On the eve of legal cannabis

A worker wearing a hairnet and sunglasses tends marijuana plants in a greenhouse.

With Canada set to become the first G7 country to legalize recreational cannabis, five alumni working in the sector reflect on this transformative move.

By Linda Scales

On October 17, Canada will become the first G7 country to legalize recreational cannabis. Reflecting on some of the challenges and opportunities of this transformative move are five uOttawa alumni. With expertise in cannabis production, health research, employment law, quality assurance and government regulation, they also illustrate the range of work that exists in this expanding sector.


Opportunity for Canada

Mark Zekulin (LLB ’07) is President and Co-CEO of Canopy Growth in Smith Falls, Ontario, the world’s largest medical marijuana producer operating in 11 countries on five continents. It was the first cannabis company listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange and, more recently, on the New York Stock Exchange. This year, Zekulin himself was named one of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40.

Growing a new industry and taking a misunderstood product out from under prohibition is an incredible opportunity. Of course, it comes with challenges but these are ultimately positive ones that I welcome. Here in Canada we have the opportunity to set the global standard for what legalized recreational cannabis looks like and how it can be done in a responsible manner. Where there are concerns or challenges, we’re focused on finding solutions and fostering progress.

The potential of this sector is just starting to be realized. When we talk about what may be in store for recreational cannabis here in Canada, or medical cannabis across the world, some forget how wide the range of opportunities truly is. Of course, we need people that have experience with cannabis – in agriculture, marketing and so on – but there are also opportunities in so many ancillary areas.


A boost for research

Amy Porath (BA ’01), PhD, is Director of Research at the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction in Ottawa. With 17 years of experience focused on cannabis research, Porath collaborates with key stakeholders from the public, not for profit, academic and private sectors to fill cannabis-related knowledge gaps that will help to inform policies, programs and practices.

Legalization creates a unique opportunity for Canada to become an international leader in catalyzing and advancing research on cannabis. While there is certainly a lot we know about the effects of non-medical cannabis use, significant gaps exist in our current knowledge. We also need to accelerate research on the therapeutic potential of cannabis in order to maximize health benefits for Canadians.

Legalization will help to facilitate and further research on cannabis through partnerships with the academic research community, national and provincial health organizations, industry, people with lived and living experience with cannabis, and knowledge users.

Some exciting employment opportunities also exist for young alumni in various disciplines, including the physical and social sciences, and technology and innovation. In fact, in my organization we’ll have a number of positions related to cannabis opening up in the coming months.


New issues for employers

Joël M. Dubois (LLB ’02) is a litigation lawyer and partner at Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall LLP in Ottawa. Dubois, who practises law in both English and French, will be one of the instructors of the Cannabis Law course offered to uOttawa Common Law students in January 2019.

Legalization will have an impact on all aspects of Canadian society, some more than others. One of the big challenges is for employers to figure out rules for the workplace. For example, employers will need to decide if they will allow employees to be in possession of cannabis at work, or whether they will regulate the use of cannabis during business hours or for a set period of time prior to working.

In uOttawa’s Cannabis Law course, I’ll be speaking on issues of employment and labour, while my law firm colleagues, including Megan Wallace [LLB ‘09], will deal with business law. We’ll also have a lawyer speaking about immigration and cross-border issues since these will be challenging for business people. Property law is another big concern.


Benefits for consumers

Emily Bryans (BSc ’16) is a quality assurance specialist at Gatineau-based Hydropothecary Corp.(also known as HEXO Corp.), producers of medical and recreational cannabis. She is part of the team responsible for all things quality-related within the company as it pertains to the production, processing and distribution of cannabis.

One of my favourite things about this industry is interacting daily with a large number of young professionals. The hard work, dedication and commitment I see demonstrated by my colleagues makes me confident that we can overcome any challenge that comes our way.

Legalization is already creating opportunities in Canada – jobs, research and investment, and providing Canadians with access to quality, affordable and unique products. Consumers will have the power to choose the cannabis products they consume, and peace of mind knowing exactly what they are getting.


Skills in demand

Andrew Waye (BSc ‘07, PhD ’15) is a senior scientific evaluator in Health Canada’s Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Branch. At uOttawa, he studied ethnobotany (the study of the use of plants by humans for medicinal purposes) and neuroendocrinology (how the brain controls the body’s hormones). At Health Canada, he applies his expertise to the development of policies for the regulation of legal cannabis.

There’s no better time to be entering the cannabis industry. It’s still in its early days and needs energetic and well-trained minds in the sciences, law, economics, education – you name it! The useful skills range from chemistry and computer programming, all the way to communications and design.

No matter what your previous experience or knowledge, there’s likely a way to apply it to this emerging sector. Once in, your success will depend on being effective and nimble, given the breakneck pace at which everything is moving as the industry grows and matures.

Main photo:
Canopy Growth

Mark Zekulin

Mark Zekulin“If you’d told me five years ago this would be our company’s reality and mine, I wouldn’t have believed you. The pace of change and growth has been incredible.”

Amy Porath

Amy Porath: “My expertise has also allowed me to contribute to national public education efforts aimed at helping Canadians learn about cannabis."

Joël M. Dubois

Joël M. Dubois: “We decided to offer the Cannabis Law course because legalization will have an impact on all aspects of Canadian society."

Emily Bryans

Emily Bryans: “Every day is a new opportunity to build upon everything I’ve learned up until this point.”

Andrew Waye

Andrew Waye: "As the new Cannabis Act approaches, the industry is in need of well-trained individuals who can apply themselves in an effective way."

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