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Global accreditation body formed at World Cannabis Conference in Saint John

In a move designed to increase transparency and destigmatize the soon-to-be-legal recreational cannabis market, a newly formed international accreditation body called the Global Cannabis Partnership announced its inaugural members on Tuesday.

Speaking at the World Cannabis Congress, corporate social-responsibility expert Rick Petersen said the Global Cannabis Partnership he helped create will establish international corporate social-responsibility standards around informed choice, restrictions to youth, safety, advertising, the environment and ethics.

The first wave of signatories, which includes Canopy Growth and several other licensed cannabis producers, will develop the standards. They are likely to include third-party audit requirements, which Mr. Petersen said will help increase credibility and reduce pubic concerns as cannabis goes mainstream.

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The first wave of signatories to the Global Cannabis Partnership includes several licensed producers, including Canopy Growth, whose Smiths Falls, Ont., facility is seen on Jan. 4, 2018.

Chris Wattie/Reuters

“We are coming out of an era of prohibition,” Mr. Petersen said. “Our goal is to do right by consumers, communities … and all who have impressed upon us to proceed responsibly.”

His comments came on the heels of much discussion at the congress, which was funded in part by the province of New Brunswick and brought together government agencies, industry members, investors and other stakeholders, about the cannabis industry’s need to invest in building up its “social licence” – acceptance among consumers – as legalization nears and passes.

“We should never lose sight of what the public-policy goals are behind this shift,” New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant said of the effort to decriminalize recreational cannabis. “The idea … is to get cannabis out of the hands of our youth across the country and get the proceeds of selling cannabis out of the hands of criminals,” he said.

Survey data presented at the congress show most Canadians who use cannabis feel conflicted about their habit. More than 60 per cent hide their cannabis use, mostly owing to a fear of being judged or the perception of being a “bad influence” according to The State of Modern Cannabis Culture, a poll commissioned by Civilized, a cannabis lifestyle brand.

As Canada prepares to become the first Group of Seven country to legalize cannabis, the industry faces some difficult hurdles, including how to drive growth while under a global microscope without compromising the government’s strict rules around advertising and appealing to youth.

Ray Gracewood, chief commercial officer at Moncton-based Organigram, an established supplier of medical cannabis, said his company is cautiously expanding its marketing efforts to adult recreational cannabis without running afoul of federal rules that prohibit many traditional advertising tactics.

“Our view would be we’ve got to figure out ways to make a connection with the consumer that is unexpected,” he said, adding that Organigram is considering “old-school” tactics such as direct mailings that could “surprise and delight” potential consumers.

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Data on the growth potential of Canada’s recreational market presented at the congress suggest efforts to win recreational cannabis consumers could pay richly.

Although Canada’s legal cannabis market has been built on a medical-use foundation, the proportion of adult recreational users could outpace medical sales as early as 2019, said Giadha Aguirre de Carcer, founder of New Frontier data, which specializes in cannabis data and analytics.

Her company predicts that by 2025, Canada’s market for legal cannabis will ring up at more than $7-billion. That, she said, is without taking into consideration the value of any potential exports.

In terms of which consumers will make up that market, Ms. Aguirre de Carcer said most will not be new cannabis users. Results from U.S. states that have legalized cannabis show that most people who buy legal recreational cannabis were pre-existing users who shifted from the black market to the legal one.

The only age segment showing growth in new users, she said, was the 60-65 population. “Many had smoked this stuff before and then stopped for 20 or 30 years,” she said. “Now they are rekindling that relationship with cannabis.”

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