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She has to wait 5 years to work in weed. Why, exactly?



When she’s talking about cannabis, Anya Nicola’s voice is electric.

The Renfrew, Ont. mom of four has a long history with the plant, first as an herbal adjunct remedy, something her family practiced frequently growing up in Jamaica.

As a teenager, she used cannabis for recreational purposes. And later, it became even more meaningful—it was and continues to be a crucial tool in recovery.

While she has many of the qualities of a passionate cannabis entrepreneur or a star employee, Nicola hasn’t felt like she can find her place in the industry.

Cannabis pardons are inaccessible for many

“I’ll admit it,” Nicola shares on the phone, carefully. “I was selling dime bags just to pay my rent as a student here in Ontario.”

“And because of any trouble that I may have gotten into, there’s a possibility that I may never even be able to legally work in the cannabis industry.”

The trouble she’s referring to resulted in a criminal record, something she has looked into getting pardoned before applying for jobs. She was warned that the process could take up to five years, if she hires a consultant, the process might be expedited.

But it’s not cheap, nor guaranteed.

As a Black woman bringing up four kids on her own in a pandemic, the stakes feel too high for the level of risk required.

“We need to give back to the people that paved the way, even though it was an illegal industry at the time. This industry wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them.”

Trang Trinh, CEO of TREC Brands.

But she’s still holding out hope that the Canadian government and the industry work to reduce the barriers to those impacted by prohibition and policing practices that have unfairly impacted Black and Indigenous communities.

Failure to include racialized groups in legalization

Equity problems in the Canadian cannabis industry—race, gender, access to capital, to name a few—aren’t new.

As more states south of the border legalize and legislators debate the details of federal cannabis reform, equity, inclusion and repairing the damage of the war on drugs is top of mind for many legislators, advocates and members of the burgeoning industry.

Something that many are pointing out was not as much of a priority when Canada’s Cannabis Act was being created. But it’s not too late, say drug policy researchers and industry reps.

For folks like Nicola, the pardon process is lengthy and difficult. (Adobe Stock)

“While there have been some limited initiatives to facilitate greater industry diversity, there is a notable absence of government regulation and adoption of programs that would structurally address the underrepresentation of racialized groups that were disproportionately targeted and punished under prohibition,” reads a 2020 report by University of Toronto’s Centre on Drug Policy Evaluation.

It urged all three levels of government to create social equity programs to provide entry points to those who qualify and provide business mentorship and financial support.

Government initiatives needed for an equitable industry

The Cannabis Council of Canada and its membership of hundreds of licensed cannabis companies are also pushing for more government initiatives designed to create a more equitable sector.

The organization, headed by former Ontario Liberal MPP George Smitherman, included equity issues such as record expungement and investing in diversity programs.

Prior to the recent federal election, the council created a Cannabis Voter Checklist to educate MPs and candidates. Smitherman says part of the problem at this stage is that MPs aren’t aware enough of the inequities of the sector.

“Right now, in Ottawa, the cannabis relationship is entirely delegated to Health Canada, and we need more interested members of parliament,” he tells Leafly by phone.

“Highlighting to them the range of issues that includes unmet social progress concerns is really helpful because those issues really resonate with a lot of members of parliament of different political stripes.”

But he concedes that so far, the effort hasn’t resonated with MPs and candidates.

Non-profit cannabis organization left on read

The government also hasn’t yet responded to advocacy group Cannabis Amnesty, which has long petitioned to expunge criminal records.

Last September, the organization requested the creation of a Racial Equity Impact Assessment of the Cannabis Act as part of the planned three-year review of the Act.

The report examines its impacts on BIPOC communities in areas such as mental and physical health of consumers; policing practices; industry participation and its barriers.

“Answering these questions is critical to determining whether the Cannabis Act has decreased the disproportionate way in which cannabis laws have negatively impacted BIPOC communities, or whether it merely continues this unacceptable legacy of system racism,” they stated in the report.

Although they have yet to hear back, Cannabis Amnesty’s director of research, Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, said he still hopes to hear back in the coming weeks.

Companies driving social equity are few and far between

There are some, but not many, companies that have built equity and social justice into their business plan.

