CRAFT BEER FIRST, CRAFT WEED NEXT?
DON’T HOLD YOUR BREATH
When Canada legalized cannabis a year ago, basement pot growers like Francis thought they had it made. After all, home brewers became craft brewers and a few hit the big time. While Ottawa talked about letting the little guy in, the rules seem to send a different message.
– Craft cannabis grower.
CRAFT WEED STAYS IN THE CLOSET
Francis Tucker wants to grow craft cannabis the same way hundreds of business-savvy beer lovers make and sell craft beer.
But that’s not going to happen.
He’s got the skills—he has been growing marijuana, for years. It started as a just-for-me operation but then became a small grow with a small group of clients.
When Tucker (not his real name) first heard that the federal government was planning on legalizing weed, he was happy, at least until he saw the Cannabis Act and the requirements for a micro-cultivation license.
His plan, along with many other small growers, was to go legit and turn his business into a boutique style operation, selling his own product. However, with a change to the licensing requirements in May of 2018, that is now impossible for him. Health Canada requires that a facility be built and functional before an application can even be made, which Tucker said is the nail in the coffin for most micro-producers.
“The small craft grower doesn’t have the opportunity to start without a risk of significant delay, while operating at significant cost, with no chance of making any money for some time. It’s not feasible for small craft, hobby growers,” the Newfoundland grower said.
As of September, 191 sites across Canada had applied for micro-class licenses and only nine had been issued.
“It’s not as accessible as craft brewing is and I don’t really see a difference on that level. It should be as accessible.”
Health Canada tightened up the regulations following a review of their application process. The review showed that over 70 per cent of applicants who successfully passed the first round of the process hadn’t built a facility and subsequently hadn’t produced any marijuana.
“A significant amount of resources were being used to review applications from entities that were not ready to begin operations, contributing to longer wait times for more mature applications and an inefficient allocation of resources,” Health Canada said of the change in an emailed statement.
Tucker said while he understands the rationale behind this decision, it’s a major barrier as far as he’s concerned.
In two years, Health Canada has licensed more than 129 larger sites.
“You’d need a lot of capital to build a facility,” he said. “It would be pretty hard to convince a bank to give you that much cash with no guarantee you’ll even get the licenses, so it pretty much leaves this to the rich and people with black market backing, in my opinion.”
Since the facility needs to be completely functional before even applying, there would be significant up-front cost to remodel an existing building or build a new one.
Now consider brewing. To get a brewery license there are hoops to jump through in each province, but none require the facility be up and running before getting a permit. Having a rental contract for an appropriate building and a detailed proposal is enough to apply for a brewery/distillery permit in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador, for example.
Larger licensed producers have the capacity to grow one million kilograms of cannabis per year, the estimated amount consumed in Canada.
He’d like the same rules for cannabis.
In addition to the cost for the facility, it can take months after it’s built just to fill out the application forms. Processing and fees can cost well in excess of $100,000.
Tucker said the level of regulation surrounding marijuana is inconsistent with other controlled substances, such as alcohol.
“Look at, for example, the number of craft brewers that have popped up over the province,” he said. “I don’t know of any craft weed places that are proposed or running or anything. But there are several large-scale (growing) facilities being built here.”
Unless the regulations change, Tucker believes there will be a few big growers and a lot of opportunities for entrepreneurship and local jobs lost.
Complaints about marijuana supply and quality have been common since legalization, both issues Tucker said craft growers could help alleviate.
Many parts of the country don’t have a marijuana store within driving distance, but a smaller operation could set up in rural areas where the big players won’t go, due to the scale of their operations.
In terms of quality, it would be more of a concern to a small grower than a large company, Tucker said.
“If a craft grower with only a few strains gets a bad reputation that’s probably the end of their business,” he said. “With the big companies selling a huge amount of inventory, one bad batch won’t matter to them as much.”
He can’t make his case directly to government, because he’s growing illegally.
So, what’s government doing?
Health Canada said they are committed to encouraging micro-class licenses and have offered a number of ways to make access easier.
There are lesser security requirements for a micro-class facility and lower cost-recovery fees, scaled to the size of the business. Additionally, there is a specific team set up to deal with this class of applicant to speed up the process.
Regarding the cost of a facility, Health Canada said micro-class applicant also have the option of an incremental approach, licensing one or two rooms initially and scaling up from there via license amendments.
Tucker said while the faster processing is helpful; the cost of the application and investment required wouldn’t really make setting up one or two rooms feasible as a business.
“You would be years just recovering from the cost of the process at that rate,” he said. “I understand the idea, but it doesn’t really make it more realistic.”
Bottom line: don’t expect to see a craft cannabis industry any time soon.
