BC pushes for legal black market cannabis, faces criticism from artisanal growers | The Canadian News

The British Columbia government has convinced many illegal cannabis growers to start selling legally in an effort to get the illicit marijuana off the market, but the efforts have faced criticism from the artisanal growing industry.

It has been three years since recreational marijuana was legalized in Canada, with the provinces managing retail sales, while Health Canada is responsible for production licenses.

In British Columbia, the effort to convert black or gray market producers into the legal retail market has focused on the central Kootenay region through a pilot project and commercial supports, including helping aspiring producers navigate the federal licensing process, as well as helping growers with marketing. development and security licenses, says the province.

Attorney General Mike Farnworth said in an interview that regulations could be less restrictive to encourage growth in the sector.

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“It’s still a work in progress three years from now,” he said. “There are still some challenges for producers and crafts.”

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Farnworth said he has heard from industry members who have expressed frustration over regulations surrounding the marketing of cannabis, as well as from retailers who dislike security measures, such as frosted glass for their storefronts.

Farnworth said he sees “a lot of potential” in the sector and that loosening regulations would help marijuana growers in the future.

Monthly retail sales have increased substantially each year, from $ 1.2 million in December 2018 to about $ 18 million in December 2019 and $ 48 million in December 2020, it said.

He said the province’s grow gate program, which would allow cannabis growers to operate a retail outlet on their property or deliver directly to a retail store, would help artisanal growers and encourage those operating illegally to do so. the change.

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Farnworth said he expects the program to go into effect in the spring.

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“We are trying to work with the industry (e) identify some of the challenges that we may face.”

Abra Brynne of the Kootenay Cannabis Economic Development Council was part of the team that helped black market growers transition to the legal model. Brynne said the council was created to help a region with a long history of marijuana production take advantage of legalization.

There were an estimated 2,500 small-scale cannabis growers in the region at the time of marijuana legalization, the province said in a press release.

The project in the central Kootenay area helped 53 companies receive help navigating the federal licensing process, and 13 organizations received licenses. The provincial government said 62 jobs were created or moved from the illegal to the legal market when the program ended in July.

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Brynne said the show had some successes, but there is “a long way to go.”

He said high insurance costs are prohibitive for start-up small growers and more work needs to be done to convince people not to buy illegal marijuana.

The province supported the pilot project, but persuading illegal operators to make the switch proved challenging, Brynne said.

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“We still have this strange culture of prohibition,” he said.

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The government’s decision to launch a pilot project targeting black market producers has been criticized by a group of legal growers.

Todd Veri, president of Kootenay Outdoor Producer Co-Op, said that despite the government’s claims of success, he knows of many small-scale legal producers who have struggled to cut through the red tape to launch their businesses.

Veri said it has had trouble getting approval for its business project, in part due to its status as an outdoor marijuana grower, which requires more paperwork than indoor greenhouse farms, as well as its cooperative status.

Part of the problem, Veri said, is the amount of time it takes to grow marijuana outdoors combined with stricter Health Canada regulations on storage and cultivation.

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“The time it took, the costs were to be expected, but the cost of the delays has killed us,” he said in an interview.

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Health Canada said in a statement that it is committed to fostering a diverse market for cannabis growers and processors, including through nursery and micro-class licenses. It added that artisanal growers account for about 40 percent of all active marijuana licenses.

Veri said it took him five years to get the license and sold his first batch of marijuana in early December.

The provincial government has paid too much attention to black market operators rather than working more closely with legal ones, he said.

He said that he and his group did not partner with illegal producers, because they wanted to work closely with the government. Instead, he said his group and others like it have been neglected in favor of producers who were operating illegally and now want to move to the legal side.

“There was no help for people who were really looking to employ people in this province … because BC decided to back the black market producers and I think they backed the wrong horse,” he said.

Veri said the government could improve the lives of artisan producers by allowing them to sell directly to retailers, which would encourage more people to operate legally and create a rating similar to BC’s Vintner quality assurance used in the wine industry. .

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