Organigram CEO urges Senate to reject fear as final vote on Cannabis Act nears

As the Senate inches closer to its final reading vote on the Cannabis Act by June 7, a Canadian CEO is urging the red chamber’s members to get rid of “fear” when discussing amendments.

Greg Engel, CEO of Organigram Holdings Inc. (“Organigram”) (TSX VENTURE: OGI) (OTCQB: OGRMF), called on the Senate to use a “common-sense approach” to strike a balance between “social success” and “competitive market” when it comes to the legalization of cannabis.

While the Senate has recently rejected a Conservative attempt to prohibit Canadians from growing a small number of marijuana plants at home once recreational cannabis is legalized, members of the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology (SOCI) on Monday approved many key changes to the Cannabis Act or Bill C-45.

SOCI said there should be “no further loosening of the proposed regulations on branding, marketing, and promotion of cannabis” until the societal impact on youth can be measured.

SOCI also urged the federal government to “impose a moratorium on loosening the regulations on the branding, marketing, and promotion of cannabis for 10 years.”

It also called to cap levels of THC, the psychoactive component in cannabis that gives people the “high.”

Click HERE to read their full recommendations.

“As we move toward legalization, we need to have reasonable and reasoned discussion,” Engel, who recently gave a testimony in front of SOCI, said.

“But we can’t be ruled by fear; we can’t be afraid of the product and we can’t be afraid to communicate about it.”

“Physiologically impossible”

Head of the New Brunswick-based medical marijuana company also criticized the limitation imposed on THC as it “ignores” how it is “physiologically impossible to smoke or ingest enough THC to have a lethal effect.”

For any fatal risks to occur, “estimates suggest a person would need to consume 20,000 to 40,000 times the normal dose,” he said.

Limiting THC levels in this way will only “ensure the appeal of the black market remains,” the 53-year-old added.

THC levels have already increased. One study showed how THC levels rose from 4 per cent in 1995 to about 12 per cent in 2014, mainly to cater for the rising demand for the recreational use of marijuana.

The CEO lashed at the current regulatory framework for placing “strict restrictions on the promotion of legal cannabis, which are “clearly counter-intuitive to our collective mandate to eliminate the black market.”

“We must also create an environment that allows cannabis brands the opportunity to explain why the products they develop are better and safer than those offered by illegal sources,” he said.

Greg Engel (L), CEO of Organigram Holdings Inc., talks during an interview. (File image)
Greg Engel (L), CEO of Organigram Holdings Inc., talks during an interview. (File image)

Cannabis industry advocated safety

The cannabis industry has already “advocated” for controls focused on both “education and safety,” said Engel, who was a CEO of another medical marijuana company, Tilray Canada, before becoming head of Organigram last year.

“If we are to successfully introduce Canadians to legal cannabis from trusted sources,” Engel said, then:

“Cannabis producers and marketers must have a reasonable degree of flexibility to inform consumers of their choices when it comes to cost, quality and product attributes.”

“From a policy perspective, this means that the legislative framework provided by Bill C-45 must allow for the responsible use of creative design and packaging.”

One of the main reasons why the Canadian government is legalizing the recreational use of marijuana is due to what it claims as Canada having the “highest rate” of cannabis use by its youth in any country in the developed world.

To dissuade youth from using any recreational cannabis, Health Canada proposed plain packaging. Federal MP Bill Blair, who is tasked with leading the nationwide marijuana legalization, also said that celebrity endorsements to cannabis are prohibited in Canada.

But for many people in the industry, including Engel, the “strict” approach is not only preposterous but a boon to the black market.

This could “undermine our shared success before we’ve even begun” if there is no “room in this new framework for the development of innovative products and responsible communication.”

Afterall, “youth safety and starving the black market” are theoriginal goals of this legislation,” Engel lamented.