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Cannabis co-ops seek to bring small producers, processors into legal market

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  • British Columbia may be famous for its bud but some say Canada’s new marijuana legalization framework is excluding the small producers with established know-how.

    A movement is growing in the province to address that problem with a common idea: cannabis co-operatives.

    “Some may argue we’ve lost our place to either Ontario or Alberta based on the number of licensed producers based out of those provinces,” said Barinder Rasode, CEO and co-founder or Grow Tech Labs, a cannabis business accelerator.

    “We’re very focused on making sure that B.C. remains a world leader in the area.”

    Rasode, who also formed the National Institute for Cannabis Health and Education, said she has travelled across the province speaking with small producers who have been growing marijuana long before legalization.

    She heard common complaints that entering the legal market is too costly and the regulations are too complex, including roadblocks like a 195 square metre production limit and non-specific security clearance criteria.

    “There’s this myth out there that these pre-legalization growers are sitting on bunkers of cash,” she said.

    Grow Tech Labs and Victory Square Technologies launched a cannabis co-op this month that will begin with a provincewide consultation of small producers and processors, Rasode said.

    Grow Tech will provide start-up funding but it will be up to the members who pick an executive and define their roles under bylaws and a governance model.

    “To have a co-op based model where there is a collaboration on not only success but risk mitigation and learning outcomes from each other is a model that has worked in Canada and definitely in B.C. with other commodities like wheat and cranberries,” she said.

    Others have already started building co-ops and identified some obstacles.

    The Cascadia Agricultural Co-operative Association is working to create a medical marijuana co-operative that extends beyond producers and processors to include consumers and retailers.

    Founder Joel Podersky said the model would include small- and medium-sized producers, patients and dispensaries.

    “Collectively, they make up a market place, providing both supply and demand.”

    The idea would be to prioritize quality over quantity and provide members with shared access to business development resources like accounting and legal support, he said.

    Current regulations prevent such a marketplace from operating independently. All distribution has to go through the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch.

    In Kaslo, Todd Veri said he was inspired to start the Kootenay Outdoor Producers Co-op after reading a federal task force report on cannabis that said there would be space in the market for small growers. There’s a long history of local marijuana production in the Kootenays, he said, and he thought a co-op model would keep the economic benefits in the community.

    The co-op has 35 local outdoor properties lined up and is reducing costs by using a “community garden” model on some growers, where a single piece of land is used for cultivation.

    They also have a 460 square metre shared nursery in Salmo ready to go but Veri said he’s concerned about the time it’s taking for Health Canada to process the application he submitted in December.

    “Our biggest concern now is we’ve been going on the hope that the licence application will take 60 to 90 days,” he said.

    “If they take 120 or even 150, that’s going to really impact whether our farms get licensed this year.”

    As of Jan. 31, Health Canada said it had received 83 micro-cultivation licence applications, including 54 for cultivation only, seven for processing only and 22 for both.

    One company in Canada has received a micro-cultivation licence. Health Canada didn’t have the name of the company but said it is in B.C. and had previously held a medical marijuana cultivation licence.

    Each property requires its own licence, Veri said, which comes with a $23,000 regulatory fee, a $1,700 security fee, a $3,000 application fee and other costs.

    He’s banking on the lower costs of outdoor production to make up the difference, which is why the timing of the process matters.

    Some other governments formally recognize the cannabis co-op model. In Uruguay, 15 to 45 producers can grow up to 99 plants together and Massachusetts has a “craft marijuana co-operative” licence that limits cultivation to a total canopy of just over 9,000 square metres.

    “The regulations here don’t have a separate category for co-operatives like they do in those other jurisdictions, but our regulations also don’t necessarily preclude that from happening,” said Rielle Capler, post-doctoral research fellow at the BC Centre on Substance Use.

    Capler, who is also the co-founder of the Association of Canadian Cannabis Retailers, said the co-op model has proven “robust” for agricultural products, so it’s a promising avenue for cannabis too.

    But it doesn’t remove all the barriers small producers face. A the local government level, for example, legal producers need to be properly zoned and the municipal elections in October mean some new councils are still getting up to speed on the whole topic, causing delays.

    Many small producers have been approached by larger businesses aware of the obstacles they’re facing, she said.

    “There’s a phenomenon of the larger businesses coming in and gobbling up the smaller ones and saying, ‘We’re your only way to get to market.’ But by pooling resources and working together co-operatively these small farmers and businesses could remain independent with that structure.”

    Capler said these growers just want to preserve what was working already.

    “There was a pre-existing illegal market and it was thriving and working for many people in B.C.”

    Amy Smart, The Canadian Press



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    Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to visit Canada next weekend, April 27-28

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  • OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will meet with his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, when the latter visits Canada next weekend.

    Abe and Trudeau’s two-day meeting on April 27 and 28 will centre on the upcoming G20 summit in Osaka in late June, as well strengthening ties between the two countries.

