While larger players in the budding cannabis industry produce high volumes of pot, small-scale growers hope to produce high-quality cannabis in smaller quantities.
Prospective cannabis micro cultivators in Alberta say they’d like to sell their wares directly to customers in the same way as craft breweries and wineries.Those smaller growers would also like to sell directly to retailers rather than go through wholesaler and regulator Alberta Gaming Liquor Cannabis (AGLC) as all licensed pot producers are required to do.But before they achieve those goals, they need to surmount a host of barriers holding back an industry that operates in the legal shadows and grey areas of the cannabis sector, say proponents.Barriers to municipal zoning are stifling smaller growers who, by federal law, can’t exceed 1,252 sq.-ft. in canopy space.Another is the agonizingly slow pace of federal licensing, said James Welbourn of the Alberta Micro Cannabis Licensing Association.“The micro community is very discouraged — it doesn’t seem a priority for Health Canada,” said Welbourn.It’s foot-dragging, he said, that deals a blow in efforts to quash the cannabis black market.“It’s higher quality flower produced at a lower cost per gram,” said Welbourn.
Cannabis plants are shown at Sundial Growers facility in Olds.
Dean Pilling /
“By making the transition as difficult as possible, it’s keeping these guys doing what’s worked well for them (in the black market). I know guys who’ve put their kids through university this way.”By the end of last March, Health Canada had received 150 applications for micro cultivation or processing licences, with 11 of those coming from Alberta.Officials from Health Canada didn’t return calls Thursday, but one news report from last month stated the ministry had only granted two micro licences, neither of them in Alberta.Other obstacles include the need for the growers to have their facilities entirely built out before a permit is granted, a requirement that has some prospective growers reluctant to fulfill given licensing uncertainty and the cost, said Welbourn.Ultimately, if those roadblocks are conquered, his fledgling association, which now counts four potential growers, would run part of their businesses like craft alcohol sector does, he said.“We’re looking at getting a unique (customer) access to micro growers modeled after the beer and wine industry,” said Welbourn.
Pints of beer at Craft Beer Market
Leah Hennel /
A much larger black market and potentially legal micro cultivation community exists in B.C. where producers have formed at least one cooperative to promote their industry.Julian Smith works as a grow team lead for a Calgary licensed cannabis producer but hopes to launch his own micro cultivation nursery business at a site south of the city.He’s hoping Alberta follows the example of other provinces in allowing smaller growers to sell directly to retailers while skipping the wholesale middleman.“You can build your relationship with the dispensary…your product is almost sold out before it gets to the store,” he said, referring to the demand for higher-quality craft cannabis.But he admits larger producers would likely consider that preferential treatment and demand similar access.Smaller pot grows operating like wineries while also enjoying direct sales to retailers aren’t part of Alberta’s cannabis legislation, said AGLC spokeswoman Heather Holmen.Related
“There are some provinces that have that (farm to retailer) model but as it stands it wouldn’t be an option under our legislation,” said Holmen.“There’s no sampling anywhere under federal legislation and they’d have to be licensed as a retailer.”As it stands now, the growers would have to sell their product to the AGLC, then buy it back to sell it themselves.Once those micro cultivators receive a federal license to grow and sell, the AGLC could potentially purchase from them “if they’re able to meet the minimum product volume requirement,” said Holmen.There are no plans in the works by the new UCP government to alter legislation or regulations governing the province’s cannabis industry, said Jerrica Goodwin, spokeswoman for Alberta Treasury Board and Finance.“The legalization of cannabis is still relatively new and we will continue to monitor development of this industry,” she said in a statement.“We are open to working with stakeholders in the province to ensure a balanced approach that protects the health and safety of Albertans.”BKaufmann@postmedia.comOn Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn