Photo: Alanna Rizza

Pass your skills onto the cannabis industry, before it’s too late

In Business & Technology1 Comment

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By Sera Wong and Izabella Balcerzak

After a record number of tourists in 2017, Toronto is about to see how the legalization of cannabis will make its mark. In terms of Ryerson’s Hospitality and Tourism Management program (HSTM), they’re focused on adapting to face the opportunities that are now present to their students.

HSTM program director, Frederic Dimanche, says there are discussions happening within the faculty and during the Ted Rogers School of Management’s Advisory Council meetings on how to best incorporate cannabis tourism into the curriculum. He added that they’re already addressing cannabis related issues in classes like HR Management and Risk and Crisis Management. Students are also using it as the main topic in their senior research projects.

The cannabis industry is expected to skyrocket to the point that CIBC expects it to generate a retail value of roughly $6.8 billion by 2020, which is comparable to wine in scale.  According to Deloitte, Canada could also add 150,000 cannabis jobs in the next couple years.

Tim Hung, a second-year student in the HSTM program, said cannabis tourism is a topic that is widely discussed by his peers and in lectures. “The academic environment needs to keep pace,” said Hung. “Otherwise we’re missing out on an industry that’s going to be so central to Canada.”

While Ontarians can buy up to 30 grams of dried cannabis through the Ontario Cannabis Online Store, the market will open to the private sector in April, while edibles won’t be legal until next October. Aspects relating to regulation haven’t been fully completed. “You can ask yourself, on a broader perspective…what kind of impact will it have on overall Canadian health?” said Dimanche. “Public services, mental health, public health, counsellors, psychologists—do we have enough of those?”

Bradley Poulos, instructor of Ryerson’s Business of Cannabis course, said this is the perfect time for young people to get involved and also look ahead into a new industry, to take advantage of future profits.

Poulos said that lots of people wouldn’t consume weed in its current form, but would gladly have a cannabis infused soda. But before retailers and producers can start putting their business into practice, they must get varying licenses to grow, process and sell cannabis. Businesses also can’t sell to those under 19, or else they face having their license stripped.

Aside from the Business of Cannabis course, which started this year, Ryerson is also looking into more research and development with cannabis through their Plant Evolutionary Ecology Lab. Poulos said the lab applied for a processing license to produce and test products of cannabis, such as oil, which can be used in food. Steve Naraine, a member of the lab, has conducted research relating to the medical uses of cannabis. Naraine and a Ryerson spokesperson declined to comment.

“The challenge is that, for entrepreneurs, for the Ryerson student, you don’t know what that playbook is yet”

Canada, the second country in the world to fully legalize cannabis after Uruguay, is still in the growth phase, said Poulos, meaning there’s still the global market to explore.

Cannabis at Work, a company founded by Alison McMahon three years ago, started by educating employers about cannabis. When the Cannabis Act, otherwise known as Bill C-45, was introduced, McMahon saw the opportunity to offer recruitment services. She said that a year and a half ago, they were focused on recruiting licensed producers. But in the past six months, they’ve seen a big shift toward retail roles, corporate positions in accounting, marketing and IT at cannabis companies.

McMahon said students can take comfort in the fact that it is an industry that’s based in legislation and part of public policy. Current skills in the workforce are also transferable, she mentioned. Those involved in pharmaceuticals or food production can help with quality insurance, while sales roles are being offered to those in the beverage and alcohol sector.

“We’re building it as we go, and there’s a lot of ambiguity in that,” McMahon said, noting that joining the industry requires you to be comfortable with a lot problem-solving. She said that people looking to start up their own business in the cannabis sector need to be prepared by also being well-financed, and that it’s essential that entrepreneurs have enough cash on hand to account for changes in regulation.

Mitchell Osak, who regularly consults for cannabis companies as Managing Director of Strategic Advisory at Grant Thornton, says companies should be careful when making assumptions about how much THC or CBD can be in a product, and how it can be labelled. The THC level in cannabis can be modified to be more potent than in the past, which adds more confusion to regulations surrounding potency. Licensed producers had previously been preparing to sell through government-regulated stores, until Doug Ford, who’s been reported to be a hash dealer in years past by The Globe and Mail, changed the legislation in July.

Ford’s new legislation changes the public model into a private one by April 2019, effectively making a move to try and cut the power out of the hands of the black market. But that effect has a higher chance of taking place once recreational cannabis becomes sold at a cheaper price in stores.

Osak says businesses had to shift their entire operating model, including how they wanted to go to market. “The good news is, everybody’s in the same boat. Large companies, small companies, entrepreneurs, you’re all playing with the same playbook,” he said. “The challenge is that, for entrepreneurs, for the Ryerson student, you don’t know what that playbook is yet.”

That’s why there are courses like Business of Cannabis back at Ryerson. “You need to find a problem that needs to be solved or find a hole in the market,” said Poulos. Because that guarantees you have a market of at least one.


  1. For an interesting model of cannabis tourism, look to Colorado. The public tourism sector (Colorado Tourism Organization, Visit Denver) refuses to acknowledge it or include it in any official destination branding. Understandable, given it’s still federally illegal. But that presents Canada with a unique opportunity to embrace cannabis tourism and sprinkle it (tastefully) onto its tourism image — much like Colorado has done with its exploding craft beer scene.

    It’s only a matter of time before cannabis and alcohol will be regulated, marketed, and sought-after by tourists in similar ways in more and more parts of the world.

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