Sheldon Croome grows and sells marijuana.
On Oct. 1, he went to New York’s prestigious Advertising Week to speak to some of the world’s most influential business people and marketers to sell even more of the drug.
Croome is the president and CEO of Atlas Growers, an Edmonton-based cannabis producer with a growing facility just west of the Alberta capital.
“It’s full of opportunity not just locally and nationally, but internationally,” Croome said of Canada’s burgeoning cannabis industry.
The world wants to know more about what Croome and other Canadian cannabis companies are doing.
In New York, Atlas executives are part of panels talking about the business of pot. And there’s little wonder why there’s interest in what they have to say.
On Oct. 17, Canada will legalize marijuana for recreational use. On that day, a whole new, multi-million dollar industry will officially start doing business.
Atlas focuses primarily on medical marijuana but legalization changes the regulatory playing field, allowing more access and more business opportunities. Many companies will focus on both the medical and recreational markets.
Croome predicts being part of that market will pay off.
“The medical cannabis market globally is, depending on the person estimating, somewhere between $100 and $200 billion. Right now, there are very few producers who can service that market,” Croome said.
“It’s happening very quickly, quicker than most people would probably understand or imagine. It’s a quick revolution, especially on medical.”
Atlas Growers wants to be one of the leaders in the marijuana field. The company expects to soon start growing in its 38,000-square-foot facility near Rich Valley, Alta. By the end of the year, Croome said he hopes to employ 50 people and be able to produce at least 5,000 kilograms of product per year.
His business and the whole industry is quickly changing. Even before the company plants its first seed, Atlas is preparing an ambitious expansion. It wants to build another 350,000-square-foot facility which would employ hundreds more people and allow Atlas to produce 100,000 kg of cannabis per year.
On top of the growers, legalization means cannabis retail stores.
As of Monday, Oct. 1, Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis had received 795 applications for a cannabis retail permit. More than 3,000 people have finished a course required to work selling cannabis products.
MAP: Alberta will have 17 cannabis stores open for business on Oct. 17
Economists are struggling to predict exactly what the industry will look like post Oct. 17. Marijuana has been illegal for decades and there simply isn’t enough data available.
The vice-dean at the University of Alberta’s School of Business is studying that pot market.
Based on the best information Kyle Murray can find so far, he expects a multi-million dollar boost to Alberta’s economy.
“We expect that it’ll have an impact somewhere in the $400 to $500 million range initially,” Murray said.
Alberta has a gross domestic product (GDP) of more than $300 billion. Murray’s estimates would make cannabis a tiny component of the province’s overall economy.
However, he points out cannabis will be different than any other emerging industry. There’s already a demand. A legal supply is being created. Growth will not be as gradual as other new industries.
“It’s not incremental. It’s brand new. If it is even hundreds of millions of dollars, that’s hundreds of millions of dollars into the economy, new jobs, all that is new.
“It’s maybe a little bit analogous to the early days of the internet where you know this is going to be important but you don’t see Facebook coming.”
Murray said Alberta is well positioned to capitalize on this growth.
Canada is the only country in the world with legal cannabis. Some U.S. states have legalized it but it remains illegal at the federal level. Other countries have decriminalized and look the other way when it’s around.
Within Canada, Murray said Alberta and Ontario’s tax structure and regulations best position them to keep growing the cannabis industry.
Alberta’s minister of Economic Development said that was the point of the regulations.
“For our government, this is about diversifying the economy. There is a big economy worldwide for cannabis,” Deron Bilous said. “I think over the long term, there’s a significant opportunity for us to be world leaders and world competitors.”
Watch below: On Oct. 17, only 17 stores across Alberta will be approved and ready to sell cannabis.
While there are very few cannabis business case studies out there, the small community of Cremona, Alta. offers some insight into what might be to come.
About 450 people live in the village which sits in the foothills northwest of Calgary.
Five years ago, the village conducted a viability audit. Cremona struggled to meet its financial obligations. It was hard to find the revenue to pay for the road and sewer repairs and the village was considering dissolving and becoming a hamlet.
Cremona decided to tough it out and stay a village. A couple of years after that, Aurora Cannabis opened Alberta’s first licensed cannabis production facility just outside of Cremona.
The village doesn’t directly receive any tax revenue from the facility but since the place opened, residents say they’ve seen a difference.
On a Monday afternoon at lunch, Cremona’s Hotel is bustling. Farmers, upset that snow and rain is delaying harvest, fill a couple of tables. In others, people wearing “Aurora” sweatshirts also eat their lunches.
Kelly Neilon said that sight has become very normal and she loves it.
“I would say business has gone up two fold at least (since Aurora opened),” Neilon said. “We actually have two people working most days when before we’d have one girl, maybe. And we’ve doubled our kitchen staff.
“They’re hiring people from Cremona. They’re buying gas here. They’re doing everything.”
Cremona’s Mayor Tim Hagen said he has seen young people move back to town since the plant opened. One village councillor even works there.
For the first time in many years, Cremona is looking to grow.
“We are looking at developing. I believe it’s eight acres right now. We’ve been working on it for a year or two,” Hagen said.
Many of the people working at Aurora live all over. They’re not all from Cremona. However, Hagen said that’s alright.
“It brings people here and that’s good for all businesses.”
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