As a world leader in cannabis reform, Canada’s role in the expansion and growth of the industry has always been vital. Now, that the country is on the verge legalizing recreational use, Canada’s role in the global future of cannabis is more significant than ever. But with that privilege comes the responsibility to set a good example for the industry on the global stage.

“We have to be mindful,” Jakob Ripshtein - CCO of the licensed cannabis producer Aphria - said earlier this week during a panel at the 2018 World Cannabis Congress in Saint John, New Brunswick. “The world will look to us as a test market to see what can be done. We have to be careful what programs are going to go, how fast we’re going to go, because we are a platform for the world.”

Embracing diversity

Ripshtein's fellow panelists all agreed that their duty extends beyond basic adherence to the rules and regulations, that it should also include initiatives related to socio-political issues and a commitment to setting a standard for corporate social responsibility.

Most notably, the panel addressed the fact that, as an industry still in its infancy, the cannabis sector is uniquely positioned to take a leadership role in terms of gender diversity in the workforce.

“That is part of what we should do to try to lead this charge around the world ” said Alan Gertner - CEO of Hiku Brands. “We should be incredibly thoughtful about the infrastructure and the decisions that we’re making, because we’re on the world stage right now.”

Which is not to say that this has necessarily been the trend thus far. It’s difficult to ignore the irony of a panel entirely comprised of white men discussing the need to promote diversity. In conversation with Civilized, Gertner acknowledged that his own company is currently not where it needs to be in term of diversity, but said he does feel committed to this cause.

“I think we’re in a position where we have this incredible emerging segment of the market, and I think we get the chance to make some really intentional decisions,” he said. “We have a responsibility to use that opportunity and to recognize that we need to involve as many diverse perspectives as possible.”

Legitimizing medicinal cannabis

Internal structural concerns aside, the panel also felt quite strongly that companies must not allow the focus on medicinal marijuana to fall by the wayside as they plunge deeper into the business of creating products for recreational use.

But one panelist argued that recreational use will actually strengthen the medical industry.

“I think you're going to see more credibility layered onto the medical system,” said Mark Zekulin - President of Canopy Growth. “The barrier is the doctor, and today there is still this mentality that maybe [the patient] just wants to get high, well, that will actually start to disappear. Because, if you just want to get high, you can go to the official cannabis stores. So suddenly, I feel it adds a lot of credibility when a patient is showing up to talk to a doctor.”

As the cannabis market continues to grow, we can expect a large influx new companies coming into the industry. As a relative newcomer to the cannabis industry, Ripshtein is particularly attuned to what emerging companies might face when entering this corporate culture. After the panel, he assured Civilized that if the current commercial atmosphere is restrictive to newcomers, he “hasn’t seen it.”

“When you join the process, you need to be different, and you need to work fast,” he said. “Apart from that, I don’t really see any barriers to entry.”

And there is considerable camaraderie among cannabis businesses at present. As with any industry, there is competition, but the fact that all of these companies can rally behind the mutual belief that cannabis is good, their shared goal gives them a certain degree of dependency, as well as a significant incentive to regulate themselves for the sake of de-stigmatizing their trade.