Bryan Passifume | National Post | September 28, 2022

Even after nearly four years of legalization, small growers say the government hasn’t done enough to make the Cannabis market more accessible.

Going legit was never a question for Tara Kirkpatrick.

One of BC’s legacy craft cannabis growers, for over two decades she’s dedicated herself to growing high-quality pot near Prince George, B.C.

Originally producing for medical customers, Kirkpatrick said that once word came that Canada was finally making cannabis legal, her goal became bringing her company, Backwoods BC Bud, into the legal recreational market.

“Every craft grower alive wants their product to be in the stores,” she told the National Post.

“That was my dream and passion.”

That reality is proving difficult for BC’s craft cannabis producers, who say current rules offer little incentive to go legit.

“The hardest thing I’ve done was transitioning, just because of the red tape and the paperwork, and the roadblocks they put up,” she said.

And depending what township you’re in, you may even be up against your municipality.”

It’s a struggle many in her situation are facing, said David Hurford of B.C. Craft Farmer’s Co-op.

“B.C., of course, has a well-earned reputation for having the best crop of cannabis farmers in the world,” he said.

“As legalization was rolling through, we obviously started to understand that these legacy farmers were finding it impossible to transition to the legal market.”

“Every craft grower alive wants their product to be in the stores.”

The Co-op was founded, in part, to help B.C.’s legacy cannabis growers transition to the legal marketplace, promote the province’s acclaimed cannabis-growing history, and help producers showcase their products across Canada and the world.

But thanks to onerous and often arbitrary rules put in place by Health Canada, these long-fought champions of legalization found themselves shut out of the very legal environment they’d spent decades fighting to establish.

“It was very discouraging,” Hurford said.

“They had been the ones fighting for legalization, they’re the best at what they do and they weren’t getting in — we could see that was ultimately bad for the policy.”

BC’s craft growers — many members of Indigenous communities — pride themselves on the acclaim their cannabis earns around the world.

Last week, Health Canada announced the launch of their nearly year-late review of the Cannabis Act — promising to gauge the impact of legalization and help guide the future of Canada’s recreational marijuana industry.

But with results of that review at least 18 months away, Hurford and other industry insiders say there are problems that just can’t wait that long to be addressed.

Insiders say a key issue lies with the fact they’re solely regulated by the federal health ministry, a portfolio they say has no business creating agriculture policy.

“The system has been designed to fail, by the looks of it,” Hurford remarked.

Out of the thousands of legacy growers in British Columbia, the co-op has only managed to convince around 100 to transition as Canada prepares to mark four years since legalization.

Hurford said everybody wants legalization to be successful, and the key to doing that is making it easier for smaller craft growers to access the marketplace.

The biggest hurdle Kirkpatrick faced was the approvals.

“If you don’t have over $100,000 to build out your facility, you’re never getting to market,” she said.

“You have to have your facility fully built out before you can even get your licence from Health Canada — you have to put out all of money, time and energy, and you don’t know if you’re going to get that licence at the very end.”

This bureaucratic nightmare is prompting many growers to conclude entering the legal recreational market just isn’t worth the time, expense or hassle.

“That’s why a lot of them won’t transition over,” she said.

“Your security clearance takes sometimes as long as a year before you can even open your doors — meanwhile it’s just money, money, money going out and nothing coming in for almost a year while you’re waiting for this licence to happen.”

Most craft growers, she said, have neither the money or capital to even begin the process — and with all major Canadian banks refusing to do business with even legally-licenced cannabis enterprises, going legit isn’t even a possibility.

“The banks want nothing to do with you, so they won’t lend you the money — even if you own your own home or property,” she said.

“I don’t know any other industry where the banks won’t touch you — if I opened a beer store today, they’d fall all over me to lend me money.”

All agree the government isn’t doing enough to make the market more accessible — particularly when supplanting the black market was a key plank in the Trudeau Liberals’ cannabis legalization plans even before forming government in 2015.

“If they really wanted to get rid of the black market, they would have more support for growers to transition,” she said.

“And because there is none, it always leads me to believe — does the government really want this?”