Could Canada’s Cannabis Companies Reimagine Corporate Citizenship?

We're currently at a tipping point

Why It Matters

Legalizing cannabis in Canada is more than a cultural shift. The changing legal status will transform cannabis into a multibillion-dollar industry in the next decade. As the old adage goes, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Put through an impact lens, that means: with huge industry growth comes huge corporate citizenship potential.

Recently, I attended an energetic, funny, and insightful event on cannabis. It featured comedian and author Chelsea Handler and was produced by Civilized, a fast-growing cannabis lifestyle brand led by Canadian Derek Riedle. The event and my conversation with Derek illuminated exciting questions on the corporate citizenship potential of cannabis companies, something to watch over the next decade.

The Backdrop

Not often does one get to witness the birth of a new industry in Canada. The global cannabis market is expected to be worth more than $150 billion by 2025. The cannabis industry is projected to be one of Canada’s high-value (yes, pun intended) and fastest-growing sectors in the next decade, contributing a notable chunk to the country’s GDP. We also host the World Cannabis Congress in New Brunswick every year bringing together government, business, academics, NGOs, and others from around the world to help shape and advance the cannabis industry.

In short, you could say that cannabis culture and industry has serious global potential for Canada.

What We See

Corporate Knights’ Best 50, their annual report on the best corporate citizens in Canada, is regarded as a benchmark in this space. There are, however, no cannabis companies on this list—yet. This is largely because corporate citizenship in the cannabis sector is just going live, but could gain visibility quickly.

Tweed, a brand of Canopy Growth Corporation, has been one of the illustrative cases transforming the town of Smiths Falls through employment and community giving. Aurora Cannabis has begun to build out their social responsibility portfolio. I imagine Aphria, Namaste Technologies, Cronos, Spectrum Cannabis, and many others will strengthen their involvement in championing social or environmental change their stakeholders want to see.

Let’s quickly look at one of the last high-potential economic growth periods: when the tech boom happened in the 1990s, impact investing wasn’t around, innovation prizes to address social or environmental challenges wasn’t a thing, social entrepreneurship was at the fringes, donating data had no traction, and open-sourcing technology and intellectual property for social good was rare. Now that these approaches are mainstreaming, there is tremendous value for Canada’s cannabis companies to raise the bar by harnessing them as part of their corporate citizenship strategy.

Where This Could Go

The industry is expanding, outlooks are shifting, and as Derek Riedle puts it, the social licence is getting stronger. Business can be a powerful engine for transformation. With the nature of corporate giving and social responsibility itself at a crossroads, companies in this industry are in a privileged position to reimagine what corporate citizenship can be for the 21st century. First moves matter.

On one hand, companies could take the classic corporate philanthropy route. On the other, they could be trailblazing, and explore new and more creative approaches to corporate citizenship including donating data, investing in social impact real estate, open sourcing their technology to address food security, and much more.