The Problem for the Licensed Producers

When I spoke on a media panel last week, one member of the audience was adamant that he was not a big corporate licensed producer. He was an licensed producer, mind you, but for intents and purposes, he was a small-business. He had sunk all his own money into the business and wasn’t making a profit.

“But you are incorporated,” I reminded him, and meanwhile, although he didn’t personally demand the federal government shut down dispensaries, many of his contemporaries were.

And just as one explosion puts all dispensaries in a bad light, so one group of licensed producers calling BC’s activists “criminals” and “drug dealers” poisons the well.

It’s unfortunate that this has become the narrative since him and I both agreed that the problem here are burdensome government regulations.

Other members of the panel and audience dismissed the idea that there was a “small farmer versus big corporations” battle going on.

Based on most licensed producer applicants being smaller and unable to profit in Health Canada’s strict regulatory environment, I suppose we’re to feel sympathy for the entrepreneurs and investors who thought cannabis in Canada was going to be a lucrative and easy business to get into.

This is the problem with the licensed producers — cannabis is not your ordinary business. What worked in mining won’t work here. There’s a public relations dance that requires some delicacy and it’s started off on the wrong footing.

medical cannabis regime wouldn’t even exist if it wasn’t for the decades-long hardwork of activists, particularly in British Columbia.

Activists who occupied public spaces and smoked cannabis in defiance of old, racist legislation. And, now that cannabis has lost most of its social taboo, many of these activists have taken to opening dispensaries. Public protests have morphed into farmer’s markets.

To refer to these people as “goons” or criminals because recreational cannabis is illegal, or because they have not gone through the “best practices” of Health Canada is an insult to the entire movement.

Civil disobedience is a tactic reassuring liberty when the judiciary or legislature fails. Demanding that cannabis connoisseurs follow archaic regulations and accept the authority of the same apparatus that prohibited the plant to begin with — well, that’s not going to happen.

If there was one message I tried to get across last week, it’s that legalization will have to form around the BC Bud community. Otherwise, people will continue to break the law and if the results are fines and jail time, then there is no legalization.

It’ll be legal for companies — both big and small — to invest, produce and sell, but if people with cannabis criminal records are barred from “infiltrating” the industry, then perhaps you can understand why there is a “us versus them” mentality.

The issue for the licensed producers is public relations. They need to attack dispensaries less and criticize the federal government more.

Cannabis victories have never come from the legislature. Breaking unjust laws forced the legalization debate, to the point that the federal Liberals campaigned on it last year.

Asking farmers and vendors to wait or sign up through Health Canada isn’t the next logical step.

You might as well tell them to stop smoking until Justin says it’s okay. That they shouldn’t smoke any strains that aren’t derived from licensed producers.

That’s not how civil disobedience works.

If the business world wants to get into the cannabis industry, they are more than welcome.

But, keep in mind who made this business venture a reality. The people who’ve risked criminal records and jail time will continue to break the law until every adult has the right to grow his or her own cannabis and sell it to whoever wishes to purchase it.

Anything less is another form of prohibition that may satisfy vested interests looking to profit, but it won’t work for the cannabis connoisseurs who supplement their income with cannabis and whose primary interest isn’t making money.

If licensed producers don’t take the time to recognize and understand this viewpoint, then the narrative won’t change.

All licensed producers, both big and small, profitable and unprofitable, will be lumped together as crony-capitalists working with the federal government to undermine a free market of cannabis farmers and vendors.