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Cultivation Takes Centre Stage at Grow Up Toronto, 2024

In the heart of Canada's cannabis market, Grow Up Toronto honoured legacy roots and focused on future growth

June 1, 2024  By Haley Nagasaki


Grow Up Toronto, 2024

Returning to Ontario after a hiatus, Grow Up hosted their semi-annual conference on site of Canada’s largest provincial cannabis market for a three-day event.

Randy Rowe, Grow Up’s president and founder, relocated the event from its usual Niagara location to the Delta Hotels Toronto Airport & Conference Centre, serving as an exclusive container for the event. Exhibitors, headliners and guests commented on the room, where the energy had returned in full-force marked by shoulders brushing and hoarse voices at the end of the three days.

While the High North stage for sessions warranted sitting in the front row to hear presentations in full, panel topics and supporting conversations spilled out into the surrounding rooms and networking events.

Legendary American horticulturalist and author of several cultivation books stemming back to the ‘80s, Jorge Cervantes, said he was “very impressed with the level of knowledge and professionalism,” seen at Grow Up.

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“Spain and much of Europe have a lot of catching up to enter the same realm as Canada.” – Jorge Cervantes

Super Panel: Then, Now and Beyond

Cultivation discussions

The heavyweights of the cultivation world took the stage for an all-star panel moderated by Av Singh, consisting of the winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award – Hash Queen Mila Jansen, Ed Rosenthal, Jorge Cervantes and two award-winning eastern Canadian growers, Alex Gauthier and Chris Crosbie.

“The all-star panel discussion highlighted the old guys (Mila, Ed and me) plus passed the torch to the young guys (Alex and Chris),” said Cervantes. “I’m so pleased that the dedicated, innovative strong grower/entrepreneurs are dominating the marketplace; they have good sense!”

The infinitely warm and joyous spirit shared by the cannabis legends (Tommy Chong included) permeated the show, where brazen prohibition stories serve as a catalyst for the industry’s continued evolution with its legacy roots woven into the fabric. These icons never forget those who forged this industry and the sacrifices made along the way, paying homage to the dreamers, the farmers and innovators.

“They call me the Hash Queen because I invented the first machine that separates trichomes from the rest of the plant material,” said Jansen. “I’m so very happy to be here at Grow Up in Toronto, having a good time. I was very lucky I got a prize,” she said. “It’s been a wonderful time here, I really enjoyed myself.”

Rosenthal also drove home the importance of cultivation, thanking the farmers whose mission is to “get the whole country stoned,” and equating freedom with the right to farm cannabis. We’re living in the “golden age of post-prohibition,” he said, and the United States is officially consuming more cannabis than beverage alcohol.

Tommy Chong in the consumption lounge

Other sessions followed the cultivation focus, including a case study by Muskoka Grown’s cultivation manager Melissa Amelia about transitioning from HPS to LED grow lights.

In addition to lower boiler and chiller load, and lower replacement and maintenance cost – having converted four of her 14 grow rooms – Amelia found consistent THC levels between the two types of lights but an increase in overall yield and terpene levels. She commented on the earlier purpling of flower under LED, quoting: “The future is full spectrum.”

Triploids, cannabis seeds with three sets of chromosomes, also served as the topic of discussion during a Wednesday morning panel.

Big League Genetics’ Dustan McLean sat with Steven Tan, 4Plant Corporation, Max Jones of the University of Guelph, and Greater Sacramento’s Benjamin Lind of Humboldt Seed Company, moderated by Amos Bassi – Philips LEDs.

While the “tech” for producing these resilient seeds may not yet be there, “we know it happens naturally in nature and finding those naturally occurring ones will be my focus,” says McLean. “I think they have huge benefits for drought-stricken areas and places like Alberta where fast flowering plants will flourish.”

The panel commented on the potential issues when delivering triploid seeds to industry with haste, akin to the feminization craze, however McLean noted that “guys like Ben are doing it right.”

