Oh CannaDa! Growing Pains & Opportunities of Legalization

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Canada — for a country whose emblem is a leaf, legalizing cannabis seems like an easy switch. On October, 17, 2018 Canada became the second country in the world to embrace cannabis on a national level. Uruguay is the dopest country of all, being the first country to legalize. Will Canada’s new recreational regulations start a great green migration north, or will the new state-run program send people scrambling for other sources of income? What are the opportunities and outlooks of those whose livelihood depends on this green crop in British Columbia (BC.), Canada’s biggest weed-producing province?

An Overview of BC Bud

In 1923 the US and Canadian governments eliminated cannabis from the physician’s medical arsenal. Many believe that this shift away from plant-based treatments opened the door for pharmaceutical companies to flourish. However cannabis resurged with weed-like vigor in the 1960s thanks to the Vietnam War and the peace loving hippies opposing it. Up to 40,000 draft-dodgers found themselves heading north. Most to BC to commune with nature and one other, and to grow pot in temperate climates away from the public eye. The recent documentary, “The End of the Road” depicts one of these communities, in which BC Bud was born and bred to its current notorious status.

British Columbia Canada Cannabis

British Columbia Canada Cannabis (Photo Credit: Marijuana.com)

Through the decades, the medicinal uses, particularly for pain management, could no longer be denied. Vancouver residents clamored until the city’s municipal government drafted its own regulations in 2005, in spite of the federal laws. This was a turning point in cannabis legalization in Canada. Justin Trudeau’s election in 2015 marked another turning point in legalization that led up to Canada’s current date with dope in October.

According to the best statistics available on this topic, the Sunshine Coast, Okanagan, Fraser Valley, and Vancouver Island provide approximately 40% of the nations weed. Together these locations generate an economic revenue estimated between $2-7 billion. The 2017 official cannabis report only attributes $1 billion of revenue from cannabis to this province. However, the statistics are probably flawed, as the same data set indicates that only 10.4 percent of cannabis was obtained legally through Canada’s Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR). Whatever the case, weed has an indisputable economic impact on the region.

So what shifted on October 17th and is this shift in the best interest of the long-standing Canadian cannabis industry? Or will the black market continue to thrive since the cannabis community is notoriously anti-establishment and anti-regulation?

 

Current Limitations of Regulations

As of October 2018, all legal cannabis related business will now be regulated by Liquor Distribution Branch (LDS) of the Canadian government. This means that the Canadian feds are the sole cannabis wholesaler for the country, including BC and its patchwork of farmers, processors and retailers. Many big players such as BC Northern Lights, Canopy Growth and Aurora Cannabis have filled out the forms, and jumped through the hoops to claim the prized title: Licensed Producer (LP). They are poised to legally satiate Canucks’ cannabis consumption. Corporate-weed licenses have high-level security greenhouses and often sophisticated vertical business operations (from seeds and testing to stores filled value added products, like chocolates and cannabis tea). Yes, these strict business regulations may be setting a new gold standard, but is there room for smaller operations that have been the backbone of the industry, even if their products are currently labeled “black market” goods?

 

Micro-Bud Licenses to the Rescue

The overwhelming sentiment among the 15,000 small and medium size growers in BC is that the new laws will stamp out their livelihoods, and with that their communities, unless they stay underground.

In an attempt to reconcile this gap, and to minimize black market operations, the Canadian government passed a bill in April 2018 (Bill C-45) to create a second system of licensing called “micro-cultivation”. Think micro-brewery for bud, nurseries and industrial hemp. The challenges of these well-intended regulations include: the license paperwork is not yet available, they have yet to determine a price tag, and the size limitations are much smaller than originally requested. For indoor facilities farmers must limit their plant growing area to no more than 2,153 square feet (200 square meters) or a maximum of 600 Kg of dried cannabis for micro-producers of edibles, oils etc. Even if you consent to the size and quantity limits, there is no way you can legally operate in October, because there is not yet a place to sign up!

This gap is creating great confusion and frustration as evidenced on blog comments related to the topic. Despite the growing pains that demark this transition, some industry veterans are seizing new opportunities and reinventing their position. One example of this is Robin Kehler, manager of Mary Jane’s Alternative Health Centre / Weeds, in Sechelt, BC.