BY THE NUMBERS
Health Canada changed the rules in May to require a facility be built before a license is issued after finding that seven out of 10 applicants who had passed the first round of the process hadn’t built or produced any marijuana.
Number of square metres of plants allowed under a micro-cultivation license.
Number of kilograms of dried cannabis a micro-processor can process and sell each year to government or authorized retailers.
CANNABIS CAN BE PATH TO ADDICTION BUT FOR SOME IT’S A WAY OUT
– Addictions counsellor Tom Blanchard
OPENING THE DOOR TO A GATEWAY DRUG A MISTAKE, SAY ADDICTIONS COUNSELLORS
Tom Blanchard makes no apologies for his strong stance against cannabis legalization.
“We believe a drug is a drug is a drug,” says Blanchard, a long-time addictions counsellor who serves as the executive director of Talbot House, a rural Cape Breton facility that guides the addiction recovery and rehabilitation of men from Nova Scotia and across Atlantic Canada.
ADDICTION, RELAPSE POTENTIAL
“We still believe that cannabis is a gateway drug and that’s it’s highly addictive, and we still believe it can cause mental health issues for youth, that is people between 14 to 21, and that it has relapse potential for our clients if they go back smoking it recreationally.”
1 in 3
Proportion of those who use cannabis who will encounter problems.
And he should know. After all, the sole purpose of Talbot House, operated by a non-profit society, is to help chronic addicts through the recovery process. It’s been doing so since 1959.
Blanchard isn’t saying the legalization of recreational cannabis has undermined 60 years of addictions services, but he does concede that the public perception of pot being less harmful than other drugs has made it more challenging.
1 in 11
Proportion who will develop an addiction.
“I think it’s very dangerous to think that cannabis is good for everybody—it's like when opioids started, they were great for cancer patients, but all of a sudden it became chronic and now it’s killing people across this country,” he says, adding that the hype surrounding marijuana legalization, both recreationally and business-wise, has contributed to minimizing past awareness campaigns about the now legal substance.
“In the early stages of grassroots addiction services, marijuana was considered a drug and pamphlets were distributed that stressed how it affected the body, mind, spirit and soul and now that’s all gone away.”
1 in 6
Proportion who start using cannabis as a teen who will become addicted.
Neither Blanchard or Talbot House clinical therapist Dale Sharkey expect the Cannabis Act to be repealed, but they said they would like to see a more accurate portrayal of the dangers of cannabis use. Sharkey said one claim he takes issue with is that marijuana is less damaging than alcohol.
NO SAFER THAN ALCOHOL
“I think the government and the media are making a mistake trying to differentiate it from alcohol,” he said.
“It’s the same, it’s a drug that you take, and you can become addicted to either one and either one can have negative consequences - it’s not a harmless drug like it’s being portrayed.”
Proportion of daily pot smokers who will become addicted.
In fact, Blanchard said they are already seeing the effects from the perception that weed has less harmful consequences than other drugs.
“To minimize it opens the door for people to justify its use – we had a couple of young guys here recently who felt bad about coming for treatment because they were ‘only’ hooked on marijuana,” he said.
FOR ALICE, CANNABIS IS BRIDGE TO CLEAN LIFE
Alice is 27.
She’s been clean for a while now but still remembers being held in a vise grip of addiction she couldn’t escape, until she switched to pot.
The Burin Peninsula woman, who did not want her real name used, says cannabis has helped break her reliance on powerful opiates.
“At the end of my addiction I was seeking out fentanyl patches because I couldn’t get high anymore,” she told SaltWire Network.
“I’ve been clean now over three and a half years and if I wasn't smoking marijuana for my anxiety I don’t know if I would be sober this long. I give cannabis a lot of credit for saving my life.”
She’s not alone in using cannabis to help overcome an opioid addiction.
The Marystown native points to the Cannabis Substitution Project in Vancouver, started by Neil Magnuson, as a model.
Magnuson said in a telephone interview “the root cause of much of the addiction is pain of course, anxiety depression, lack of sleep, lack of nutrition. Those things are all addressed by cannabis.”
He said edible and concentrated forms of cannabis are more effective in offsetting the use of harder street drugs.
“If you smoke two good grams of cannabis, that third gram isn’t going to get you much higher, he said.
“But in the form of edibles people can find the right dose that works for them, because most of the people that are using those hard drugs are dealing with pretty serious pain, be it emotional or physical.”
Still, edibles aren’t legal yet and for Alice, getting legal cannabis products where she lives is a problem, so she buys from a trusted, but illegal source.
“I don’t go anywhere else.”
There is a risk to buying cannabis illegally, but she’s avoided trouble.
