It’s Time to Unlock the Full Potential of Canada’s Craft Cannabis Sector

It’s been one year since our country ended cannabis prohibition, and what a wild ride it has been. We’re on the path to normalization, the doors have opened for research dollars and the once maligned plant has emerged as an economic growth driver for our country. Statistics Canada says cannabis has contributed more than eight billion dollars to the economy as of July, and there are over 9,000 people currently working in the legal industry.

There is, however, one sector that has faced a number of roadblocks this year and is being left behind as big conglomerates continue to make big strides. Craft growers embody the genesis of this industry, but are being squeezed out by prohibitive regulations, production caps and virtually no access to capital.

Small-scale cannabis producers and processors are responsible for the development of Canadian cannabis as we know it today. Without them, the industry runs the risk of losing the talent and expertise of these cultivars, and reducing access to the quality and variety of products we have come to rely on.

It’s time to unlock the full potential of our craft cannabis sector. Doing so will create tens-of-thousands of direct and indirect jobs and serve as a significant source of economic opportunities, particularly for rural communities.

Craft growers have been the backbone of the medical cannabis regime for decades. There are currently 6,000 small-scale producers in BC and Western Canada designated by Health Canada to grow medicinal cannabis. Research shows that transforming as few as 15 per cent of these growers into the recreational marketplace would result in $3 billion in direct economic impacts and 24,000 jobs across rural BC and Western Canada.

Mountains of red tape and systemic issues in the regulatory system have prevented these producers from transitioning into the legal system for recreational cannabis. This has contributed to the ongoing success of the grey market and resulted in lost jobs and economic opportunity.

Take British Columbia as an example - The government is still losing money on cannabis sales. In fact, BC’s revenues were lower than all other provinces but Prince Edward Island. The government admits that part of the issue is that cannabis consumers in BC are not moving to the legal system. That’s because small producers are known for growing quality cannabis and industrial growers are having issues with freshness and quality as they produce mass quantities of product.

Canada needs to be open for business, and not just big business. Some predict that without a significant change in approach, BC’s globally recognized craft cannabis sector is not likely to survive legalization.

By striking the right regulatory balance and integrating small-scale producers and processors into the legal market, the industry can diversify and be in a much better position to fill a variety of product demands. This will allow the government to achieve the desired goal of increasing production and attracting cannabis consumers to the legal market.

And, time is of the essence. Canada can build a brand around our craft industry and become a world-leader for high-end cannabis. With many US states and European countries quickly liberalizing their cannabis regulations, the race will soon be on for capturing the premium market.

So, while big cannabis companies and multi-million-dollar deals created quite a buzz this year, so did the big need for small-scale growers. The issues have sparked important conversations about what kind of industry Canada needs and how we can truly realize the long-lasting economic and community benefits of legalization. You see, ending prohibition was only one part of the equation. It’s now time to go back to our roots and ensure craft producers and processors have a seat at the table.