Canada: Montreal Weed Conference Explores Opportunities In Cannabis Industry

Photo Credit: Peter McCabe

Approximately 70 students and other curious types filed into an auditorium in Concordia’s John Molson School of Business on Saturday evening for something called The Weed Conference.

Giggle all you want, but with its upcoming legalization, recreational cannabis and the industry surrounding it are about to become serious business, and these people — on this night, mostly, but not all, young men — wanted to get in on the ground floor.

“It’s always been … not a passion of mine, but something I’m interested in,” said Karl (not his real name), a John Molson School of Business student who previously co-owned a cannabis dispensary in San Francisco.

“This event seemed interesting and there’s some opportunities for internships, so I decided to come.”

Five paid summer internships were to be awarded to the group that submitted the best cannabis-derived business proposal. The contest was one of several components of an action-packed six hours, including panels of industry professionals, question periods, workshops and a pair of $100 cash prizes (one of them given to the winner of a cannabis trivia game).

“I just want to know more about the sector and the laws and regulations surrounding it, to see how it’s developing,” said Mark (not his real name), who works in investor relations.

The fact that attendees were so media shy points to the legal and cultural limbo in which cannabis remains. It was a running theme of the event, co-hosted by CJAD’s Dave Kaufman, who started things off by telling the crowd that “It’s the wild west, and we’ve got the best cowboys and cowgirls here to explain the ins and outs of this burgeoning industry.

“They’re going to need so many people to fill this industry and make it everything it can be. People say they want to get in on the ground floor, and this is a great place for it.”

The first guest speaker was Jenn Larry, president of CBD Strategy Group, described on its website as a marketing and communications firm serving the Canadian cannabis industry. She immediately asked everyone to stand up.

“Just for one second,” she said. “Get uncomfortable. We really need this to be engaging, because this is the beginning of something huge. Oftentimes you hear people saying, in this industry, that you’re riding the bike and building it at the same time.”

She voiced her dislike of the evening’s title, explaining that it could just as easily have been called the Cannabis Conference, which would have been more appropriate given all opportunities around cannabis derivatives.

“What I would welcome you all to do as your minds are thinking about building business plans is to remember that we’re not building a weed business,” she said. “We’re building a marijuana industry, where the purpose, the intention and the ability is far more interesting than just getting high with a bunch of your friends smoking a doob.”

Larry also spoke of the social service provided by medical cannabis, while the next guest, Martin Moravcik, co-founder of hemp food company Manitoba Harvest (samples of which were given to participants), spoke of the history and possibilities of the cannabis derivative.

It was all music to Antonio Bramante’s ears. The Quebec cannabis industry mover and shaker had organized The Weed Conference in conjunction with the John Molson School of Business’s Commerce and Administration Student Association in just 10 days. It is the first in a series of similar conferences he hopes to hold in universities during the summer.

“The purpose is to demonstrate the opportunities in this new industry to students, to show them how many different professions are involved in this business, from production to distribution to the branding, legal and regulatory affairs behind it.

“These students will be the ones carrying this business forward. There are a lot of jobs to be filled, training and education required in this industry in order for people to make the correct decisions. It’s the perfect timing now.”

Bramante describes himself as a consultant for B.C. company MYM Nutraceuticals, which plans to create a 1.5- million-square-foot cannabis facility in the aptly named town of Weedon, Que.

“We’ll be breaking ground in about a month from now,” Bramante said. “The first phase is 300,000 square feet.”

The production facility will be part of larger plan that includes an education centre, a resource development centre and a museum, he elaborated.

Bramante was the co-founder of the compassion club Culture 420, which was raided in 2010 when it was revealed the company had sold cannabis to clients without medical prescriptions. A real-estate agent at the time, Bramante lost his licence as a result. But times are ‘a-changin’, he opined.

“I’ve been one of the advocates saying let’s try to keep (this business) here in our province. I think it’s important, because Quebec is lagging in the national race.”