It was September 2020 when B.C’s Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General first publicly announced plans to “develop a farm-gate sales program” to give B.C. cannabis growers the ability to sell their products from stores located at their production sites.
At the time, the “targeted launch” for the farm-gate cannabis program — plus another program allowing licensed producers to sell directly to retailers, rather than going through the liquor distribution branch — was this year.
But one-quarter of the way through 2022, there is still no sign of what B.C.’s farm-gate cannabis program will look like — or when it will launch.
Minister Mike Farnworth was not available for an interview last week, and his ministry did not respond to inquiries about the timeline for the farm-gate program.
“The silence is deafening,” David Hurford of the BC Craft Farmers Co-op said of the B.C. government’s handling of the “great policy idea that has a lot of potential” for both B.C.’s economy and the tourism sector.
“Other provinces are getting ahead of us,” Hurford added. Both Ontario and Saskatchewan have launched farm-gate programs for licensed cannabis producers. While Saskatchewan saw little initial uptake, Ontario has had some farm-gate stores open at cannabis production facilities since its provincial program launched in 2020.
But in B.C., cannabis producers are still in the dark.
“There’s a tremendous amount of anxiety that’s building, particularly with smaller producers, because it’s been such a vacuum, a lack of information about government’s intentions and timelines,” Liberal house leader Todd Stone told BC Today. “There’s lots of rumours that have been building and smaller producers, feeling that government may end up setting a threshold on production size, shut them out in favor of larger producers. Whether that’s actually true or not, nobody knows.”
B.C. can boast of having possibly the most robust ecosystem of small-scale cannabis producers in the country, many of whom have been operating for decades and have struggled to make the shift to the legal cannabis market under a regulatory regime that some feel privileges larger cannabis producers — many of whom received medical marjuana cultivation licences long before recreational cannabis arrived.
More than three years after cannabis became fully legal, B.C.’s “craft industry is still languishing,” said Green Party MLA Adam Olsen, who likened the industry’s frustrations to those of small scale distillers and cider-makers.
“There are caps that are put on them and limits that are put on them, and they have to struggle against internationally imported products that are really, really cheap and come in very high volumes,” he said. “This government and the system that we have is inclined to support large-scale producers more than the local entrepreneurs — that’s just the reality of the laws and regulations that we have in place.”
As a result, Olsen said B.C. is “missing a huge opportunity to support made-in-B.C. entrepreneurialism” when it comes to craft cannabis.
Hurford said his organization is concerned about “the extremely slow pace” at which the B.C. government is rolling out opportunities to expand the craft cannabis industry “and all the missed opportunities associated with the delay,” telling BC Today that a pilot project with the Association of Canadian Cannabis Retailers — a opportunity to “try things out and iron out the kinks before … a big launch” — never materialized.
Hurford expects the farm-gate issue to be a popular topic at the inaugural BC Cannabis Summit in Kelowna later this month.
The public safety ministry is preparing to launch a consultation on cannabis consumption spaces, a policy it views as integral to successful farm-gate sales.
To Stone, the consultation is coming very late in the game.
“Why has the government not initiated any engagement and consultation pretty much a year and a half later after announcing pretensions to head in this direction? It’s not fair for businesses that are in the sector, particularly the small producers,” he said, adding that the NDP’s approach to recreational cannabis has been “flawed from the beginning” by not putting smaller producers at the centre of provincial policies.
“Here we are with the largest and arguably the best cannabis production in the country and highest quality and highest volume and government can’t seem to figure out how to sell it or how to allow it to be sold and to generate more revenue from the sector,” Stone said.