Whatever happens to the movement to legalize pot, one thing is clear: medical marijuana is becoming a full-fledged industry. Everything changed in April, when the federal government passed a law that allowed licenced businesses to grow weed on a mass scale. This was a big deal. Until then, people who used marijuana for medical reasons had to grow it themselves, or name someone as their personal grower. But now, companies like Tweed in Smiths Falls, Ont. are growing medical-grade marijuana for thousands of Canadians. Plus, because the new law permits doctors to prescribe pot, investors think more Canadians will use the drug in the coming years, driving sales skyward.
Lawyers, too, are taking note. In January, Mike Lickver, a third-year associate at Bennett Jones LLP, saw how the updated marijuana law could spawn a new legal field. He and Hugo Alves, a partner in the corporate department, launched a fledgling practice group with one goal: to “become the go-to lawyers in the medical marijuana field.”
To get started, they examined the industry, identifying existing companies that could partner with large-scale growers. They have since built a network of clients that includes security consultants, HVAC companies and low-energy lighting manufacturers. It allows them to act as the central hub in the marketplace. Legal advice alone, Alves notes, is “table stakes in today’s hyper-competitive market.”
Alves and Lickver also represent independent growers who, after years of growing under the old law, developed marijuana strains that treat specific diseases. They help those individual growers license their formula to commercial producers. One strain, called Charlotte’s Web, can help treat epileptic seizures without causing a psychoactive high. Alves says such unique strains are “one of the things that’s of real value in the industry.”
So far, the market is small: Health Canada has only approved 21 large-scale businesses to produce marijuana out of more than 1,000 applications. But the federal government still predicts the medical marijuana industry will be worth $1.3 billion and serve 450,000 Canadians in 10 years. With that kind of windfall on the horizon, Lickver knows his position as a trailblazer will pay off long-term. “How often in a lawyer’s career does an industry come out of nowhere?”
Photo: Tweed’s 160,000- square-foot facility in Smiths Falls, Ont.