Spotlight: Virtual Grower Day 2021
The state of affairs
The medical cannabis system is in need of an overhaul and Trina Fraser believes the industry needs to take the lead in bringing this change.
As the Cannabis Act undergoes its three-year legislation review this October, Fraser says the industry cannot leave behind the issues that most affect medical cannabis patients in the country.
Fraser was the keynote speaker at this year’s Virtual Grower Day on April 14. She shared her knowledge as cannabis lawyer and partner at Brazeau Seller Law, and board member of Medical Cannabis Canada to break down the history of challenges of the medical cannabis sector.
“We still have a whole lot of issues to deal with as medical patients,” she said. “We need to make sure that through this upcoming review of the legislation that the medical framework is not only protected but enhanced.”
Just before recreational legalization, Fraser said Canada showed a 350 per cent increase in patient registrations between 2016 and 2018. From 2018 to 2020, statistics show a mere nine per cent increase of new registrations.
“The way I look at this is that we still have too many barriers for medical patients, such that it is pushing the patients out of the medical framework into the recreational framework where they are self-medicating… because it’s just easier,” she said.
Diving further into Health Canada statistics, Fraser found significant slow downs in processing applications for personal production and designated grower licensing. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 90 per cent of applications were being processed monthly. After April 2020, registration numbers have plummeted anywhere from 10 to 12 per cent every month.
Excise duties on all products with more than 0.3 per cent THC will be a major point of advocacy for Medical Cannabis Canada during the Cannabis Act review, said Fraser. Duties compounded on a patient’s medical products is another barrier that is pushing patients to the recreational market, and perhaps even the illicit market.
“The rationale given at the time was they didn’t want to create incentives for people to fake their way into the medical framework, which is ridiculous because trust me, there’s enough hurdles already,” she said.
George Smitherman, president of Cannabis Council of Canada (C3), will also be participating in the upcoming legislative reviews for the Cannabis Act. However, he hints that discussions at the review might not bring about the swift change the industry craves.
“I think some people believe the statutory review is going to fall this October and we’re off to the races. The thing about it is, that’s the beginning,” he explained during his on-demand presentation. “It could be two or three years before these amendments could possibly be voted on in the House of Commons and voted on by the Senate.”
Smitherman said C3’s priorities for the year are currently around building its member caucuses that address a number of regulatory topics, such as distributor task-force with provinces, beverages caucus, its newest sustainability caucus, and a proposed caucus for the medical sector.
“I spent most of my life in politics and I have 10 pieces of legislation under my wing,” he said. “I think that for us, as an industry, it’s really going to behoove us to find the means of getting our challenges addressed that are most effective.”
Optimizing best practices
Growing is no longer about relying on the grower’s intuition and “flying by the seat of your pants,” said CCI-Deloitte senior lead cultivation manager, Jayson Goodale.
Goodale offered his expertise in horticulture and commercial cannabis production during Virtual Grower Day on April 14. With so many automated environmental controls in a commercial facility, he honed in on some key performance indicators (KPIs) that growers need to make informed decisions about their standard operating procedures.
Selecting the proper genetics optimized to your particular growing method is the first step, said Goodale. He recommended monitoring the crop’s yield per square foot or square metre alongside its kilograms of Grade A vs. Grades B & C product per harvest.
Light intensity and environment controls can also be complex. “You can’t just increase your light and expect to get higher yields,” Goodale explained. “When you’re assessing your lighting program, your historical environment and your lighting environment play a very important role together.”
He said pay close attention to Day Light Integral (DLI) and Vapor pressure deficit (Vpd) as key factors in assessing your program.
Goodale warned attendees about getting complacent with routine sampling and testing programs, which will help determine the efficacy of your nutrient program and and integrated pest management program.
Suzanne Wainwright-Evans offered her own expertise as a horticultural entomologist. In her presentation, she shared economical and ecological best practices in maintaining a facility that is free of pests and diseases.
“There are many different challenges that depend on your growing method. This makes it hard to have one pest management answer to fit all,” she said.
Wainwright-Evans said identification is the most critical step in crafting a pest management program. Maintaining a regular schedule of scouting through plants and looking for small signs of common pests will be a grower’s best prevention strategy.