Craft cannabis growers seek role in COVID recovery

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A newly-incorporated craft cannabis co-operative is putting forward a plan to make small-scale, independent cannabis businesses part of B.C.’s post-pandemic economic recovery.

When it announced its incorporation in late April, the BC Craft Farmer Co-Op (BCCFC) said one of its first initiatives would be to draft an economic development proposal for the provincial and federal governments to “outline how the co-op can support B.C.’s economic recovery post-COVID 19 by creating thousands of jobs and diverting profits from the illicit market.”

Joel Podersky of Roberts Creek is a member of the co-op’s interim board and part of the committee putting together the proposal. He’s also one of the co-founders of the Cascadia Agricultural Cooperative Association, which was involved in a series of consultations in 2019 about how to support the craft cannabis sector.

Podersky said with governments starting to look at how to give a boost to the economy after the pandemic there’s an opportunity to move ahead with some of that support.

The executive summary of the BCCFC plan provided to Coast Reporter notes that with the potential for a steep decline in the province’s GDP, “500,000 B.C. jobs may be at risk – many in rural communities.”

The proposal calls for regulatory changes and the establishment of a “business development partnership.”

The co-op plan says many B.C. craft cannabis farmers and processors have not been applying under Health Canada’s micro-producer program “for many well-established reasons” related to the way the regulations were drawn up.

“At the moment the regulatory landscape is extremely prohibitive [for craft producers],” Podersky said. “It encourages predatory business practices, it favours large corporations intentionally.”

The BCCFC is calling for the rapid transition of around 30 per cent of the existing cannabis producers licensed to grow under the medical marijuana regulations to the wider legal market on a 12-month temporary basis in time for this summer’s growing season.

While that’s happening, the co-op said, the provincial and federal governments should “reset” the micro-cultivation regulations and have changes in place by the end of the year.

“Transforming just 30 per cent of B.C.’s 6,500 small, licensed cannabis growers into the recreational marketplace with the current production and processing limits will result in close to $3 billion in direct economic impact and over 20,000 jobs across B.C.,” the proposal says.

“By definition, the jobs associated with this plan are ‘shovel-ready’ this summer. All federal, provincial and local government needs to do is have an open mind, be innovative and let these people grow.”

Podersky said the model for a business development partnership could look like a scaled-up version of the Cannabis Business Transition Initiative launched late last year by Community Futures Central Kootenay, with $675,000 from the provincial government.

When the Kootenay initiative was launched, Andrea Wilkey, the executive director of Community Futures Central Kootenay, said it would “help ensure that local entrepreneurs have the support they need to navigate the complex regulatory system and create a sustainable cannabis business.”

“It's such an easy template… There’s nothing standing in the way of doing that all over the province,” said Podersky.

“My ideal is for the project to finance all the resources that growers and processors need to get their licences and remain compliant,” he said. Those would include professional resources for developing an evidence package for licence application, a pool of professionals for quality control, “and anything else you need to have available to those growers to satisfy the government's regulatory requirements, as well as remain compliant going forward.”

The other aspect of business development would be getting access to markets.

“The [current] regulations make access to markets very restrictive for micro cultivators who are not allowed to sell directly in the market, neither are micro nurseries,” Podersky said.

Podersky said the co-op hasn’t yet had a response to its proposal from the province or the federal government.

But the BCCFC, which will hold its first annual general meeting in late August, is also laying the groundwork for community engagement over the summer involving local governments and the Union of BC Municipalities, regional and local economic development agencies, universities and colleges, and others.

Coast Reporter