“I’ve been smoking pot on and off since I was 13, so 14 years and not once have I ever encountered laced weed or knew anyone who encountered it.”
High prices and the scarcity of government-sanctioned pot shops make the black market attractive. “What small town in Newfoundland doesn't have a liquor store...even if it's just a corner in a gas station? Why should cannabis be treated any differently?’’ she said.
She’s not happy with the quality of government weed, either.
“When I gave it a chance, it was pure trash,” she said. “I paid almost double what I would from my friend for the same amount.”
Magnuson said the key is better price and quality. Otherwise people won’t buy legally or won’t get off the harder drugs.
“There needs to be dispensaries/storefronts that people can go in to, (they) need to have inexpensive, good quality cannabis and they need to have good strong edibles, that’s what has to happen,” he said.
“There needs to be easy access to this to combat this overdose crisis.” - By Colin Farrell
Magnuson explained that he opened dispensary in 2004 on East Hastings Street, that stocked edible cannabis products, “…people would tell us that a couple of good strong brownies would get them through the night and that wouldn’t need to use the other drugs and they could use it to get through withdrawal.”
He added that when the sale of edibles was banned in Vancouver, he started giving them away, and the project was born.
Magnuson said that when it comes to dosage it is different depending on the person, “for people that are using opioids they usually require quite a bit, there’s people that are taking 150mg per time maybe two or three times a day.”
He added for those with a recreation interest in edibles 10mg is a good starting point, “most people end up quite a bit higher… I’d say on average a dose would be between 80-120mg for the average person that’s dealing with opioid addiction.”
- By Colin Farrell
BREWERS TO BEEKEEPERS LINE UP TO TAP APPETITE FOR EDIBLES
Moosehead Breweries, Sproutly Canada to serve up cannabis-infused beverages
By Nicole Munro
Break out the cannabis-infused beverages.
Soon, you’ll be able to legally get your hands on a drink with a twist: cannabis.
Moosehead Breweries and Sproutly Canada Inc., partnered up in April to develop non-alcoholic cannabis-infused drinks.
“In the past five months, significant resources have been dedicated towards creating a portfolio of infused beverages that will be ready for consumers following legalization in Canada,” Matthew Oland, vice-president of supply chain at Moosehead Breweries based in Saint John, N.B., said.
The infused beverages will “target the casual and canna-curious consumer,” using Sproutly’s water soluble cannabinoids and Moosehead’s beverage background.
The beverage is to have little to no cannabis aroma or flavour impact and show cannabis effects in less than five minutes that last up to 90 minutes.
The products have completed several rounds of testing to determine flavour profiles, sweetness, colour and calorie targets, using both indica and sativa cannabis strains.
Keith Dolo, CEO of Sproutly, said the “legal framework” has taken longer than expected, but the companies look forward to completing the remaining legal documents and announce the name of the joint venture.
Dolo didn’t disclose an anticipated release date for the products.
Corner Brook outfit has recipe for tackling THC treat market
By Nicole Munro
Rita Hall has been a busy bee as the legalization of edibles in Canada approaches.
The plan to produce edibles has been the plan for BeeHighve Inc., a cannabis production facility in Corner Brook, N.L., from the start. The company plans to create cannabis-infused treats, such as a bar made of honey, blueberries, chocolate and nuts called the honey I need an adventure bar, with its locally-produced honey.
But BeeHighve has to wait until Oct. 17 when edibles are legal to get the ball rolling.
“All recipes have to be approved by Health Canada and the approval process takes two months after legalization,” Hall, CEO of BeeHighve, said, adding the company has a chef who is making honey-based recipes.
“Unfortunately, BeeHighve can’t make edibles because it’s not legal to make them commercially yet, so that has been challenging.”
Hall said cannabis dosage is one of the most important things in edibles, but the delay of products coming onto the market after legalization may cause some “unexpected or sometimes unwanted results” if consumers try to make their own edibles at home.
“I don’t think that the general population is educated enough on making and consuming edibles,” she said.
“Sometimes people consume too much because they don’t have immediate results.”
Hall said recipes approved by Health Canada with clear consumption messages should “help improve the experience of consuming edibles.”
The BeeHighve hopes to have edibles available in early 2020.
WHAT'S IN CANNABIS?
More than 100 chemicals known as cannabinoids are stored in the tiny hairs on the plant's leaves and flowers. They include:
Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol is what gets you high. The higher the percentage, the higher you get and the more pronounced the side effects.
Cannabidiol reduces the effects of THC and has been used to treat pain and other ailments.
The chemicals that give cannabis its strong smell.
Share your own experiences at [email protected]
Challenges, solutions and next step in Atlantic Canada's cannabis culture