In November, the Province of New Brunswick was named the ‘Most Progressive Public Office’ in Canada as part of Lift’s 2017 Canadian Cannabis Awards. Opportunities NB (ONB) is excited to see the province recognized as a national leader in this rapidly-growing industry. Our team has made cannabis a priority sector for economic growth, actively aligning our efforts to ensure the economic, academic, and regulatory portions of the industry connect.

Steve Milbury, ONB Senior Director of Priority Opportunities, sat down with us to discuss the factors that led to New Brunswick capturing this award.

Tell us about New Brunswick’s approach to the cannabis sector, and why it has been recognized as the most progressive in Canada.

Milbury: In 2016, the New Brunswick government introduced its Economic Growth Plan. Among the priority opportunities identified was cannabis. The government of New Brunswick is committed to developing our cannabis sector, and ONB is driving that industry from an economic development standpoint. Having that support from the very top has been key for us.

In June 2017, the New Brunswick Working Group on the Legalization of Cannabis published its first report on cannabis legalization, which everyone should read. It addresses important issues like legal age, corporate social responsibility, impairment, public safety, and more.

ONB is a key stakeholder in both the Legalization Group and an industry working group. The latter is dedicated to ensuring there is a focus on the economic benefits the sector is bringing to the province. That industry group recognizes that being a national leader in this sector is vital; the province will see real, positive economic results from being first out of the gate. Both groups have consulted with licensed producers across Canada and internationally, and with provincial and U.S. state governments. That serves a dual purpose; it helps us learn best practices while letting people outside the province know that New Brunswick means business as it relates to this sector.

In working with industry stakeholders and producers, ONB recognized the financing gap the industry faced by not having access to traditional bank debt. Although private and capital market funds are available, like any responsible company, the industry was looking for and needed to access traditional debt financing to help balance their capital structure. Unfortunately, banks simply are not doing that yet. ONB is helping producers with standard and convertible debt financing to better support their growth and expansion. That’s a big reason our approach to this industry is rightfully being recognized as progressive.

Where does post-secondary education fit?

Last year saw research chairs announced at both the University of New Brunswick (UNB) and St. Thomas University (STU). The UNB chair focuses on scientific and clinical aspects of cannabis and is sponsored by pharmaceutical company Tetra Bio-Pharma. The STU chair covers the social and public health impact of cannabis and it’s sponsored by Shoppers Drug Mart. In addition, the Université de Moncton has three PhD researchers studying things like crop propagation and pesticide control for hemp. We really have a great ecosystem here covering all the bases as it relates to cannabis.

A crucial component of our strategic plan involves ensuring that the provincial workforce is trained to support the industry. The Collège communautaire du Nouveau-Brunswick (CCNB) stepped up to create a training course for those looking to join the industry — the Cannabis Cultivation Technician program, the first of its kind in Canada. That program is supporting the workforce growth of OrganiGram, a Moncton-based licensed producer.

OrganiGram, along with Canopy Growth and Zenabis, will supply cannabis to the province after the legalization of recreational use happens this year. This makes New Brunswick the first province to solidify its cannabis supply ahead of legalization.

What does legalization of recreational cannabis mean for ONB and for the province?

This province is well known for its farming, forestry, and fisheries. We have the value chain to support growing things, and the workforce with an expertise that has supported those industries here for generations. Add to that the research coming from our universities and colleges, as well as from partners like the New Brunswick Health Research Foundation, Research and Productivity Council, and BioNB, and everything is here for licensed producers.

I think we’ll see even more companies choosing New Brunswick and working with our team because of everything we’ve noted coupled with highly competitive business costs and affordable land. Legalization of adult recreational cannabis will accelerate the entire New Brunswick agritech sector.

It’s exciting to see the province recognized both inside and outside of Canada as a small region putting forth big efforts to lead in this space. We are not waiting for things to happen, we’re making things happen.

Written by Jason Boies