One example is Toronto-based TREC Brands. They donate 10% of profits to organizations like SickKids, University Health Network, and Cannabis Amnesty. TREC picks specific causes within their communities to donate to and actively encourages their consumer base to make nominations as well.

“We listen to our employees about what organizations they want to support, and also our consumer base,” Trang Trinh, CEO of TREC Brands tells Leafly. Diversity and inclusion are fundamentally important to Trinh—something she was heavily involved with at both Loblaws and Deloitte, where she previously worked.

“We need to give back to the people that paved the way, even though it was an illegal industry at the time. This industry wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them,” she says.

Delayed inclusion shouldn’t be ‘good enough’

For Anya Nicola, being able to learn online from her community has been exceptionally valuable.

To stay involved, she joined Afro Canada Bud Sistas, a community of more than 800 women who aim to normalize cannabis.

She says it makes her feel less alone, particularly as a person in recovery who needs support. “Who else is out there supporting us?” she says. “We’re all we’ve got. And unfortunately, no one is looking at us and making us a priority.”

It will take her five years before she can pursue her dream, due to the lengthy pardon process. So for now, she’s holding off on a career in cannabis.

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‘Pot shop’ panic plagues the Canadian cannabis industry




Politicians are panicking about retail cannabis—the industry is not amused.

In the last month or two, local news reporters across Ontario have emerged from the pandemic and seemingly noticed, to some shock, that cannabis retail has exploded.

There are 1000+ licensed stores in Ontario, and just over 2700 across Canada. These cannabis retail stores—which mainstream media insist on calling pot shops—are often concentrated in urban, commercial areas.

Are there too many pot shops in your neighbourhood?

reads a Toronto Star headline.

But unlike other businesses, like convenience stores or coffee shops, the spread of cannabis retail has been treated as a cause for concern among residents and politicians.

“Are there too many pot shops in your neighbourhood?” asks the Toronto Star; “Harsh reality setting in for cannabis merchants as pot shops multiply,” writes the CBC. In Bloomberg, we hear that analysts are “beginning to sound the alarm.”

You get the point.

But is Ontario’s cannabis retail boom really a cause for alarm (and new legislation)? Some industry professionals would like to see the focus shift to things that need fixing.

From licence lottery to green rush

In 2018, Ontario received a lot of press about the lack of cannabis retail locations due to their confusing lottery system. Now, Ontario is once again in the spotlight, two and a half years later, for having too many cannabis stores.

For a lot of people within the cannabis industry, the sudden attention to the spread of cannabis retail is a bit confusing—after all, a private market was what the province opted for in 2018.

It may have taken a while to ramp up, but the private market approach certainly led to a lot of cannabis shops. But is this truly a case of too many? Ontario surpassing 1000 stores is exactly what experts predicted when legalization began

Last month, two Toronto councillors backed a provincial opposition bill that would grant cities power to regulate where retail cannabis stores open in an attempt to promote retail diversity. “We’re seeing less variety and diversity in the number of retailers,” councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam claimed to CBC.

“I don’t think a day goes by that there’s not at least one news item about the number of stores in Ontario or Toronto,” says cannabis industry lawyer Chad Finkelstein. “I have friends and family who call and say, ‘How could there be so many stores? Can they all survive?’” 

Many people, he says, seem to want to assign blame for this—as if 1,000 stores represented a market failure. Since Ontario hit the milestone, cannabis shops are being treated by politicians like an urgent concern.

Superette has four Toronto storefronts, as well as two in Ottawa. (Superette)

“It’s created a very funky dynamic,” says Mimi Lam, founder of the Superette family of stores in Ottawa and Toronto.

There is a degree of dismay, among retailers like Lam and lobbyists like Retail Cannabis Council of Ontario president Adam Vassos, about the idea of allowing for more involved regulation from cities and the province.

Vassos explains that while the numbers grew quickly, there are positive sides to the boom in retail stores. It’s made for a more competitive market, which ultimately benefits the consumers, and is helpful in reducing illicit cannabis sales. Which after all, was the main goal of legalization in the first place.

