craft cannabis
Even licensed medical cannabis producers face high barriers to entering the recreational cannabis market. For Randy Shore story. [PNG Merlin Archive]

British Columbia has long been known for its amazing cannabis, and it’s the reason why “BC Bud” is a household name – famous for the quality of its craft cannabis and the small growers that can go toe-to-toe with the best in the world. 

Funnily enough, many of the best growers, and craft cannabis itself, hail from the west coast of North America, whether it be B.C.- which includes pot paradises like the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island, the Okanagan, and B.C.’s Interior – or places like Northern California’s Emerald Triangle, which is the largest cannabis-producing region in the USA.

But province wide, B.C.’s reputation in cannabis, which has been built up over decades, is at serious risk. None faces this risk more so than the craft cannabis industry itself, due to factors like overbearing regulations that shut out smaller growers in favour of deep-pocketed licensed entities, and the glacial pace of the licensing process.

It’s been over a year since cannabis was legalized in Canada, and it’s clear that there’s a lot of work to be done to make sure that British Columbia retains its rightful place as one of the craft cannabis capitals, not only in Canada, but the world.

Craft Cannabis

According to CTV, “micro or craft growers are limited to 2,125 square feet of plant canopy and have slightly less stringent requirements” when it comes to record-keeping and security, in an attempt to lower the barrier to entry in the cannabis space.

A recent analysis by cannabis business accelerator Grow Tech Labs has estimated that “licensing just 15 per cent of B.C.’s 6,000 grey market craft cannabis growers and raising production caps could legitimize nearly $3 billion in cannabis sales in two years”, according to the Vancouver Sun.

B.C.’s slow rollout of legal stores and lack of access has been criticized by many, including Barinder Rasode, founder of Grow Tech Labs, who said:

“BC Bud is world-renowned. We have not only the best growers and processors, but the activists who actually fought for so long to have legalization at the table, [who] aren’t being recognized in the same way because now a lot of licensed producers are based out of Ontario and Alberta

Those governments seemed to embrace the cannabis legalization policy quicker than we did in BC.”

Attorney General of British Columbia David Eby recognized that when it comes to B.C. Bud and craft cannabis, the government can and must do better, and acknowledged cannabis’ importance to not only B.C.’s economy, but the province’s identity, while simultaneously shifting part of the blame to the federal government. 

“B.C. has always been famous for cannabis and it would be really sad if we lost that advantage because of the federal government’s rules around licensed growing,” he said on the podcast License to Chill with Bert Hick, before explaining how the licensing process favours big companies and his hopes for phase two of legalization in B.C.:

“You have to be an incredibly well-financed operation in order to jump through all of the bureaucratic hurdles that have been set out, so I think in phase 2, whenever that comes, being able to support smaller growers in British Columbia and having B.C. growers selling through licensed stores is a really important thing.”

Eby also pointed to the craft beer model as an aspirational example of what could happen with craft cannabis in B.C.

In the meantime, organizations like Cannabis Growers of Canada and the Craft Cannabis Association of B.C. will continue fighting on behalf of the smaller growers.

How did B.C. get here and why did it take so long?

As mentioned, much of the blame rests with the licensing process itself. As of writing, Alberta has already given out 320 licenses, while B.C. has only licensed half as many. But cannabis was legalized on the exact same day (Oct. 17, 2018) across the country, so why does B.C. lag so far behind?

The Attorney General of British Columbia explained it this way:

“British Columbia was unique in Canada in that we had an election within the period that a lot of other jurisdictions were standing up their systems for approving licenses, so we were taking over government at a time that a lot of other jurisdictions were ahead of us.”

For context, the election he’s referring to is B.C.’s provincial election back in 2017, when Christy Clark’s long-ruling B.C. Liberals were toppled by a minority NDP government led by John Horgan and backed by the Greens. While David Eby does acknowledge that B.C. has been “playing catch up this entire time”, it should be pointed out that the new government still had well over a year to prepare for cannabis legalization in 2018.

Eby said that another hurdle is “the multiplicity of agencies involved- the police, Solicitor General’s office, my office through the regulator- has not made it easy”, but despite that, B.C. has managed to double the amount of licenses it handed out in the last few months, which is a promising sign of what’s to come.

Featured image courtesy of Vancouver Sun.