Sophie Mas and Ellen Warner: B.C.’s Craft Cannabis Farmers can Help B.C. Economic Recovery

This article is reposted from the Vancouver Sun.

Sophie Mas and Ellen Warner
Publishing date:
Jul 10, 2020 

As reported in the Vancouver Sun on June 13 (Prosecutable Product), the original public interest goals of Canada’s ground breaking Cannabis Act are not being achieved.

The Cannabis 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. While the article identifies the problem, effective solutions are missing.

Why are the vast majority of B.C. cannabis consumers still looking outside the legal market for their supply?

Canada’s inability to transition B.C.’s world-renowned craft cannabis farmers to the legal market is at the core of the answer.

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-plus square metres of legal cannabis cultivation space approved by Health Canada across the country as of Feb. 1, craft cannabis farmers account for a microscopic 0.17 per cent.

The current Health Canada micro-production and processing regulations are so burdensome that thousands of B.C. cannabis farmers cannot afford to transition. Most need $200,000 to over $1 million just to be eligible.

Canada’s over-regulation has fuelled the illicit market and prevented B.C.’s craft cannabis sector from achieving its full potential.

With a globally recognized brand and the most craft cannabis farmers in the country, B.C.’s economy has the most to lose if these innovators are not provided with a chance to apply their skill and experience in the new market.

An economic analysis prepared last June confirmed just 2,000 craft farmers can create over 4,000 direct and domestic jobs over the next 12 to 18 months. With these legal jobs, all levels of government will divide approximately $400 million in new revenue.

As Canada and B.C. develop economic recovery strategies, they should seriously consider the unique opportunity presented by B.C.’s craft cannabis sector.

It is understandable how our leaders may miss the chance.

B.C.’s legendary cannabis farmers are used to staying quiet and out of sight. Most have been practising physical distancing for generations. Cannabis prohibition required remote isolation to survive.

But things are changing.

During the pandemic, B.C. elevated cannabis to essential status — far from being illegal less than two years ago.

In March, the B.C. 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 B.C.’s top position as an international leader and provide consumers with the highest quality cannabis.

With our incorporation, the Co-Op announced plans on April 20 to prepare a pilot project to support B.C.’s post-COVID 19 economic recovery and create thousands of jobs starting this summer. This proposal was delivered to the prime minister, premier, B.C. MPs and MLAs last month.

In addition to federal regulatory improvements, the project proposes actions and investments both governments can consider to sustain B.C.’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 B.C. jobs.

Since 2001, tens of thousands of citizens have been authorized by Canada to produce medical cannabis for themselves or medically approved patients. Approximately 6,000 are in B.C. The Co-Op is proposing a path to transition approximately 30 per cent of these medical farmers to the legal recreation market starting this summer.

To the best of our knowledge, no patient has suffered an illness from the medicinal cannabis these farmers have produced for themselves or their designated patients over these 20 years. Canada has a record of all of these citizens on file. These farmers renew their licence annually and want to be included in the post-prohibition marketplace.

A craft cannabis policy reset was required before the pandemic. Today’s economic crisis makes a reset even more urgent.

The jobs associated with the BC Craft Farmers Co-Op proposal are shovel-ready this summer. All federal, provincial and local governments need to do is have an open mind, be innovative and let these people grow.

Failure to act now will ensure the Cannabis Act is also remembered as a missed opportunity to create thousands of jobs at a moment Canada needed them the most.

Sophie Mas and Ellen Warner are co-chairs of the BC Craft Farmers Co-Op.