The current cannabis retail game is far from perfect

Instead, a better approach might be to fix what is wrong with cannabis retail.

“I’d love to be able to curate my cannabis products the way I want to curate them,” says Lam. She’d love to sell more merch, or let people hang out in her stores, but she can’t. Not yet, anyway. 

So-called pot shops could be lively community hubs if they weren’t so heavily regulated. Stores seem dull and lifeless from the outside, the regulations treat them more like adult novelty stores than the LCBO.

“That’s actually the biggest problem I have. It isn’t the volume of cannabis stores” Finkelstein says. “I think neighbourhoods and communities lose when you’ve got all these covered windows.”

Cannabis retail is treated more like adult novelty stores than alcohol retail. (Photo by Jesse Milns/Leafly)

In Ontario, stores are required to keep cannabis products out of public view. So curtains, frosted glass, long entryways, walls, etc., are used so that no one is able to see inside. It cuts the inside of the stores off from the world outside, which can be dangerous for staff and intimidating to customers.

“You’ve got store after store where there’s something is lost, visually, optically. When everything looks like it’s boarded up? It’s not an appealing visual.”

Like it or not, this is what we wanted, the billion-dollar industry that legalization was always meant to create. We should be treating legalized cannabis as a legitimate retail venture and not some dirty secret to be hidden behind tinted glass.

“Let the market decide,” says Finkelstein, barely hiding his frustration with the way the stores have been cast in the media. “These are entrepreneurs who are taking major risks. That’s part of the beauty of the entrepreneurial spirit.”

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Kieran Delamont

Kieran is a writer and photographer based in Nova Scotia, located in Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. His work has appeared in Broadview, The Walrus, Maisonneuve, and elsewhere, and he has been writing about the cannabis industry since 2016.

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How to use Uber Eats to get weed in Ontario




As of today, it is officially possible to order weed on Uber Eats.

The popular delivery app is trying something new and adding cannabis to its marketplace, which also facilitates alcohol and food orders. Uber Eats has announced a partnership with Ontario-based cannabis retailer Tokyo Smoke, owned by Canopy Growth.

After selecting the pick-up option, consumers can search for cannabis or Tokyo Smoke to find their closest retail location. (Keenan/Leafly)

For Ontario residents, Uber Eats now has a cannabis section in which you can order from the nearest Tokyo Smoke, which has 56 locations across the province, 13 of which are in Toronto. The service is click-and-collect, meaning you can order in-app and pick it up at your nearest Tokyo Smoke location.

This is Uber’s first official venture into cannabis, though Uber CEO did tell CNBC that they would consider weed delivery in the US once regulations allow it. The announcement isn’t for delivery (yet). In Canada, we have our own regulations to adhere to, which is why the service is pick-up only.

It looks like it will just be Ontario residents who are able to utilize the service, for now at least. An Uber spokesperson told Reuters there aren’t any updates about expanding to other provinces, or even the United States, at this time.

“We will continue to watch regulations and opportunities closely market by market. And as local and federal laws evolve, we will explore opportunities with merchants who operate in other regions,” the spokesperson said.

Consumers can navigate Tokyo Smoke’s menu by product category to streamline in-app orders. (Keenan/Leafly)

In a perfect world, weed would be delivered directly to our doors and the service would be offered across the country. But legally speaking, that just isn’t possible at this time. This might be one of the reasons the illicit market still thrives despite adult-use prices being at an all-time low.

Uber hopes to take a bite out of the illicit market, which an Uber spokesperson tells Leafly still accounts for 40% of non-medical sales. They also want to reduce the appeal of driving under the influence, similar to how they deliver alcohol.

“When Canadian cannabis laws evolve to include delivery, options like Uber Eats are expected to help decrease impaired driving and improve safety on the road,” the rep wrote in an email.

In 2020, when Ontario deemed cannabis an essential item, the province temporarily allowed delivery and curb-side pickup of cannabis products during COVID-19 lockdowns. This past October, a plan was proposed to make those changes permanent. The legislation has yet to be passed.

