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
A year after Danforth shooting, teens who lost friend grapple with anxiety
TORONTO — They were eight care-free teenagers out celebrating a birthday when the bullets flew. The rampage that ensued on July 22, 2018, changed their lives.
Days before the first anniversary of the shooting in Greektown, four of the teens who survived the tragedy sit in the living room of an east Toronto home talking about their struggles with anxiety, depression and the feeling of loss. It’s better than therapy, they say.
“I feel like the people I am surrounded with is my therapy,” says Skye McLeod, as her friend Noor Samiei, whose 18th birthday they were celebrating the night of the shooting, gently holds her hand.
Their best friend, 18-year-old Reese Fallon, was one of two people who were killed when a deeply troubled 29-year-old man went on a shooting spree. Thirteen people were injured, including their other friend, Samantha Price.
Price has largely recovered physically, but she says she cannot stop the morbid thoughts that often race through her mind. The 18-year-old will watch cars go by and think the driver will shoot her in the head. She’ll notice a stranger on the street and fear for her life. She thinks large crowds make for a perfect place for a bomb to go off.
“It’s horrible,” she says. “But I can’t help it.”
All four have tried various forms of therapy. Three say it didn’t help.
McLeod stopped after one session with a therapist. Samiei, 19, says she saw a therapist twice.
“The therapist would look at me and if she didn’t initiate the conversation, I would just look back at her,” Samiei says. “What I really wanted was feedback.”
“Tell me how to heal,” Price says. “It sucks to go outside and be this age and not have fun.”
Max Smith, however, says therapy has helped his recurring anxiety.
“We just talk about what I’m feeling,” he says. “(My therapist) is super helpful and gives me insight and has given me some breathing techniques.”
All four say they think about the shooting a lot.
The night of the celebration started with dinner at an Italian restaurant downtown. Then they moved to Greektown for gelato. They were chatting at a nearby parkette when some noticed a man across the street, staring at them.
Price remembers Faisal Hussain raising a gun and firing. A bullet shattered her right hip and she collapsed. Next to her, two of her friends were on the ground bleeding.
McLeod also went down, but wasn’t shot.
“I remember looking at him,” she says. “Do I get up to run? Will that make me a bigger target? Do I play dead?”
Smith, who was next to McLeod, says he crouched down when the bullets flew.
“It was like tunnel vision,” he says. “I remember saying ‘Skye, we have to go.'”
“You saved my life,” she says to Smith. He blushes.
In the commotion, Samiei ran straight onto Danforth Avenue, tripped and fell, smashing her chin and knee on the road.
“While on the ground, I looked behind me and saw him shooting,” she says.
Samiei noticed Smith, McLeod and another friend duck into a nearby cafe so she got up and followed. The four ended up in a basement bathroom with two strangers.
Price watched her friends dash into the cafe, but also noticed restaurants were closing their doors.
Somehow, despite her shattered hip, Price made her way to Christina’s, a restaurant where a waitress helped her in and called for a doctor. She’d spend the next five days in hospital.
Her friends, meanwhile, were trying to track down members of their group. Samiei, while still in the basement bathroom, called Fallon repeatedly but got no answer. McLeod called her father, who rushed over.
Patrick McLeod, a retired police officer, found his daughter and her three friends in the cafe bathroom. After speaking with police at the scene, he ended up identifying Fallon’s body.
The friends later learned that Fallon had run in one direction while they scrambled in another. Her body was found in the parkette where they had gathered.
“That’s when our lives changed forever,” Samiei says.
While three of them started university last September, McLeod chose to travel. She headed to Greece, but the horror of what happened soon took hold.
“I immediately had a panic attack,” she says. “I had never been so depressed in my life. Crying constantly. Everything just hit me.”
Her father flew over to help and McLeod eventually carried on to Italy, but delayed her trip to Australia.
“I realized I needed time at home to heal,” she says.
Her travels helped, but like Price, McLeod says she grapples with disturbing thoughts. At a recent concert, for instance, she found herself thinking “this is a great place for a shooting.”
Smith moved to Guelph, Ont., for university and said being away from Toronto has also helped.
“It’s easy to forget about the shooting because you’re just not there,” he said. “It hits you when you get home.”
Samiei, now a student at the University of Toronto, says commuting to the school’s downtown campus was a challenge because crowds on the subway distressed her. So her mother commuted with her for months. Now, she’s able to make the journey on her own.
“I will change cars if I see someone weird, though,” she says.
Price has also struggled with parts of city life — a walk around her neighbourhood on Canada Day triggered a panic attack when she heard fireworks.
“It’s become so difficult,” she says. “I’ve loved growing up here and loved living here, but I feel uncomfortable at any public event.”
Despite their issues, the friends say they try to be positive as much as they can, especially when it comes to remembering Fallon.
“Reese’s last meal was her favourite: raspberry and chocolate gelato,” Samiei says with a smile.
Smith shows a video of the group at the restaurant that night where Fallon makes a goofy face. Everyone laughs.
“As horrible as that night was, at least until then, we had such a good time,” Smith says.
Samiei visits the parkette regularly to keep Fallon’s memory alive. She puts photographs of her friend on a tree. Someone takes them down, but she returns to put them back up.
“It’s important,” Samiei said. “So people don’t forget.”
Liam Casey, The Canadian Press
Lyme-infected ticks are so common in parts of Canada, testing no longer done
OTTAWA — Lyme disease has settled so deeply into parts of Canada many public health units now just assume if you get bitten by a tick, you should be treated for the potentially debilitating bacteria.
In Ottawa, where more than half of the ticks tested in some neighbourhoods carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, the public-health unit no longer bothers to test ticks because it’s assumed they carry the illness.
Dr. Vera Etches, the top doctor at the health unit, says that means if a tick is found on a person, and is believed to have been there for more than 24 hours, then the patient should get antibiotics to prevent Lyme infection.
After three days, preventive treatment won’t work so patients then wait for symptoms or enough time for antibodies to evolve to show up on a test.
Similar rates of Lyme disease have been found in parts of every province except Alberta, Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador, but the disease is marching further afield every year.
Lyme disease began appearing in Canada in the early 1980s but it has only been since about 2012 that the ticks that carry the bacteria have become plentiful, mostly due to warmer winters that allow more of them to survive.
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