ILLUSTRATION BY BYRON EGGENSCHWILER
Cannabis legalization was supposed to be a licence to print money. Three years on, nobody is turning a profit
BACK IN 2018, during those months before Canada legalized recreational cannabis, things were good for the pot industry. Companies were being hyped as pioneers in “the green frontier” and “proof that money grows on trees.” Cannabis stocks were going ballistic, and three of the largest companies’ share values had each increased by more than 200 percent over the course of 2017—according to media outlet MJBizDaily, the Canadian Marijuana Index had risen by 117 percent in December of that year alone. Investors were not just making money, they were making money fast.
Nowhere was the hype more obvious than Smiths Falls, Ontario, where a mundane press event one hot summer day in August 2018—the opening of cannabis producer Tweed’s visitors’ centre—offered a bizarre study of an industry primed for ascension. About a dozen TV cameras were present, plus photographers, reporters, dignitaries of the local business community, and politicians, all crowding through a routine facility tour. The event was a master class in buzz generation: it featured sample chocolates and an invitation to imagine them dosed with cannabis; production rooms that were still half empty and an invitation to imagine them finally full in a few short months; a gift shop and café and an invitation to imagine them packed with happy buyers. That all of it seemed somewhat half-finished could be glossed over—the promise of prosperity was obvious.
The town of Smiths Falls had come to see cannabis as a path to economic salvation. It had been hurting since 2008, when chocolatier Hershey closed shop. Tweed moving into the old chocolate plant in 2013 gave residents reasons both real and symbolic to be hopeful. As far as any of the company and government folks on the junket were concerned, Smiths Falls was ground zero for a new worldwide movement. The mayor called it the cannabis capital of the universe, and perhaps he was right. A few US states had piloted recreational cannabis, but this felt different—Canadian legalization would create a national industry with the sheen of a social revolution. Prohibition and the unequal criminalization of cannabis were, in principle, coming to an end. Global brands were in the making. Multinational corporations were on the rise. Countries across the world were going to look at Canada and be inspired—we were the future.
Published: August 10, 2021
Founder & Interim Editor of L.A. Cannabis News