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Cannabis Legalization a Success in BC?

October 2021 marked the three-year anniversary of Canada’s historic Cannabis Act. Recognizing the ground-breaking nature of the policy, the Act included a requirement to review itself after three years.

For British Columbia’s craft cannabis farmers, processors, and retailers, this review can’t come soon enough.

Justin Trudeau deserves credit for proposing cannabis legalization when he was campaigning to be Prime Minister in 2015. Noticeably, he did not mention this signature policy during the recent federal election. Why? There was nothing to brag about.

Had the Cannabis Act roll-out been successful, we would have heard about how BC’s legendary craft farmers had successfully transitioned to the legal market and created thousands of jobs in all regions of the province. There would have been mention about how governments were reinvesting hundreds of millions more dollars in revenue generated by Canada’s craft cannabis sector to support community health and infrastructure priorities. We would have heard how the illicit market was losing out to ‘buy local’ campaigns, direct sales, farm gate, and on-site consumption policies.

Instead, cannabis legalization has successfully denied consumers what they want, which is fresh cannabis grown by local farmers who respect the plant, respect the planet, and are passionate about their craft.

As the province with a well-earned global reputation for cannabis excellence and a rich roster of skilled farmers, BC has the most to lose when these small, rural businesses are excluded from the legal market.

In 2016, a national Task Force made a series of recommendations to guide cannabis legalization. They warned of the dangers associated with denying fair market access for small farmers. Unfortunately, this fear has been realized.

While 6,000+ British Columbians have been authorized for many years to produce medical cannabis, barely 1% have received micro-cultivation licenses from Ottawa for the recreation market through the first three years of legalization. Thousands are needed to meet provincial, national, and global demand for BC cannabis.

During a year-end interview, BC’s Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, and the province’s apparent Minister responsible for cannabis, also expressed frustration with federal licensing regulations and the slow rate of approvals.

What Changes Are Needed in BC?

First, governments and financial institutions need to fully embrace the sector’s economic potential. Unfortunately, banks and credit unions are not financing micro-applicants. BC’s craft cannabis sector is unique in the world. The people who grow the plant, the place they grow it, the way they farm, and the region’s rich Indigenous spirit set BC apart from anywhere else in the world.

Instead of lingering stigma, the legacy of cannabis legalization should be tens of thousands of Canadians proudly employed and making an honest living for their families doing something they love to do for others.

Second, craft farmers, processors, and independent retailers must be fully included in this year’s Cannabis Act review. These expert perspectives must inform the much-needed reset of the federal government’s approach to regulating craft cannabis production. This movement for change must be led from BC.

Third, federal and provincial governments need to make strategic investments that build the sector’s capacity and help craft cannabis farmers and processors make a successful transition to the legal market.

When governments initiate significant regulatory changes that disrupt a particular group of people, they often invest in measures to mitigate these impacts and help families adapt.

The pandemic’s public health orders are one dramatic example. Another is related to progressive environmental laws. Canada is establishing an ‘Adaption Strategy’ and creating a $70 million fund to help rural communities dependent on coal production and processing transition to the green economy. These are the right things to do.

The same kind of investment should be applied to help thousands of BC craft farmers and processors transition to the Cannabis Act’s new economy.

To achieve the original goals of the Cannabis Act, it is time to try something new that will actually pay off for taxpayers and cannabis consumers.

The new federal Minister responsible for BC’s economic development agency and BC Members of Parliament have an opportunity to establish an historic craft cannabis partnership with our sector, provincial, local, and Indigenous governments.

In addition to investing directly to build the sector’s capacity, this strategic investment can facilitate an effective transition to the legal market, support made-in-BC cannabis policies and create thousands of rural jobs.

The year ahead will be make-or-break for BC’s craft cannabis sector. It is time for our government, business, and community leaders to embrace BCs craft cannabis opportunity and let Ottawa know that 20 craft cannabis licenses a year is not acceptable.

Nicole Post is President of the BC Craft Farmers Co-Op and Andrew Gordon is Vice-President.