by Abra Brynne, Executive Director
When I moved to the Kootenays in 1990, my first major social outing exposed me to the cannabis trade in the region. As a non-smoker, I have never indulged, but as someone working on food systems and agriculture, it was always evident to me that cannabis is inextricably linked to the food economy of our region.
There is plenty of academic and anecdotal evidence that connects cannabis to countercultural influences. Perhaps it is linked to the ancient practices and cultures of the Indigenous peoples in this region, but the Kootenays has long attracted successive waves of non-conforming groups. The Doukhobors arrived in the early 1900s and included the cultivation of hemp in agricultural endeavours that sought to meet their core needs. Then came the Quakers, the draft dodgers, and repeated waves of “back to the landers”. All these groups have contributed to the somewhat distinct culture that exists in the Kootenays, enabling the mostly peaceful co-existence of loggers, lawyers, canoe builders and cannabis producers, among others.
While there are clusters of cannabis production in various areas and pockets of the Central Kootenay, the positive impact of the sector on the economy and the agricultural sector can be felt throughout our region. Cannabis has provided a stable income for farmers not able to achieve it solely through the production of food. It has also provided employment for a host of individuals who need flexible or seasonal labour that can accommodate the demands of family or other work obligations. The cannabis sector has resulted in the creation and success of ancillary businesses that benefit other sectors, such as greenhouse infrastructure, high performing filters, and other production supplies. And the cash economy driven by the cannabis sector has helped to catalyze the services, niche stores, multiple restaurants, and coffee shops that contribute to the quality of life here. Most importantly, the cannabis sector’s multiplier effects are likely amongst the highest of any sector here, circulating cash through the local economy and supporting diverse direct and indirect jobs.
In April 2019, I was honoured to be asked to moderate the closing panel of the first ever public gathering of cannabis producers in the region. Organized by Kootenay United Cannabis Association, this event brought together active members of the cannabis sector to best determine needs and opportunities following the legalization of recreational cannabis. By the end of 2019, I was asked to be part of a policy brainstorm on the barriers blocking a safe and successful transition to legal cannabis production. And in May of 2020, the Food Policy Council entered into a contract with Community Futures’ Cannabis Business Transition Initiative, to provide policy and sector development supports.
Like any heavily regulated sector, the barriers for small-scale producers are very significant. The cannabis sector also struggles to extract itself from under a long-standing prohibitionist cultural norm that has rendered most of its operators invisible. The 2018 legalization of recreational cannabis in Canada ostensibly provided an opportunity for these producers to join mainstream commerce. However, this will not happen without significant supports and some substantive policy change.
It is well known that the Kootenays produces high quality cannabis that is sought around the world. What is not so well understood is that this comes from the incredible expertise and dedication of many gifted small-scale producers.
The Cannabis Business Transition Initiative (CBTI) is an innovative initiative to provide the necessary supports for our area’s cannabis producers. The CBTI is being watched with great interest and some enthusiasm by both the provincial and federal governments. The CBTI team is also mentoring a Vancouver Island-based Community Futures to launch their own such initiative.
The Central Kootenay Food Policy Council is pleased to partner with Community Futures by providing policy and advice and sector development services. I am honoured to be facilitating a newly formed Cannabis Economic Development Task Force made up of cannabis leaders in our region. With a first meeting in December 2020, this group will focus on:
- creating a regional appellation to promote Kootenay cannabis, modelled after initiatives like that run by the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA)
- influencing the development of the direct to retail or “farm gate” sales program recently announced by the BC government, to ensure that it serves small scale producers and does not add new barriers
- monitoring and advocating for improved federal cannabis policy that better supports the transition of the legacy growers in our region.
More information about the CBTI can be found here: https://futures.bc.ca/grow-your-business/cannabis/cbti-webpage/