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New Brunswick: An Emerging Leader in the Canadian Cannabis Industry

New Brunswick may look like a small, unassuming Maritime province, but it's making moves to become a major player in Canada's cannabis industry.

“We’re good at growing things, we’ve always been good at growing things,” Steve Milbury - Senior Director of Opportunities New Brunswick - said earlier this week at the 2018 World Cannabis Congress in Saint John, NB.

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Milbury backed up his claim by noting the multinational influence of New Brunswick companies like McCain Foods and J.D. Irving Limited, whose products are largely reliant on local agriculture.

“We’ve got the people, we’ve got the infrastructure, we’ve got the innovation, and, as a government, we’re agile," Milbury added. "We’re telling you that we’re open for business, and that’s why we’re here.”

And large-scale multinational companies are also there, investing in New Brunswick for three specific reasons, according to WCC panelist Stephen Lund - Executive Director and CEO of Opportunities New Brunswick. 

“There are really three things that companies look for, and we’re no different from any jurisdiction--and that’s skill, scale and cost,” Lund said. “Can I get good people? Can I get enough of them at a reasonable cost? If you look at what we’re selling in New Brunswick, we’re selling just that. We’re selling a great workforce.”

Cannabis research and skills development

New Brunswick is also becoming a cannabis leader in the areas of research and skills development, helping scientists better understand the maligned marijuana plant while also training retailers to hit the ground running when the recreational cannabis market opens in Canada later this year.

At the World Cannabis Congress, Eric Cook - CEO of the Research and Productivity Council - highlighted the province's efforts to shape the global conversation surrounding cannabis through RPC investments as well as the appointment of two cannabis research chairs at St. Thomas University and the University of New Brunswick. Those positions are intended to not only fill the many gaps in current cannabis science cause by over 50 years of prohibition and the War on Drugs, but they will also advance the study of the plant by leaps and bounds.

Meanwhile, Cannabis NB - the province's chain of government-run marijuana retailers - are working hard to cultivate a positive image of the industry by investing in research as well as skills development to offer knowledgable as well as responsible service to customers, according to Lara Wood - General Manager of Cannabis NB.

“I think that the most important thing for when the stores open, is to create a great customer experience,” she said, “But also recognizing that we’re going to have every different type of consumer coming into the store, so we needed to have a staff that was ready. Not only to handle customer service experience regardless of who they’re dealing with, but also be able to go deep on product knowledge and responsible use.”

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That's why Cannabis NB has invested in developing a rigorous three-to-four week training program for employees, Wood explained at the WCC panel.

Of course, customer satisfaction also depends on price and quality assurance - benchmarks that the province hopes to meet by investing in automation to keep prices low and quality high.

“Over time, there will be price-pressure in a downward way," Cook told Civilized. "That’s just the laws of supply and demand. Here, automation can help both quality assurance as well as optimizing labour and improving the workforce capacity.”

A cannabis bubble?

With such massive growth in such a short period of time, there is concern that New Brunswick's cannabis sector might be leading towards something of a “bubble effect,” with the bubble bursting in the face of legislative struggles and poor management.

Lund told Civilized that he understands this concern, but remains convinced that it would not prove to be an issue, so long as the province continues to be properly mobilized.

“I think it is sustainable," he said. "The opportunities are there. We’ve taken a leadership role in the country, and we’re recognized for it. So, it is ours to lose. As long as we do our job, we will continue to see growth and success in our companies.”


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