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Ashley Keenan

Ashley Keenan is the Canada editor at Leafly, as well as a freelance journalist, consultant, and patient advocate in the cannabis industry. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @askcannaqueen for hot takes on cannabis and chronic illness.

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Holiday shopping made easy with festive cannabis gifts from Aurora




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Presented ByAurora

November 22, 2021

Find the perfect gift for every weed lover on your list this holiday season.

With the holiday season upon us, it’s time for people to start their annual bustling to find the gifts the loved ones on their lists will love. How better to spread some holiday cheer than by giving the gift of ganja?

Wrapping up some festive cannabis is a sure-fire way to win the holidays. Good weed is the gift that keeps on giving and with limited-edition holiday specials from your favourite Canadian brands, you can find something special for every cannasseur in your life.

Read on to find holiday highlights from Aurora and prepare for some very happy (and delightfully stoned) recipients.

For someone with a sweet tooth

cannabis gifts from Aurora
Courtesy of Aurora

Canna Cane Mints from Aurora Drift make for a sweet treat that’s everything you’d want in a stocking stuffer: They’re pocketable, approachably priced, and ultra-cute with two festively flavoured mints per pack. A limited-edition release for the holidays, each Canna Cane Mint contains 5mg THC per piece and provides a minty sweet flavour that’ll have any sweet-toothed recipient smitten.

Available in Manitoba on November 18th and Alberta on November 25th.

For the classic cannabis head

cannabis gifts from Aurora
Courtesy of Aurora

If you’re shopping for an OG smoker of discerning taste, someone who always shows up with the dankest strains in hand, you’re going to want to stick the landing with some excellent flower. The newest premium dried flower strains from San Rafael ‘71 were cultivated with the utmost care to create three impressive results: Stonefruit Sunset, Lemon Rocket, and Driftwood Diesel.

These special cultivars are the first to be bred and commercially released out of Aurora Coast, Aurora’s state-of-the-art research facility dedicated to cannabis breeding and the home of one of the largest genetic libraries in the world. After developing and screening over 7,000 individual plant genetics to find the most exciting combinations of high potency levels and rich terpene content, the Aurora Coast breeding team is ready to offer these three heavy-hitting gems.

Like all San Rafael ‘71 premium dried flower products, the new strains have been cultivated under the highest quality standards and are always hang dried and hand bottled.

Stonefruit Sunset is a hybrid derived from Gelato and Fuel cultivars, clocking in with 19-25% THC and giving off aromas of berries, sherbet, and gas. Lemon Rocket, a Fuel and Cake cross, is a 20%+ THC hybrid strain with impressively pungent aromas of gas with hints of lemon. Created from a mix of GMO and Fuel cultivars, Driftwood Diesel is an indica strain with 21-27% THC that gives off a memorable, strong gas and chem aroma and hits with earthy, nutty notes. Set someone up with any of these seriously beautiful buds and you’re primed to make anyone with a real love for good weed feel seen.

Available across Canada.

For the on-the-go giftee

cannabis gifts from Aurora
Courtesy of Aurora

This year, Daily Special has just the thing for your friend who never leaves the house without a 510 thread battery pocketed. The limited-edition Cranberry Sauce vape cart is hot and fresh for the holidays with an ~80% THC potency that packs a punch. The festive cranberry flavour is sure to be a crowd-pleaser around the holidays and the simple 1g 510 vape cart format and value price seals the deal for this being a no-brainer gift to add to your shopping list.

Available in Manitoba on November 18th and Alberta on November 25th.

For flower enthusiasts with class

Courtesy of Aurora

For the person in your life who only wants the finer things, look no further than this classic cultivar from Whistler Cannabis Co., Bubba Kush. Whistler Cannabis Co. was the first brand in Canada to earn the designation of certified organic cannabis growers. Each batch is grown in living soil, fed with glacier water, and hand harvested.

An indica-dominant hybrid, Bubba Kush is famed for its unforgettable scent and shows off a heavy frost of trichomes. From its deep purple and vibrant green leaves to its earthy, subtle-sweet flavours, Bubba Kush comes dressed to impress and will leave even the pickiest of flower enthusiasts more than satisfied.

Available in Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario.

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