequently, so it’s a tiny portion of the overall market. All forms of edible cannabis including beverages are limited to up to 10 mg per package, which limits existing consumers from migrating to the legal market.
Personally, I’m all about helping new consumers access cannabis as a healthier alternative to other substances including alcohol. 31% of Canadians are interested in trying cannabis beverages, so this has huge potential for beverage alcohol. Beverages have much less stigma than other forms of cannabis, due to social norms built up over centuries globally of ritualistic consumption of adult beverages. For new consumers adult beverages are a socially acceptable way of consuming cannabis, but they should be cautious about over consumption. Many forms of edible cannabis have higher bioavailability, so a 10mg dose can feel as strong as 100mg from a competing product from the legacy market.
Q: How do you see cannabis and alcohol brands working together in the near future?
A: It’s strictly forbidden for alcohol brands to use their logos on edible cannabis, but several big alcohol companies have already dipped their toes into the cannabis space. Mercari Agency is a subsidiary of Lifford Wine and Spirits, a family owned agency which represents wine and spirits from around the world in the Canadian market for the past 25 years. Lifford works mostly with craft brands in beverage alcohol, some of which are interested in entering the cannabis market including Benjamin Bridge from Nova Scotia. While they would have to change their branding and take out the alcohol there’s still huge potential for partnerships.
As such, we’ve partnered with Hill Street Beverages which is an alcohol-free beverage company transitioning into the cannabis space. Hill Street will allow us to represent alcohol free wine and beer products on the market, as well as unique craft cannabis cultivars which are not currently available in the legal market. We are super excited for the future of pairing craft cannabis cultivars with some of our unique wine producers from around the world in the future.
Recently, we teamed up with Hill Street Beverages to co-chair the Cannabis Beverage Producers Alliance along with our executive director, the Honourable Darrell Dexter, Vice Chair of Global Public Affairs and former Premier of Nova Scotia. We have teamed up along with over 10+ other cannabis and beverage alcohol companies to push for progressive regulations around cannabis beverages relating to production, distribution and marketing. We were able to successfully engage in the Health Canada consultation in allowing for the same packaging format for beverage alcohol and beverage cannabis, as well as multi-packs. While the overall objective is parity with beverage alcohol regulations, there is a long road ahead to get there.
Q: How do you see cannabis brands and the hospitality industry working together in the near future? Can you tell our readers a little bit about the intersection of Cannabis & Hospitality?
A: Mercari Agency is committed to a long-term vision of including cannabis in hospitality, so that adult consumers can choose what substance they’d like to consume in social settings including cafes, lounges, bars, nightclubs, hotels, resorts and restaurants. While many of the provinces are still figuring out cannabis retail, conversations are starting across Canada on what on premise cannabis sales could look like. While it’s unlikely that cannabis will be served in the same venues as alcohol, cannabis cafes are gaining traction in the Atlantic provinces as they look to attract more tourism.
There are some limitations under the current federal framework, mainly that edible cannabis cannot be produced in the same place as other food products. That being said, the new edible regulations do not limit provinces from creating their own unique distribution frameworks which could include on premise. The only limitation is that licensees could only serve federally approved products by Health Canada that come pre-packaged. So theoretically if you had a cannabis café, they could serve cannabis beverages, edibles, etc. but potentially not be able to do infusions in the kitchen itself. That doesn’t mean that infused private dinners won’t continue to be a trend!
Q: Has the stigma of cannabis changed, if at all, since your university days?
A: When I was in my undergrad I participated in the Rural Development Exchange program with Canada World Youth and University of Alberta where we lived with host families in rural Alberta and Mexico while volunteering with the local community. Cannabis was pretty stigmatized in Alberta back then, and I don’t remember smoking my entire exchange in Canada. Mexico on the other hand was much more cannabis friendly, although still very taboo due to the violence associated with the war on drugs.
After I graduated with my Master of Environmental Studies I returned to Alberta to work with Indigenous communities. The stigma against cannabis was very strong, and I could only really consume in private even though I was a legal medical patient. I still consumed publicly as much as I could to break the stigma! You can still lose your job for smoking cannabis in Fort McMurray, but there’s now legal cannabis retail stores open in the community.
Less than a decade later, cannabis is now seen as the new oil in Alberta, with many oil and gas folks transitioning their investments and businesses. In the last year I received my Cannabis Sales Licence in Alberta and am now certified to legally sell to retail stores and educate about cannabis brands. While Alberta is the same big friendly province, the stigma against cannabis is finally fading!
Q: What do you think the social stigma of cannabis will be in 10 years from now?
A: I think that cannabis will be a normal part of life for Canadians, as it has for the last 10 years but with much less stigma. While my family consumed cannabis when I was growing up, it was always a secret until I was in my 20s. Now cannabis is a topic of discussion at family gatherings as the same way as wine is.
While my dad loves to wax on about all the wineries he’s visited over the last few decades, now I’m taking him to cannabis facilities. I think that the next generation of cannabis consumers will grow up with legalization, so will consider it the same as beverage alcohol. That being said, there’s still stigma around smoking in general, so that will probably remain as new healthier product formulations come out over the next year.
About Lisa Campbell
Lisa Campbell is the founder and CEO of Mercari Agency, helping cannabis companies come to market across Canada. As a subsidiary of Lifford Wine & Spirits, Mercari leverages Lifford’s national hybrid salesforce and longstanding partnerships with provincial control boards. Lisa became a true cannabis expert by working extensively in international drug policy with Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy and is currently the Co-Chair of the Cannabis Beverage Producers Alliance. She holds a Master of Environmental Studies from York University and is as a Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) Universities Without Walls alumnus.
Photo credit: Niv Shimshon, @botanical_society