Lyle Oberg

Lyle Oberg is the chief policy and medical officer at cannabis producer Flowr.

It’s “inexcusable” there are no cannabis stores in Kelowna, according to Lyle Oberg.

Oberg, the chief policy and medical officer at cannabis producer Flowr, has a vested interest in seeing more pot sold.

Nevertheless, he’s perplexed that cannabis has been legal in Canada since last October and yet not a single store has been allowed to open in Kelowna.

Oberg, a former Alberta minister of transportation and infrastructure and finance, was one of five legal pot experts on the Business of Cannabis 2.0 panel Tuesday at the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce lunch at the Coast Capri Hotel.

The local chamber hosted the lunch as part of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s support of the legal cannabis industry realizing its full economic potential.

After Oberg noted the lack of cannabis stores in the city, Kelowna Coun. Maxine DeHart, who was in the audience, piped up.

“The approval process went well,” she said, adding the city approved 15 stores in April.

“But they are delayed at the provincial approval level now,” she said.

Then, moderator Peter Guo, the leader of the B.C. Cannabis Advisory Team for accounting and consulting firm MNP, asked the panel if any of them anticipated stores opening soon.

“We received approval from the District of Lake Country for a store back in December, but it’s been stuck at the provincial level since,” said Dan Winer of Starbuds, a leading cannabis store chain in Canada.

Both Winer and Oberg were hopeful stores could open in Lake Country and Kelowna by the end of the year.

Cannabis retailing faces challenges and opportunity.

Besides getting final approval to open, one of the challenges is landlords tend to boost the price of rent up to five times more when they hear it will be a pot store.

The plus is that pot is leading a resurgence in bricks-and-mortar stores.

“It’s a sensory product that people want to see and smell and talk to someone about before buying,” said Winer.

“It’s creating jobs, is stealing the thunder of the black market and creating a tax revenue stream for government to spend on health care and education.”

Flowr has an 85,000-square-foot growing facility on McCarthy Road in Lake Country and production capacity of 10,000 kilograms a year.

It’s also in the process of putting 42 greenhouses for more growing on the property.

The Okanagan has become a pot hot spot, with other growers including Doja and THC BioMed, True Leaf cannabis for pets setting up in Lumby, cannabis oil extraction companies Everest BioPharma, MediPharm Labs and Valens GroWorks and equipment manufacturer Vitalis Extraction Technology.

All this activity led Guo to label the Okanagan “weed valley.”

Members of the panel were quick to point out legal cannabis isn’t all about people getting stoned after smoking pot they bought at a legitimate store or regulated website.

“I don’t want to smoke,” said Terry Lake, a former B.C. health minister, who is now the vice-president of corporate and social responsibility at recreational-and-medical cannabis company HEXO.

“Neither do a lot of other people,” Lake said. “That’s why products with CBD (the non-high component of cannabis) make up a big part of the market. I use CBD daily to help me sleep.”

The component of cannabis that leads to the high is THC.

True Leaf’s supplements and vitamin products for pets include CBD to help ease joint stiffness, boost immunity and reduce anxiety.

“Alcohol creates more social and health problems than cannabis,” said Lake.

“Just because cannabis is legal, we won’t all be walking around like zombies.”

HEXO recently partnered with beer maker Molson/Coors to develop a line of cannabis-infused non-alcoholic beverages.

Cannabis edibles, vapes, beverages and topical lotions are also an emerging market.

The panel predicted the market will likely settle to half so-called flower pot and half everything else (edibles, vapes, beverages and lotions).

“From a medicinal point of view, cannabis in chocolate, gummy (candies) and brownies makes sense,” said Oberg.

“Grandma might not want (to smoke), but she might want a chocolate.”

Flowr has acquired Holigen Holdens to get into the European and Australian-Asian markets, and HEXO has a joint venture for greenhouse growing in Greece.

While Canada is one of the first countries to legalize cannabis for adult recreational use, many other countries likely never will.

That’s why Flowr and HEXO are looking at international markets for non-high CBD products and THC medical products.

All panellists also felt now is still a good time to invest in cannabis companies, be they cultivators, extractors or retailers.

They also all encouraged bright, young business school graduates to get into the cannabis industry, because it’s full of opportunities as a sector bursting out of prohibition.