Craft cannabis lobby comes to council

Maple Ridge growers well positioned for micro market says pot industry consultant

When recreational marijuana becomes legal in October, so-called “craft growers” will be Maple Ridge’s best chance to cash in on the industry, according to the new B.C. Micro Licence Association.

James Walsh, president of the association and a Maple Ridge resident, said his group represents about 400 people and small businesses that want to join the legalized cannabis system. Many of these growers are in Maple Ridge, and they would like to start their businesses here.

Put in colloquial business terms, B.C. Bud could corner the market.

“Pot grown in Maple Ridge would likely be found on shelves across the country. It’s famous for its quality,” he said.

“This could be like French wine.”

A representative from the new association, Adam Temple, appeared at Maple Ridge council on June 26 to highlight the opportunities represented by the micro licences that will soon be allowed under the Cannabis Act. He asked to have a meeting for “cannabis college” with both the city’s agriculture and economic development committees. He said good city policy could resulte in a good economic impact with legalization in October.

While the group wants to talk about the potential financial opportunities, Maple Ridge isn’t ready quite yet, said Mayor Nicole Read.

Walsh is a consultant in the cannabis industry and said zoning bylaws are restrictive in Maple Ridge – and virtually all cities. They will prevent most of the small, craft producers from being able to set up.

“We see nothing but barriers,” said Walsh. “The entire industry here in B.C. has a problem.”

That will not automatically change with federal legalization. B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth has said cities will get the final say about where they want new cannabis operations.

At the same time, Farnworth said B.C. was the only province that advocated for small-scale producers to be included in new federal regulations. He told CBC that he pushed hard for it.

So micro licences will be included, and will allow for 200 square metres (2,100 square feet) of garden space. That doesn’t do much to threaten the three million square feet of growing space that cannabis giant Tweed will have under crop in its Langley and Delta greenhouses. However, it is enough space to grow a significant amount of product.

“That could be a business – and it will be for a lot of people,” predicted Walsh.

He said those micro licences will be important to the new recreational marijuana system, to eliminate the black market and to bring diversity to the marketplace. Otherwise, it will be dominated by large companies which are primarily based in Ontario and Quebec.

He said craft pot could carve a niche in the same way craft beer has.

“It’s flavour and it’s experience,” he said. “But you’ve got to have a product where there’s a lot more attention paid to quality.”

Typical “grey market” growers in B.C. have a medical licence that allows them to produce pot for two patients. They sells to those clients, and although their excess pot is not supposed to end up in dispensaries, that’s where it ends up, said Walsh.

Under the new legal framework, these growers will be able to participate legally in marijuana production. But they need cities to give them a place to set up shop – zoning changes and other regulation.

That’s why they want to deal with city hall.

“Stats Can confirms what most of us already know – that B.C. has been the single largest producer of unregulated cannabis in Canada,” Temple told city council.

With laws changing they would like to be part of the legal supply chain, and “the money and the economic benefit would stay within the communities.”

“Now that the federal government has placed significant importance on these small players, in order to achieve the goals of spreading economic benefit and eliminating the unregulated cannabis industry, the municipalities must turn their minds to the implementation of the Cannabis Act and allow propagators, cultivators, processors to set up their businesses in communities so that they can create local jobs and pay taxes and make a contribution to their communities.”

Coun. Craig Speirs said he is happy that recreational marijuana will become legal on Oct. 17.

“Right at the moment, B.C. kind of dominates the market, and small producers that are doing that,” he said.

“They are having huge economic impacts in the communities they live in.”

He said the money they create moves through the local economy and “that money goes around and around and around.”

Read asked Temple how small players will be able to stay in business against some of the giant producers ready to enter the market.

“How do the small players compete in the marketplace against the Tweeds of Canada. These facilities are massive. You can’t compete with the number plants …”

Temple answered that the micro producers will have to produce a high-quality crop.

“A very large portion of the consumers have become accustomed to this very high quality product that we produce in British Columbia already. That’s not the quality they are going to be getting from the large producers, and it’s going to be disappointing for a lot of the consumers.”

Read said later that the city is learning details about the coming changes as October nears.

“There’s a lot of information coming online as we get closer to legalization,” she said.

Read said the city’s focus will be on creating zoning.

“There is a lot of positioning in the industry – this is a really large business opportunity. In terms of economic development opportunities, for sure, cannabis is in a great space.”

Reached after the meeting, Speirs said estimates from police and BC Hydro have pegged the number of growers in Maple Ridge at 800.

Now they need to “go legal and pay taxes,” he said.

“We’ve got to make sure we don’t lose the best part of the industry, which is small producers creating unique products.

“I would hope the economic development office would sit down with these people and try to figure out the best way forward.”

City CAO Paul Gill said a staff report will be before council soon and will address business licensing in recreational marijuana.

 

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