Cannabis growers, processors and retailers from the Kootenays had a 90-minute session with the province’s solicitor general Mike Farnworth (centre, back row) and MLA Michelle Mungall (centre) on Saturday. Photo: John Boivin

Kootenay cannabis growers, retailers air issues with minister

Solicitor General Mike Farnworth and local MLA Michelle Mungall host chat on industry problems

People who grow, process and retail cannabis in the Kootenays say they’re feeling a little more optimistic after a meeting with the province’s minister in charge of the industry.

Minister for Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth — who’s responsible for liquor and cannabis retailing in the province — and his cabinet colleague, local MLA Michelle Mungall, met with about a dozen people involved in the local cannabis trade on Saturday afternoon in Nelson.

“It was wonderful,” says Chris Campbell, who owns the Nelson Potorium, at the end of the 90-minute meeting. “I am very happy to hear Mike came to try to resolve some issues, and try and discuss to see if they can be resolved. He’s here to help out.”

“I think the meeting today was a great oppportunity, and a lot of great ideas came up at the table,” added Brett Pope, who’s with the Kootenay United Cannabis Association, a local group that advocates and lobbies for local producers. “I think he’s ready to go to bat for us.”

Mungall organized the meeting to give local industry players a chance to speak directly with the man who makes the provincial rules. Since legalization of cannabis nearly a year ago, the black-and-grey market companies in the Kootenays have struggled to find a place for themselves in the new world order.

Campbell’s Potorium has been closed for months awaiting provincial licencing — something she says she’s finally received. But even when they re-open, she says they face an uphill battle.

“To be perfectly honest, I’m not looking forward to the transition,” she says. “I am concerned about it being a viable business here in our community.”

But she also pitched a solution.

“I said I would like to see a pilot project. My suppliers, I would like to use them, they are capable of testing their products, and for me to buy direct from them… and cut out some middlemen and reduce our prices. Because that’s the only way it will work. Right now I have to buy wholesale [from the government] at the price I sold for retail. So it is twice as much and that’s not going to work here.”

Growers also pitched the idea of the province doing more to support craft-cannabis farmers.

“We brought up the difficulties of finances, difficulties obtaining your licence through the different bureaucracies you have to go through,” says Pope. “One solution we offered was if we allowed people who farm sun-grown product, if they had a label as a farmer, they would have access to funding, to all the things any other farmer has. I think that would be a game-changer… and will open the door for people who go to an outdoor system.”

Farnworth said he heard the complaints and solutions. He says he didn’t come to the meeting with a specific message in mind — he wanted to hear from local producers about the issues they face, and see how he could help.

“I think it’s been a really positive meeting,” the minister said. “Look, we want this industry to succeed, not just province-wide, but we recognize there are unique opportunities in regions of the province. The Kootenay is one of them.”

He says the idea of a test area for craft cannabis is something he’ll definitely raise with the federal government.

“We have to recognize the role craft production and small growers can play in this province, especially when it comes to regional economies,” he says. “Initially the rules and regulations seem geared to large conglomerate, corporate models. And while that’s a reality, at the same time there’s significant opportunity on the craft side. And this is Ground Zero of the craft industry in B.C.

“Maybe we can deal with some of the issues small-scale producers find themselves facing, and if there is a way to resolve those issues.”

“We want to expand the number of producers here in the Kootenays, we want to encourage those small-scale producers. We want to see that happen, and that’s certainly the message I will be taking to the federal government.”

While they didn’t hear any promises from the minister, most were encouraged that he came to listen, and happy with his pledges to bring their concerns to his federal counterparts.

“I’m quite pleased that finally we have a voice,” said Ellen Warner, secretary treasurer with the KUCA, and a medical cannabis grower in the Slocan Valley. “We’ve been out here saying, ‘this isn’t working.’ We’ll see what happens, but it seems we had an honest reception.

“The way to eliminate the black market is bring us in. And that’s our message. And don’t make the conditions so great we can’t get in. And that’s what happened,” she added. “You can’t have retailers losing money. How’s that going to work? And you can’t have cannabis farmers too scared to stand up because they’re going to get arrested. C’mon.

“If they need extra help, we are here to help. We want to see this industry succed.”

Farnworth also met with local cannabis producers and retailers in Castlegar on Friday.

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