Canadian Cannabis Store Elli Ho

Cannabis Store in Sechelt, Canada (Photo Credit: ElliHo.com)

Expanding the Wellness Paradigm

Instead of limiting his store to the cannabis products that the government will provide through the LPs, Robin is lining his shelves with superfoods, supplements and other natural care merchandise. He has hired several holistic bud-tender-nutritionists who can guide clients not only to the appropriate bud or tincture, but they understand that cannabis is a part of the holistic healthcare arsenal.

I feel that plant medicine is the people’s choice to alternative holistic health care. It is most deserving to be on the same shelves as other holistic alternative nutritional needs…(together they) give our bodies a fighting chance to heal itself without the use of pharmaceutical medications.”

 Aside from the ever-growing scientific body of evidence affirming the therapeutic uses of the varying cannabinoids and terpenes, there is a sense of personal empowerment that many people feel when they start using cannabis. Perhaps this euphoria is one of marijuana’s well known side effects, but maybe people are remembering that they play an active role in their own sense of wellness. Many consumers experiment with strains and doses that match their needs and moods. CBD after a workout, indica before bed, and sativa for social events.

“I am passionate about assisting people to make a conscious choice of self-care and self-love,” notes Robin as people continually stream into his shop. He has been on his feet in the shop for 10 hours a day, for 4 years straight without a break. This is not a schedule that most people could keep up with, much less at 62 years young. But when you have a vision, loyal customers from all walks of life, and an optimal dose of CBD, perhaps your days would fly by too.

In the minutes between consults and ringing people up at the register, he shares one of his clients’ recent rehabilitation success stories. An 82 year old woman who underwent a total knee-femur-hip replacement was told by her doctors that her recovery would take at least 4 months. Much to their surprise, 6 weeks after using the store’s non-psychedelic CBD oil she was back up and walking (maybe even hiking ,which cannabismagazine.com notes is akin to walking to Canadians). With testimonials like this, who wouldn’t want to participate in this industry?

Rory, one of Robin’s bud-tenders and holistic healthcare consultants agrees that very high quality, pure CBD extract could benefit everyone.

“It is full of so many healing properties for inflammation, pain, stomach, stress, anxiety and many other symptoms. Because it has no psychotropic effects, it is completely safe to take on a regular basis. I even give it to my dog.”

 

Rory standing in front of superfoods and supplements at Weeds. (Photo Credit: Weedsgg.ca)

Rory standing in front of superfoods and supplements at Weeds. (Photo Credit: Weedsgg.ca)

Aside from a huge selection of the infamous BC bud (all of their strains are 100% local, at least before legalization) one of the most popular items in the store is gummies. “We have a lot of clients that rely on edibles for sleep, pain and relaxation,” notes Rory.  Rory prefers smoking because it is easier to dose for her, but that is a part of figuring out what works for you.

Even though cannabis can have significant effects on a person after just one dose, like in the case of social anxiety, “it is really about feeling if a client is open to implementing the holistic health care advice into their daily routine. Sometimes it is the smallest things in daily life that can really make a big difference in the long run.” And that may or may not include a daily dose of weed. Aren’t dandelions also considered weeds and a potent liver detoxifier?

 Both Robin and Rory know that many smaller suppliers will be cut off in October 2018. It could get personal and certainly impact their community. But whether these BC bud growers and chocolate infusers will file micro-licenses (when the paperwork finally becomes available), file law-suits, or find another way to weather the vicissitudes of legalization has yet to be determined. May each one find their path for the highest good of all.

The Weeds Sechelt store is the first of its kind in Canada to offer nutritional health foods and superfoods with cannabis under the same roof. What would happen if this idea spreads not only to other stores in BC, and Canada but even beyond the border?

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About the author:

Ellie Ho

Elli Ho

Elli Ho MPH, a late-flowering cannabis convert, is dismantling the 420 stigma. As a researcher/nutritionist, mother and digital nomad, she explores the world, food and consciousness with humor, love and gratitude. See where in the world she is taking her next breath of fresh air @elliAloha or elliho.com

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