For Immediate Release
October 16, 2020

B.C. Parties: Where do they stand on craft cannabis as an economic recovery solution?

Co-op President, Bob Davidson

BRITISH COLUMBIA – This month marks the second anniversary of Canada’s Cannabis Act – the result of Prime Minister Trudeau’s 2015 election promise to legalize marijuana. As the province with the best cannabis farmers in the world, it looked like British Columbia would have a lot to gain in this new post-prohibition marketplace. Two years later, the opposite appears to be true.

Since the Cannabis Act came into effect on October 17th, 2018, 24 months ago, just 23 of B.C.’s thousands of craft cannabis farmers have been approved to participate in the legal market by Health Canada. B.C. has the most to lose when these small, independent farmers are denied access to the legal market.

Each farmer is ready to create 2.5 full-time equivalent jobs. 2,000 licensed farmers would create over 4,000 rural jobs and hundreds of millions in new revenue for all levels of government. Unfortunately, Ottawa’s decision-makers are holding back B.C.’s potential – allowing the illicit market to flourish.

Approving just a handful of B.C. craft cannabis farmers each month during an economic crisis is like betting against your own team in the finals. Imagine if Ottawa applied the same approach to tobacco farmers in Ontario or fisherman on the Atlantic Coast.

So, what can BC’s next government do about this? Consider yourself forgiven if you missed the outgoing government’s September 20 announcement about a new cannabis sales program designed to benefit craft farmers and Indigenous businesses.

Behind the fog created by dozens of last-minute pre-election announcements, the Ministry of Public Safety news release provided clues to the path an NDP majority might take to support BC’s legendary craft cannabis sector. For those who missed it, the announcement focused on:

  • Allowing Health Canada-licensed small-producers and nurseries to deliver cannabis directly to retailers;

  • Farm-gate program to give craft farmers the ability to sell from stores at their site; and

  • Indigenous Shelf Space Program to highlight products from Indigenous producers.

As an organization with a mission to accelerate the transition of B.C.’s legendary craft cannabis cultivators and processors into the legal market, the BC Craft Farmers Co-op welcomed these measures and the government’s willingness to listen. At the same time, and as the pre-election fog cleared, the fine print became clearer.

While B.C’s interest in farm-gate is not new, the other two elements are significant. Dedicating shelf-space for Indigenous producers represents a model for other provinces. To be successful, our legendary B.C. cannabis brand must reflect the significant skill and environmental stewardship of First Nations and Metis farmers in all regions. Similarly, the B.C. government’s plan to allow craft farmers and processors to sell directly to retail stores is a game-changer. The only problem is their proposed timeline which doesn’t see the plan come into effect until 2022.

Why would B.C. wait two years to do something that makes so much sense today? The answer is because we don’t have the Health Canada-approved farmers to make it successful. When introduced two years ago, two of the stated public interest goals of the Cannabis Act were to help eliminate the illicit market and for a diverse marketplace. Neither has happened. More than half of B.C. cannabis consumers say they still purchase their supply from the “illicit market” and less than 1% of all the cultivation space approved by Health Canada has been awarded to small farmers. To complete the hat-trick of failure, the Cannabis Act regulations have become a job-killer just when our rural communities need them the most.

The result is thousands of small independent businesses in limbo and vulnerable to the international companies that now seem to control Canada’s cannabis supply. These highly-skilled farmers are unable to plan for their family’s future or provide consumers with what they want – fresh, locally grown and processed B.C cannabis products.

The Co-op knows a full policy reset is required in Ottawa, but to be successful, this change will need to be led by whoever is elected the Premier of British Columbia on October 24. In addition to adopting the measures B.C. announced September 20, the next Premier should be ready to go a couple of steps further:

  • Ask the Government of Canada to immediately reset the Cannabis Act’s regulations keeping B.C. farmers out of the legal market

  • Dedicate funding from new economic and agriculture development programs to help craft farmers transition, innovate and create thousands of B.C. jobs

One year from now, if Ottawa continues to be satisfied with just dozens of B.C. farmers in the legal market instead of the thousands already here, the next B.C. government should also be prepared to take control of the Province’s destiny and offer to start licensing small farmers here at home.