Consider yourself forgiven if you missed the British Columbia government’s September 20 announcement about a new cannabis sales program designed to benefit craft farmers and Indigenous businesses. The news came just hours before BC’s Premier pulled the plug on the minority government that had just made the announcement.
Behind the fog created by dozens of last minute pre-election announcements, the news release distributed by BC’s Ministry of Public Safety did provide some clues to the path an NDP majority government might take to support BC’s legendary craft cannabis sector. For those who missed it, the palliative BC government announced three things on September 20:
· Health Canada-licenced small-scale producers and nurseries in BC will have the option of delivering cannabis directly to licenced retailers
· BC will develop a farm-gate sales program to give BC cannabis growers the ability to sell their products from stores at their production sites.
· BC’s Liquor Distribution Branch will launch an Indigenous Shelf Space Program to highlight cannabis products from BC Indigenous producers
In making the announcement, the BC government said these developments were guided by input from long-time cannabis growers and Indigenous leaders.
As an organization with a mission to accelerate the transition of BC’s globally-recognized craft cannabis farmers into the legal market, the BC Craft Farmers Co-Op welcomed these measures and the government’s willingness to listen.
At the same time, as the pre-election fog cleared, the fine print of this announcement became clearer.
The BC government’s interest in farm-gate is not new, so this part of the announcement cannot really be classified as news. The other two elements of the announcement are more significant.
The decision to create shelf-space for Indigenous producers and processors represents a model that other provincial governments should consider adopting. To be successful, our global BC craft cannabis brand must reflect the significant skill and environmental stewardship of First Nations and Metis farmers in all regions of the province.
Similarly, the BC government’s plan to allow micro-farmers and processors to sell directly to retail stores is a game-changer. The only problem with this part of the announcements is the timeline. BC’s cannabis-friendly government did not envision this great idea happening until 2022.
The obvious question is: Why is the government going to wait two years to do something that makes so much sense today?
The answer is because, amazingly, we don’t have the Health Canada approved farmers to pull it off.
This month (October 2020) marks the two-year anniversary of cannabis legalization in Canada. Over the course of these 24 months, Health Canada officials in Ottawa have only approved 20 BC craft farmers for the legal market. To achieve the public interest goals of the Cannabis Act and meet global demand for BC product, we need thousands of farmers to be successful and make this plan fly.
Today, there are over 6,000 small cannabis farmers in BC producing medical cannabis. There are 20,000 more across Canada. They should not have to wait two more years to apply their trade, make an honest living for their families, and help fulfill consumer demand for local cannabis grown on small farms.
That is why whoever is elected in the next election should adopt the measures announced September 20 and go two steps further:
1) Ask the federal Health Minister to reset the Cannabis Act’s micro-cultivation and processing regulations that are keeping BC farmers out of the legal market.
2) Dedicate funding from their $1.6 billion economic development program to help craft farmers transition, support the economic recovery, and create thousands of BC jobs.
If Ottawa still continues to be satisfied with approving dozens of BC farmers instead of the thousands that are already here, the next BC government may be left with no other choice but to control our own destiny and start licencing small farmers here in BC.
Bob Davidson is president of BC Craft Farmers Co-Op.