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B.C. premier turns his focus on supporting craft cannabis

Two government pointmen for cannabis legalization seem to have realized British Columbia’s international reputation for great weed has been tarnished by a few blunders over the last year.

In a recent press conference, Premier John Horgan told reporters the legal sales and quality of cannabis could stand to improve, especially when it comes to product grown in B.C.

“I remember being in Amsterdam and seeing all of the B.C. bud awards that were being given out at the time when the product was illegal, and it’s ironic we seem to be having more Ontario product being distributed in B.C. through the legal market,” said Horgan.

“We in B.C. have a legendary product and that’s not making its way to the legal market.”

While data on the province’s black market is nearly impossible to compile, at this stage, the lack of desire for B.C.’s legal weed is evident in the most recent second-quarter financial update. It shows cannabis revenue $18 million below the projected $38 million from the provincial share of the federal excise revenue.

Recent data from Statistics Canada also illustrates that B.C. came in relatively low in total sales at cannabis stores ($50 million) and produced the lowest average sales per capita in the country last year.

The lull could be attributed to the slow retail start as the province struggled to get stores off the ground, opening just 16 stores in March of last year. That number did increase to 57 by the end of July, the second highest number of cannabis outlets in the country, as the province worked out licensing kinks. The spike means nearly half (46 per cent) of B.C.’s population now lives less than 10 kilometres from legal cannabis.

But does that mean the quality of the product is set to improve? Not necessarily.

Since the federal legalization of adult use cannabis in October 2018, the message has always been that of quashing the black market. That mission has proven a little more difficult than expected for those leading the vanguard thanks to a number of overlooked pressure points: bottlenecks in the licensing process, pricey retailer transition fees, item shortages, mass recalls, stock and investment losses, public cynicism, price discrepancies, slow order delivery times, and diminished product quality, to name a few.

On top of that, the provincial government has made it incredibly difficult for small-scale growers to break into the legal market.

The answer to restoring B.C.’s former ganja glory? With Horgan’s recent comments, it seems the tactic has changed from eradicating black market crafties to making room for them.

As such, the premier has tasked Solicitor General Mike Farnworth with finding ways to allow B.C.’s “skilled producers” to break into the new market.

Solicitor General Mike Farnworth

According to Horgan, Farnworth has been in talks with many of the province’s craft growers, some expressing a need for easier avenues into the licit retail space, and that they’d like to keep their weed in B.C.

Projects have already started to trickle out that support hopeful transitioners, like the Cannabis Business Transition Initiative, delivered by Community Futures Central Kootenay. The goal, funded with $676,000, is to help startup and existing cannabis businesses overcome the barriers to operating in the legal economy.

In an interview with the Canadian Press, Farnworth said he's not worried about B.C.’s foothold in the market, and added since the legalization of cannabis nearly 200 licences have been granted to sell legal cannabis in the province. He said it’s important not to focus on revenue at this point, but on “getting it right”—the same sentiment seemingly adopted by the premier going into 2020, as well.

Could it be too little, too late? Many of the growers and companies responsible for cultivating B.C.’s worldwide reputation have either been snapped up by larger licensed producers, are currently navigating the transition themselves, or have gone further underground. As growing at scale naturally won’t produce the kind of cannabis Horgan once saw claiming fame and accolades, considerable accommodations to the current licensing system must be made. Time will tell, but Horgan remains positive.

“For those passionate about the issue, stay tuned,” he reassured. “We’re going to continue to work as best we can to ensure that the consuming public gets a quality, safe product, and that we reap the benefits that we can of having a long tradition of cultivating cannabis here in B.C.”

Since the legalization of cannabis, national online and retail store sales have reached $908 million, with more than 400 retail stores across the country.

This article is available under a Canadian Creative Commons licence.