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January 8, 2019 10:42 pm Published by

rel8ed.to and Caddle morph their debate on Retail Cannabis into a data-driven research project.  Numbers tend not to lie, even if we disagree on policy or interpretation.   As a personal project of our founder, this topic’s submissions are written from Bob’s perspective – the company has no official stance on the issue.  Follow along here, on opinion articles from Caddle researcher Keith Thompson, and on social media. We’ll keep you updated as we near our St. Catharines City Council presentation just before the final vote on the subject January 14.

Why are we looking at retail cannabis?

Personal interest. Like many parents of teens, I have a good sense of what they might get into by simply dialing back the timeline. Growing up in my area of Chicago, the kids who did smoke started early – about 7th grade.

While the late 70’s may have been the high-water mark, 1-in-5 teens in North America will light up for exploration, the cool factor, or just to kick back and chillax.

Just like many of the adults in their lives do.

Juul pods - cute, cool, and cannabis-ready

I’m very concerned about youth usage of the Juul electronic cigarette, quite simple to hack for cannabis. Online tutorials show how to fill pods with any sort of oil, including high-potency THC.  This easy ability to hide smoke-and-smell, and the prevalence of the device in schools, makes cannabis vaping a public health issue for kids and raises the stakes for choice of retail location.

Business interest.  As a business data analytics company, rel8ed.to has been swamped with requests on the cannabis industry in Canada since October 2018. Banks, insurance companies, and government agencies are all interested to know about industry risk and prospects north and south of the border.  We’ve also been asked by public health agencies to look into parallels for the vaping and legalization industry in the US.

In October, we released Canada’s first Cannabis Supply Chain Tracker, looking at over 1,300 businesses involved in the production, processing, transport, and sale of both primary cannabis product and secondary accessories.  We included the full picture of the industry, including both medical and addiction counseling services we forecast to grow along with increased consumption.

And yet: rel8ed.to operates in a midsize college city with more than its share of dark main street doorsteps and summer buskers with a unique take on “high art”.  There are few places I can take a corporate visitor without a telltale smell in the stairwell or parking garage.  My initial reaction was that the city’s done such a good job cleaning things up downtown and transiting Niagara from industrial and Ag to highbrow winery and tech –

Retail cannabis impacts city's image

Why drag our city’s image backwards with a retail magnet for lowbrow jokes and innuendo, with a public health chaser?  Isn’t that bad for business?

Talking tough?  Why is this even worth it?

When this online debate started, I received a call from a trusted advisor who heads the Canadian office of a large multinational. He didn’t mince words – “Bob, what do you expect to get out of this public discussion? And exactly how is this debate related to your business proposition?” As we chatted, I realized that my knee-jerk focus on the image of cannabis usage in our town may have been informed by my own past – but ignored many of the present-day realities brought forward over the last 35 years.

Our discussion also challenged my personal thinking on the subject.  In light of the various substances one might use to get a buzz on, a product that has defined medical benefits and results in a mellow outcome seems a rather un-interesting opponent.  Finally – regardless of one’s personal choice on usage, there’s enough variance in our society on this subject to make it a dangerous prospect for any company to pick a spot on this issue.

Let’s debate retail cannabis instead

The real question for both residents and resident businesses is this:  should our city allow the sale of this product, with all its ups and downs, or should we stay away?   And…how can data, rather than those pesky terms like Keith uses – ‘pandering to fear, ignorance, irrational prejudice’ – inform our discussion?

It’s a legal right for adults

In Ontario, we’ve moved past the issue of whether willing adults can partake.  Residents can purchase product and use wherever they wish (you can light up pretty much anywhere you can smoke tobacco).  Canadians have the right to accessible, safe cannabis product, and should enjoy a low barrier of entry across socio-economic groups.  This means standardized access and public accommodations like easy access to retail cannabis via public transit.

It’s all about safety

Safety means that access to the product needs to be out in the open, even if not promoted (there’s a law for that, too).  The rules require a setback from schools for any retail cannabis operation.  We might also hope to avoid child friendly locations such as youth retail, daycare operations, and churches.

Keith also highlights that retail cannabis provides a safe environment to learn about cannabis products.  Viewing some of the early research numbers, this will factor in as one of the most interesting consumer sentiment findings in the Caddle survey.

Retail cannabis inspires and inflames

There’s real community interest

Regardless of the positioning and posturing, there’s no doubt this issue inflames passions – and for both sides, it’s rightly based on a sense of what’s best for our area.  Call it sweetening the pot or what have you – the early municipalities that choose to allow retailing could enjoy a share of a cool 15 million to help ease in educational programs, policing, and policymaking.  Let’s truly hope THAT’s not one of the main drivers in the council’s decision.

Our research partners at Caddle agreed to conduct a broad sentiment survey with specific questions on community concerns, effects on commerce and families, and expected impacts on crime and culture.  This information will be cross-referenced against the likely allowable retail cannabis locations in our city based on rel8ed.to’s unique data on the local business space.  This cross-correlation will relate community perception to the very practical choice of where to put these stores. The findings will be analyzed by the joint team, published online in our favourite visualization tool (Tableau Public), and presented along with our suggestions to the St. Catharines City Council.

Get involved in the discussion

If we do our jobs right, our little research project can guide a broader discussion on how consumer rights and preference can intersect with business realities.  But I do expect we’ll continue to have a bit of tug on retail cannabis given the personal angle – how can we avoid our own bias on something so close to home?

What do you think? Follow the discussion online to inform us, learn a bit, and maybe even challenge your own perceptions.

An aside: why call it Chapelle?  Since our first day in business, rel8ed.to has always vigorously pursued client and data confidentiality. This leads to a bit of misdirection and fun when discussing client work amongst ourselves and with our partners.  And given our heavy engagement with the local school board and University, we felt it best to keep this project’s real topic a semi-secret internally.  We’ll leave you to conduct your own codeword search if you wish.

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This post was written by Bob Lytle

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