The Genetic Revolution

Mendo Pavilion

From cultivation to post-harvest, cannabis CPGs were showcased in the Mendo Pavilion on the expo floor hosted by medical platform Mendo Cannabis. The pavilion “served as a central hub” for industry, including retailers, “fostering a vibrant community atmosphere that emphasized innovation and collaboration,” said Jay Schwartz – Mendo’s COO.

“Our focus was not only on product showcases, but also on creating a space where meaningful connections could be made,” said Schwartz. “The on-site consumption lounge and brand presentations added a layer of interactivity that was appreciated by both exhibitors and attendees,” he said, underlining the “overwhelmingly positive” response from industry in the days following the event.

The B2B focus of the first two days “ensured productive business interactions,” while the inclusion of a B2C element on the final day “allowed for consumer and budtender engagement, which was a new and exciting addition this year,” concluded Schwartz.

Grower’s Lunch sponsored by Quality Horticulture, Hawthorn Gardens and Grow Opportunity

Grower’s Luncheon

Following two days of consummating new relationships in the consumption lounge, many top growers found themselves indoors to break focaccia and French bread over the 8th annual Grower’s Luncheon.

Hosted by Av Singh and sponsored by Quality Horticulture, Hawthorn Gardens and Grow Opportunity, the event organizer and Grow Up Conference Program Manager Andrew Nunez-Alvarez took charge of the afternoon session and had a hand in crafting the grower-focused trivia questions.

“I would like to genuinely thank all the growers for their hard work and commitment towards this industry and hope that every skilled grower across Canada has a chance to join us for this exclusive, Growers-Only event in the future,” said Nunez-Alvarez.

“As a grower who started off in this industry well over a decade ago, it fills my heart to see a positive shift towards meaningful networking and relationship building amongst legal and legacy growers as the industry evolves,” he said.

“The growers who are actively stepping out of their comfort zone and pushing themselves to become a better grower and leader for their team, are the future of this industry.” – Andrew Nunez-Alvarez

The Hash Queen Mila Jansen, Lifetime Achievement Award winner

A note on the regs

Global cannabis consultant Mitchell Osak found that Grow Up “had a palpable buzz and cautious optimism for the future, with sentiments ground in hard fought experience and the realities of the sector (excise taxes, product proliferation).”

Osak noted an absence of big LPs in favour of smaller companies and ancillary product suppliers, though “many of the attending companies did reflect a growing maturation of the cannabis ecosystem, including tech providers, resellers and First Nations.”

While Grow Up “still maintained the carnival-like atmosphere of typical cannabis events,” Osak found “lots of LP sizzle on their products but little in the way of meaningful product or brand differentiation that would uniquely delight consumers.”

Denis Gertler also spoke on a regulatory insights panel that included a broad mix of topics from retail, the expert panel, the Ontario Cannabis Store’s THC testing, medical research for the purposes of export, and the AGCO’s mystery shopper program.

While the most advanced international markets focus on medical cannabis products, still dealing with regulatory compliance “is a dog’s breakfast” he said. However, there was plenty to discuss from the local scene, such as some of the issues around minors in retail authorized stores.

“Apparently the AGCO has been doing some checks through their mystery shopper program and there’s very high rates of non-compliance,” said Gertler. “There could be some enforcement action coming, and there could be some further activity around retail inducements in Ontario as well – so that $200,000 fine to Cannabis Xpress wasn’t the only thing going on.”

Gertler relayed that the OCS will likely terminate their temporary THC testing program on schedule “because they don’t think it’s their responsibility,” he said. “They’ve noticed as soon as they rolled out the program, people started relabeling a lot of their products because they didn’t want to have to be forced to do it.”

Other highlights included what panelists wanted to see differently, including excise tax, advertising and promotion laws, and research.

“I talked about research because I think it’s holding us back,” said Gertler. “When we don’t have clinical research, the medical community doesn’t trust us – it’s hampering export to medical markets.”

Super Panel


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