It wasn’t too long ago that BC was the undisputed capital of cannabis in Canada. The province is famous for having some of the best growers in the world, and it’s the home of BC Bud, after all. With the International Cannabis Business Conference having made its stop in Vancouver over the last couple days, let’s take a look at the state of cannabis in BC and what it can do for the future.

Pre-legalization, cannabis was as easy to get in Vancouver as beer or cigarettes, with over 100 unlicensed dispensaries in the city alone. So you’d think almost a year into cannabis legalization, BC would retain its title as one of the best and most cannabis-friendly provinces in the country.

But you’d be wrong. And that’s mostly thanks to governmental red tape so bad that it has basically hamstrung BC’s legal industry and allowed other provinces, particularly Alberta, to take the cannabis lead as BC fumbled a decades-long headstart.

How so?

Let’s take a look at the number of licensed cannabis retailers in both provinces, shall we? As of writing, Alberta has 283 recreational cannabis locations, while BC only has 70.  And remember how Vancouver had over 100 unlicensed dispensaries in its heyday? Now, there’s only 13 legal locations open and most of the unlicensed ones have closed either under legal threat or in the hopes of getting licensed, only to never open again (with the exception of a few lucky ones).

Seems like BC is going in the opposite direction when it comes to cannabis access and the will of the people of BC, in addition to actively causing harm to the reputation of BC Bud.

Recent numbers from Stats Canada show that Alberta spent more money on legal cannabis than BC between October 2018 to June 2019- the most in the country in fact, at $123.6 million! Meanwhile, BC came in at 9th with $19.5 million for the same time period. The fact that Alberta has over 4X as many legal cannabis shops than BC probably has something to do with it.

But there are some people fighting to keep BC at the head of the cannabis pack, and one of them is Barinder Rasode, founder of cannabis business accelerator Grow Tech Labs. She points out that BC’s pre-legalization cannabis market was estimated at $7.1 billion by the Fraser Institute, and says it could all be lost if the people behind it aren’t allowed into the legal market.

To that end, she’s established a “fairly large co-op” in partnership with the BC Co-op Association to “keep the small and medium producers and processors at the forefront of the international [cannabis] scene” because it’s really important to her to “maintain the legacy of BC Bud,” as she put it.

Making matters even harder for the smaller guys is the way the legal industry has been structured, which gives preference to the large licensed producers who can afford the millions of dollars in start-up expenses and licensing fees. These costs are a significant barrier to most microgrowers, and even if they are able to get through the licensing process in one piece, they face unique restrictions like a maximum 2100 sq. ft. canopy size.

As she said:

“You can’t beat the experience… and the generational knowledge and genetics that have been passed through [in BC] and if we could do it all again, I wonder how many people in government would think that they should fast track the pre-legalization industry first, and then open the door to the licensed producer model because unfortunately, it’s not showing a lot of success and I think the… large producers who aren’t producing good, quality cannabis have really damaged the industry.”

That’s why Barinder is part of the chorus calling for the BC cannabis industry to follow what has been done with craft beer, with its separate distribution and retail models and tourism-friendly consumption spaces.

Here’s hoping the BC government can get its act together and give BC Bud the justice that it rightfully deserves.

For more on BC Bud, click here.

Featured image courtesy of Ahlstrom Wright.