Cannabis facility returns to market; farms face logistics challenge

Rolling back

Colliers International brokers Alan Johnson, vice-president of the firm’s Unique Properties Group, and Bianca Gilbert have resumed marketing of the BlueVault Organic Marijuana Ltd. property in Pemberton.

The 135-acre property first hit the market in summer 2018, offering buyers a chance to purchase a facility capable of producing more than 10 tonnes a year as well as potential for additional outdoor production on about 100 acres.

But the property sits in the province’s Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), and the building where cannabis was set to be grown needed some retrofitting.

Therein lay the rub for the property’s owners, as arrangements with BC Hydro for a power connection initiated in 2016 took time to complete and land-use regulations shifted around them. Then, on July 12 last year, the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District pulled the building permit under which the work was being done.

The move came just as marketing of the property was gathering steam.

“We weren’t even actually completely aware of what had happened, and it didn’t even come to light until six to eight weeks after we launched,” Johnson said as he discussed the resumption of marketing activities this fall.

BlueVault contested the regional district’s move, and the BC Supreme Court ordered the reinstatement of the building permit in September.

Had the permit’s revocation been upheld, the facility wouldn’t have been able to proceed, because the local approval process would have had to begin anew.

While the facility was grandfathered under regulations in place last year, new Agricultural Land Commission regulations in February give local governments the right to regulate cannabis production facilities with slab floors.

Moreover, the regional district now only allows cannabis facilities on parcels of 60 hectares or larger; the BlueVault property is 55.

“The big value add of this site is the fact that [the owner] does have a building permit in place on ALR land, where he is grandfathered through the old regulations,” said Gilbert.

And even as the cannabis industry continues to sort itself out a year after legalization of recreational marijuana, interest remains strong.

One group that had filed a letter of intent regarding the property and undertaken significant due diligence prior to the halt of marketing efforts last year eventually sought alternative opportunities, but Johnson said other parties are taking a second look.

“We’ve reached out to everybody else that we had discussions with, and there’s definitely interest in the facility again,” he said.

Storage shortage

The B.C. Ministry of Agriculture reprised last year’s Every Chef Needs a Farmer, Every Farmer Needs a Chef marketing event last week.

This year’s event was 50% larger, with more than 425 registrants, but the question of where to put all the food everyone was talking about remained.

While farmers want chefs to put their money where their mouths are, buying the local food they champion, there are challenges putting that food where the chefs are.

“A lot of them are struggling with space to store product,” grower Kevin Klippenstein told last year’s conference, noting he travels from Cawston to Vancouver twice a week during the summer to deliver produce.

This year’s conference sought to answer the question, assembling a panel to discuss how to give small-scale producers access to distribution across the province.

The province’s vision for a network of food hubs, which sometimes serve as aggregation and distribution facilities, is seen as a potential solution in regions such as the Cariboo and the Kootenays.

A hub is being funded for Quesnel, and a network of hubs is being studied in the Kootenays.

“There’s not any sort of centralized distribution or centralized cold storage or those types of things for farmers … so they really need to have their own,” Amy Quarry, owner of Long Table Grocery in Quesnel, said.

She acknowledged that the food hub announced for Quesnel could help, but the need is great.

“In our region, it’s a huge challenge,” she said. •