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
151st Cowichan Exhibition includes new category: best home-grown pot
VICTORIA — One of Canada’s oldest fall fairs is putting a new twist on its annual showcase of local livestock, produce and fruit by adding a new category for best home-grown marijuana.
The Cowichan Exhibition in Duncan, B.C., which dates back to 1868, has created a best cannabis category to embrace legalization and celebrate local pot growers, said exhibition vice-president Bud James.
The fair starts Friday and the cannabis entries will be on display in the main hall at the Cowichan Exhibition Grounds along with the region’s top vegetables, fruits and baked goods. First prize is $5, second is $3 and third place gets a ribbon.
“We just decided this year, because it’s an agricultural product, and it’s been grown in the valley for years, and now that it’s finally legally grown, we would allow people to win a ribbon for the best,” said James.
He said fair officials believe the Cowichan cannabis category is the first of its kind in Canada.
An official at the Canadian Association of Fairs and Exhibitions, a non-profit organization representing rural and urban fairs, said she had not heard of any other cannabis judging contests prior to the Cowichan Exhibition, but couldn’t confirm it was the first.
A fall fair in Grand Forks, B.C., is also judging local cannabis, but the event starts Saturday, one day after Cowichan’s fair. Those who enter the competition in Grand Forks can compete for best indoor- and outdoor-grown cannabis.
James said fair organizers contacted the local council and RCMP prior to adding the cannabis category. The mayor and council did not oppose the contest and the RCMP referred organizers to B.C.’s Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch, the agency monitoring retail sales of non-medical cannabis, he said.
Organizers decided to go ahead with the event after its plans were not rejected, James said.
“Our interpretation of the rules are you can’t make it attractive to people under 19 years and we are not making it attractive,” he said.
James said the cannabis entries will be placed in a glass display case and the individual entries will be sealed in clear zip lock plastic bags.
“It’s being judged to the same standard of judging garden and field produce,” he said. “It’s done by uniformity. You want all three buds to be the same size, same shape, same colour. It’s also the dryness, texture and smell. It’s exactly the same way you would judge apples or carrots or hay bales. It’s all done the same way.”
James said the contest doesn’t involve sampling the product.
Bree Tweet, the manager of a medical cannabis dispensary in nearby Ladysmith, will judge the marijuana entries, said James.
The exhibition received 18 cannabis entries and James said the contest created a buzz at the fair.
“The enthusiasm of the entrants, the people bringing their entry forms, they are so enthusiastic it’s unbelievable,” he said. “They are so thrilled that it’s happening, that we’re doing it because they’ve been waiting for years for legalization and now, they finally got it and now they have a chance to show what they can do.”
James, who has entered his prized Dahlia flowers at past fairs, said the addition of the cannabis category has exceeded expectations with the 18 entries.
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press
School board defends book pictured on principal’s desk after online uproar
A Toronto-area Catholic school board says an online firestorm that erupted after a book on how to teach black students was photographed on a principal’s desk stems from a misunderstanding over the book’s contents.
The Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board says the book, titled “The Guide for White Women Who Teach Black Boys,” has a provocative title but is actually a helpful resource on tackling racial and cultural oppression in education.
Michelle Coutinho, the board’s principal of equity and inclusive education, says such materials are a particularly useful reference given how diverse the student population is in the district and at that specific school.
The controversy emerged this week after a Brampton, Ont., high school, Cardinal Ambrozic Catholic Secondary School, posted a photo of its new principal on Twitter.
The photo, which shows the book on her desk, set off heated debate, with some suggesting it was a sign of racism or incompetence, or a prop meant to bolster the school’s image.
The image was also shared on instagram by 6ixBuzzTV, a popular account with roughly 1.2 million followers.
“LOOOOL. No principal should make it this far while subsequently needing a book like this,” one person wrote on Twitter. “She a bad principal,” wrote another.
Some defended the book, however, and the principal’s efforts to educate herself. “She’s making an effort to connect with her students, it’s more than most principals do,” another tweet read.
The board said it was surprised by the uproar and hoped people would look up the book before jumping to conclusions based on its title.
The principal intends to address the photo in a public announcement and invite any students with lingering questions to see her, said Bruce Campbell, the board’s spokesman.
The book, written by three researchers and published in 2017, aims to improve outcomes for black students by helping teachers create learning environments in which they feel nurtured and engaged. The title references the fact that white women make up the bulk of the teaching force in the U.S.
Coutinho said the book asks educators to challenge the biases they may bring into the classroom.
“We know that we’re steeped in a colonized kind of world view and how do we break out of that in our everyday practices?” she said, noting it has been used in the board’s anti-oppression training in the past.
Cardinal Ambrozic’s new principal was involved in a book study at several schools that delved deeply into the text last year, Coutinho said.
“If we’re going to make any changes to the education system, we have to start talking about these things and talking about them openly and honestly without shame or blame.”
Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press
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