In the July/August 2020 edition of Cannabis Retailer, the editor asked us to consider if Canada was a world cannabis leader. As proud Canadians, we all wanted the answer to be a resounding YES. Unfortunately, we know the jury is still out.
The reality is that the original public interest goals of our ground breaking Cannabis Act are not being achieved. The Act was supposed to reduce and gradually eliminate the illicit market. Instead, almost two years into the project, it has missed the mark by failing to offer a viable alternative.
Why are the vast majority of BC cannabis consumers still looking outside the legal market for their supply? The article touched on many reasons that retailers, consumers, and taxpayers are paying a price for this failure. In our opinion, Canada’s inability to transition BC’s world-renowned craft cannabis farmers to the legal market is at the heart of the matter.
The Cannabis Act was supposed to facilitate the participation of small farmers in the legal market. This is not happening either. Of the one million+ square metres of legal indoor and outdoor cannabis cultivation space approved by Health Canada across the country as of February 1, 2020, craft cannabis farmers account for a microscopic 0.17%. Only 15 BC micro-cultivators have been approved over the first 21 months of legalization.
The current Health Canada micro-production and processing regulations are so burdensome that thousands of BC cannabis farmers cannot afford to transition to the regulated market. Most need $200,000 to over $1 million just to be eligible to make the move.
While a restrictive approach may have been prudent at the start of this project, Canada’s over-regulation has fueled the illicit market and prevented BC’s craft cannabis sector from getting its product into retail stores across BC, Canada, and around the world.
While the Cannabis Act legalized our ability to process, it did not legalize our traditional supply. This is a fundamental problem. With a globally recognized brand and the most craft cannabis farmers in the country, BC’s economy has the most to lose if these innovators are not provided with a chance to fully apply their skill and experience in the new market.
An economic analysis prepared last June confirmed 2,000 craft farmers can create over 4,000 direct and domestic jobs over the next 12-18 months. With these legal jobs, all levels of government will divide approximately $400 million in new revenue.
As Canada and BC develop economic recovery strategies, they should seriously consider the unique opportunity presented by our craft cannabis sector.
It may be that things are starting to change.
During the pandemic, thanks to the hard work of independent retailers, governments across Canada elevated cannabis to essential status—far from being illegal less than two years ago.
In March, the BC government approved incorporation of the BC Craft Farmers Co-Op under the BC Cooperatives Act. Micro-cannabis farmers, processors, and independent retailers now have a democratic, public organization to help them access the new market, maintain BC’s top position as an international leader, and provide consumers with the highest quality cannabis.
With incorporation, the Co-Op announced plans to prepare a pilot project to support BC’s post-COVID-19 economic recovery and create thousands of jobs starting this summer. This proposal was delivered to the Prime Minister, Premier, BC MPs and MLAs earlier this summer with the full support of the Association of Canadian Cannabis Retailers.
In addition to federal regulatory improvements, the project proposes actions and investments both governments can consider to sustain BC’s craft sector through this transition, the economic recovery, and beyond.
The results will divert millions from the illicit market to taxpayers, achieve the public interest of the Cannabis Act and create thousands of jobs in BC.
A full copy is available at www.bccraftfarmerscoop.com.
A craft cannabis policy reset was required before the pandemic. Today’s economic crisis makes a reset even more urgent for all stakeholders.
Failure to act now will ensure the Cannabis Act is also remembered as a missed opportunity to create thousands of jobs at a moment when Canada needed them the most.
Jessika Villano and Andrew Gordon are founding members of the BC Craft Cannabis Co-Op and long-time cannabis retail leaders. Jessika operates Buddha Barn in Vancouver and Andrew is Senior Vice President with Kiaro.