David Hurford visited Nakusp and Nelson recently on behalf of a group that wants to set up a BC Small Cannabis Producers and Processors Co-op.

Cannabis co-op promoters issue report after Kootenay meetings

Small producers group plans to incorporate a co-op later this year

A group that visited Nakusp and Nelson recently to push the idea of a small cannabis producers co-op says without a significant change in approach by the federal government, British Columbia’s cannabis sector may not survive legalization

The BC Small Cannabis Producers and Processors has published a discussion paper stemming from its public consultations, held in February and March.

SEE: Co-op aims to help small BC cannabis producers go legit

A report summary says it heard almost universally that the inclusion of small cannabis farmers is vital to the success of Canada’s legalization policy.

“Unfortunately… barely a handful [of growers] have survived the federal government’s application process,”says Barinder Rasode, CEO of Grow Tech Labs, the company that sponsored the report. “This needs to change or B.C. will lose our international competitive cannabis advantage.”

The answer would be “a craft cannabis co-op that delivers a sustainable alternative to the illicit market, maintains BC’s position as an international marketplace leader and ensures medical and recreational consumers across Canada and the globe have access to the highest quality B.C. cannabis possible,” the report says.

Wide-ranging findings

Among the findings the authors said they heard at the public hearings:

• Health Canada’s cumbersome regulatory process is holding BC’s craft cannabis sector back. “5,000 to 6,000 Health Canada-approved small medical cannabis producers could help address the supply shortage but they have not been encouraged in any substantial way to transition,” says the report;

• most growers operate illegally, but most are also interested in transitioning to the legal marketplace;

• the current regulatory framework can’t seem to provide the legal marketplace what it wants: high quality cannabis and a variety of safe product options at a good price;

• marketing restrictions have left the cannabis sector without brand identities and Canada’s first mover advantage is rapidly disappearing;

• there’s general support for setting up a co-op based on standard models. It would help small cannabis producers work through the regulatory framework, help build a financial supports with banks and lenders, advocate for rule changes in Ottawa and Victoria, and bring bulk purchasing power and other supports to users.

• the co-op should advocate for both growers, producers, retailers and creators of value-added products like edibles and health-care products.

The report also calls on Ottawa to make several changes to the current regulatory framework, including publishing its goals for licensing growers; doubling the size limitation for small indoor grow operations, and outdoor ops by up to five times; allow for a ‘Craft’ label on small operators’ products; and create a kind of copyright protection for small growers’ strains.

The report also calls on Victoria to, among other things, create a B.C. Cannabis Innovation Council to support and develop the “economic, tourism and social development opportunities” of the cannabis economy, as well as support women and Indigenous people trying to get into the small growers business. Farm gate sales should be allowed, as well as better integration with government retail outlets, similar to what’s happening in the province’s wine and craft beer sector.

“But, it is also clear that without leadership from the federal and provincial government, we are just blowing smoke when it comes to establishing a diverse marketplace and supporting the economies of rural B.C. communities,” the report says.

Co-op discussions to start

Above all else, the consultation meetings heard that small growers wanted advocacy.

“We heard from numerous participants that fear for their family’s personal security and livelihood will be threatened over this unique transition period,” the authors said.

The consultations were sponsored Grow Tech Labs, a venture capital company with the goal “to help maintain and expand B.C.’s influence as a global cannabis capital.” It does that through “business acceleration”: helping develop individual operators with training and start-up funding, and finding investors and developing international investment in B.C.’s cannabis industry.

Over the next few months, the BC Small Cannabis Producers and Processors will move on the results of their hearings. They plan to release a draft of possible co-ops rules, and memorandum of incorporation for discussion. They also plan to host five or six regional meetings to gather feedback and promote an advocacy agenda.

They’ll incorporate a B.C. cannabis co-op, and hold a founding meeting with board elections.

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