International Development Minister tongue-tied on cannabis

Published on April 15, 2022 by David Wylie

Photo: David Wylie/the oz.
Liberal cabinet minister Harjit Sajjan walks down the stairs of the Kelowna Innovation Centre on his way to speak with reporters.

It’s going to take time and effort (along with some well-placed questions) to make pot a comfortable political talking point.

The prime minister and his MPs have hit the road to promote the 2022 federal budget. As part of that media tour this week, Minister of International Development Harjit Sajjan came to Kelowna.

Though the budget has identified the Canadian weed industry as worthy of economic input and support, Sajjan’s visit underscored that there’s still work to do to put cannabis on the radar of those with important political portfolios.

  • RELATED: They said ‘cannabis’ 9 times in the federal budget

With a wall of live plants as his backdrop inside the Innovation Centre, the high-profile cabinet minister spent about 25 minutes talking to reporters, including the oz.

As minister responsible for the Pacific Economic Development Agency of Canada, Vancouver South MP Sajjan has a key role in helping grow the region’s economy—which includes a famous export: BC bud.

However, Sajjan didn’t have anything of substance to say on the topic.

Rather, the minister was caught off-guard by questions on cannabis—even though they were sent by email beforehand.

“Could you comment on how the Pacific Regional Economic Development Agency can support the legal Canadian cannabis industry—particularly the BC craft cannabis industry—both federally and internationally,” asked the oz.

Not sure what to say

“I won’t be able to give you an answer on that directly because I’m not going to… I haven’t really, uh… that’s a very niche piece that you just mentioned there,” struggled the seasoned politician.

“I have looked at a lot of other areas where we are already operating… and we will work with, based on our program we have, any profit and non-profit organizations supporting economic growth. If companies, organizations feel that (the pacific development agency) can help we would be there for that support.”

It seemed lost on the minister that cannabis companies across Canada already have well-established international cannabis operations all over the world, and even shipped live genetics overseas to South America.

  • RELATED: Legal cannabis underperforming, says BC Chamber

We also asked a follow-up question:

“Cannabis was mentioned a handful of times in the budget, particularly around the creation of a strategic cannabis table. What are you planning on doing to work with provincial and Indigenous governments around cannabis?”

That answer was also short on info.

“When it comes to… I don’t have the exact details of the question you asked me.”

Sajjan said he would have staff follow up, but we haven’t yet heard back.

Some suggestions

There are some pretty simple key messages on the topic that federal politicians can keep in their back pocket.

For example:

• Cannabis has contributed $43.5 billion to Canada’s gross domestic product since recreational weed was legalized in October 2018.

• There are more than 100,000 Canadian jobs connected with the cannabis industry.

• The cannabis industry has added $15.1 billion in Canadian tax revenues.

(Source: Deloitte Canada)