Large-scale cannabis grow room operated by Hexo Corp. in Quebec, Oct. 11, 2019. Hexo is marketing a licensed dry cannabis product for $4.99 a gram to compete with illegal sales. (The Canadian Press)

‘B.C. bud’ cannabis still underground, John Horgan hopes to rescue it

Legal marijuana mostly from out of province, not selling well

First of a series on the preservation of a ‘craft cannabis’ industry in B.C.

In the bad old days, B.C. used to supply half of Canada’s marijuana, export it to the United States by the hockey bag, and bring home a bong-full of blue ribbons for its exotic “B.C. bud” strains from international Cannabis Cup competitions in Amsterdam.

Premier John Horgan argues that this history is the main reason why legal marijuana has fizzled so far in B.C., a year into Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s bold legalization experiment. Horgan’s government is moving to take over the “economic development” part of legal cannabis from Ottawa, because its ponderous Health Canada licence system for growers is working great for mass-market producers in Ontario and Quebec. And it’s killing B.C. bud.

The Central Kootenay around Nelson B.C. is ground zero for Horgan’s experiment, economic development grants to subsidize and guide illegal growers from the dark side to the light. The $676,000 project is funded by the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, and administered by Community Futures Central Kootenay.

Energy Minister Michelle Mungall, who holds the Nelson-Creston seat for the NDP, was quoted in a low-circulation press release, applauding the grant’s potential to help growers navigate the federal-provincial-municipal regulations. Kootenay West MLA Katrine Conroy, another NDP cabinet minister, has expressed her concern that Canada’s wave of stock-market-backed mega-producers is a grave threat to her local economy.

Social Development Minister Shane Simpson says this is his ministry’s first cannabis-related business venture, and it was a grassroots idea. If it works for the Kootenays, it could work for the Okanagan or the Sunshine Coast, Simpson says.

“We’ve seen what’s happened with the craft beer industry in British Columbia,” Simpson said in an interview with Black Press. “It’s exploded and become an important part of the local economies in communities right across the province. It’s possible that there could be that same craft aspect to the production of cannabis. “Everybody talks about B.C. Bud and the reputation it has, so if we can build a craft industry that’s legal, that’s regulated appropriately, then that’s a good thing.”

PART TWO: Craft cannabis growers wade through bureaucracy

PART THREE: Province cracks down, prepares for edibles

RELATED: B.C. finance ministry downgrades cannabis income

RELATED: Hexo starts selling cut-rate cannabis in Quebec stores

B.C.’s main legal effort is a monopoly wholesaler run by the Liquor Distribution Branch, with a monopoly online store and a scattering of government-owned retail stores, a few licensed private retailers and a ragtag of unlicensed stores and private dealers. Some insiders estimate that the “grey market” and “black market” ragtag still holds 80 per cent of the B.C. market.

Large-scale licensed national producers, the Budweiser and Coors Light of cannabis, have been noted for missed targets, regulatory cheating, and a shortage followed by a glut of overpriced product, some of it getting mouldy sitting in the warehouse.

Horgan says he’s well aware that most of the product Health Canada has made legal for recreational sales is from other provinces. And he recalls telling the Trudeau government well before legalization that B.C. would make its own way on business development.

“The federal government said ‘we’ll take care of economic development’, and we just disagreed with them on that, and we continue to disagree with them on that,” Horgan told reporters at the B.C. legislature Nov. 28. “We have in B.C. a legendary quality product, and that’s not making its way to the legal market.”

The jokes about the B.C. NDP somehow losing money selling weed are no longer funny. It’s a fact. In her second-quarter budget update, Finance Minister Carole James reported that forecast for B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch income has been lowered $18 million “due to the delayed rollout of private and public cannabis stores and lower-than-anticipated demand.”

Federal excise tax from cannabis, the dollar-a-gram first take for recreational product, is split three quarters for the province and one quarter for Ottawa. The latest forecast downgraded B.C.’s share for the current fiscal year from $38 million to $8 million. Policing and other costs are coming in higher than budgeted.

Horgan acknowledges that the problem is the black market is still here, and the “grey market” that worked through medical dispensaries and compassion clubs, is greatly endangered. One disadvantage is price, with Statistics Canada estimating that legal cannabis is running close to $10 a gram, while illegal product is selling for half that.

Quebec-based Hexo Corp. has a plan for that, and it’s more bad news for “craft cannabis” in B.C. Hexo has launched a budget product for national sales called “Original Stash.” It’s only sold in the old-school 28-gram or one-ounce bag, at $4.99 a gram.

Next part: A craft cannabis grower navigates the regulatory system.


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Photographer captures Port Alberni personalities in black and white portraits

Meet John Douglas, Courtney Naesgaard in double exhibit Jan. 18 at Rollin Art Centre

Alberni Valley Community Foundation opens grant application process for 2020

Nearly $30K available for Port Alberni-based charities

Stray cat with ‘serious burns’ recovering at Alberni SPCA

The BC SPCA’s Alberni-Clayoquot branch is asking members of the public for help with medical costs

B.C. government puts kibosh on drag racing at Alberni Valley Regional Airport

AVDRA was hopeful for a three-year temporary contract to race at the airport

Wet, white and windy winter weather hits Port Alberni

Snow expected to turn to rain on Thursday

VIDEO: Cold snap brings ideal conditions for Okanagan icewine

Take an inside look at how icewine is made

Blue Monday is a myth but seasonal affective disorder and the winter blues are real

Canadian Mental Health Association says weather can affect mood

PHOTOS: Eastern Newfoundland reeling, search underway for missing man after blizzard

More than 70 centimetres of new snow fell overnight, creating whiteout conditions

Prince Harry, Meghan to give up ‘royal highness’ titles

‘Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved members of my family,’ says Queen Elizabeth II

Ice chunk from truck crushes vehicle windshield on Vancouver Island

None injured, but Nanaimo RCMP say there can be fines for accumulations of ice and snow

B.C. society calls out conservation officer after dropping off bear cub covered in ice

Ice can be seen in video matted into emaciated bear cub’s fur

Calls for dialogue as Coastal GasLink pipeline polarizes some in northern B.C.

Coastal GasLink is building the 670-kilometre pipeline from British Columbia’s northeast to Kitimat on the coast

Wind and snow spark power outages across Vancouver Island

Winter storm warning in effect for east and west regions while wind warning to hit south and north

BC Ferries hybrid ships arrive in Victoria on Saturday

The battery-operated vessels will take over smaller routes

Most Read