    Trudeau’s office says in a statement the two will also discuss the revamped Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which the PMO says has created opportunities in both countries.

    The Canadian and Japanese leaders are expected to address the media after holding their bilateral meeting.

    The pair most recently spoke at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ meeting in Papua, New Guinea, last November.

    Abe’s upcoming visit to Canada is part of a week-long trip to Europe and North America that includes stops in the United States, France, Italy, Slovakia and Belgium, as Japan prepares to play host to the G20.

    The Canadian Press


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    All eyes on the surging Greens as Prince Edward Island goes to the polls

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  • After a brief provincial election campaign devoid of drama, voters on Prince Edward Island appear poised to stir things up and make some history when they cast their ballots Tuesday.

    The Island’s Green party, led by Scottish-born dentist Peter Bevan-Baker, has recorded upward momentum in the polls for more than a year, suggesting the smallest province may be ready to elect Canada’s first Green government.

    “It has not been a particularly fascinating campaign, but I think it’s going to be a fascinating election night,” says Don Desserud, a political science professor at the University of Prince Edward Island.

    “There’s something going on here. You can’t deny that after a whole year of solid numbers for the Green party that they’ve attracted attention and are being regarded with great favour.”

    A Narrative Research poll for the Charlottetown Guardian released this week suggests the Greens had maintained a lead, but it was within the margin of error and the Tories and Liberals were not far behind.

    The close numbers also raised the spectre of a minority government, which would itself mark a historic moment for the Island: The last time a minority was elected in P.E.I. was 1890.

    Islanders have been electing either Liberal or Conservative governments since Confederation. And a clear pattern has held since the mid-1960s, with majority governments being regularly replaced after serving three terms — though the Liberals eked out a fourth term in 1978, only to lose power a year later.

    Premier Wade MacLauchlan’s Liberals will be seeking a fourth term on April 23, which has prompted some critics to suggest the party has overstayed its welcome.

    Though the province’s economy is among the strongest in the country, voters have been reluctant to attribute any of that success to MacLauchlan.

    Donald Savoie, the Canada research chair in public administration at the Universite de Moncton, says he’s bewildered by the lack of credit given to the Liberals.

    “It is difficult to imagine how the MacLauchlan government could have produced a better report card on the economy before going to the polls,” Savoie wrote in a recent editorial, noting the numbers look great for wages, employment, immigration, housing starts, exports, retail sales and tourism.

    “And yet public opinion surveys reveal that the MacLauchlan government is confronting a serious political challenge. This suggests that there are forces at play in the Maritime provinces that are playing havoc with the region’s political landscape.”

    So what is it about the Greens that has moved the Island’s traditionally small-c conservative voters to consider a more progressive party?

    Bevan-Baker says the shifting political sentiments on P.E.I. are a reflection of a broader movement away from traditional, mainstream politics. He’s called it the local expression of a global phenomenon.

    “People are looking for something that doesn’t sound or smell or taste like a conventional politician,” he said in an interview late last year.

    Bevan-Baker became the first member of the Green party to win a seat in the P.E.I. legislature in 2015, having failed to win a single election after 10 attempts on the Island and in Ontario.

    As party leader, he has spent the past three years carefully crafting the party’s brand by consistently challenging the notion that the Greens are a single-issue entity devoted only to environmental activism.

    During the election campaign, Bevan-Baker made a point of broadening the party’s public appeal by focusing on social issues.

    When the party released its entire $30-million platform at the beginning of the campaign, the largest chunk of that planned spending — $10-million — was earmarked for increasing social assistance rates. Increasing the inventory of affordable housing was also a top priority.

    “They’re really broadened out their platform to talk about socially progressive issues,” says Desserud. “It’s a rebranding of the party that has been extremely successful.”

    The party has been talking about environmental issues, “but they have not foregrounded them,” the professor said.

    And when it comes to climate change and carbon taxes, Bevan-Baker has been careful to link a healthy environment with a prosperous economy.

    As for the Progressive Conservatives, the party may have deep roots on the island, but it has been plagued by infighting. In the past eight years, the party has had no fewer than six leaders, including Dennis King, who was elected in February.

    The party enjoyed a boost in the polls in March, when it was in a virtual dead heat with the Liberals and this week’s Narrative poll suggests they have continued momentum.

    As for the Island’s New Democrats, led by Joe Byrne, their poll numbers have remained at single digits for the past year.

    On Tuesday, voters will also learn the results from a binding referendum on electoral reform, which will determine if Islanders want to keep the first-past-the-post system or change to a mixed-member-proportional-representation model.

    In a 2016 plebiscite, 52 per cent voted in favour of switching to a mixed-member system, but MacLauchlan rejected the results, saying the 36 per cent turnout rate was too low.

    Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to abolish the first-past-the-post system federally during the 2015 election, but he later abandoned that pledge, saying Canadians were not eager for change. Voters in British Columbia rejected making such a change in December 2017.

    Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press


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