There’s a whiff of change in the air, so to speak, says Grace McGregor.
The board chair and Area C director for the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary (RDKB) was speaking about the complex medical marijuana issue often splashed across the country in media headlines.
The subject hit home last week when Brian Taylor, a Grand Forks resident and long time medical cannabis activist, provided insight to the medical marijuana juggernaut in a presentation to regional directors during the Feb. 25 board meeting in Trail.
Any changes the federal government rolls into the current MMPR (Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations) will no doubt impact the economy of rural B.C. including local growers, like Taylor.
“It’s the changing face of agriculture and we have to admit there’s a big change in agriculture,” says McGregor.
“We have to be open to that and look for answers in our communities if we are going to stay alive,” she added. “The day of turning up your nose at marijuana (discussion) is gone. We have to learn to move on from that, not dig in your heels and fight something that isn’t going to go away – we need to start having those conversations and make a decision on our direction.”
Taylor’s advocacy for cannabis dates back to the ’80s and marijuana cultivation referred to as sensimilla – meaning, when female plants are prevented from fertilizing the resulting flower (no seed) contain a higher THC content.
“That was the beginning of the whole development of the economy of BC bud in the Kootenays,” he said.
Taylor, a former mayor of Grand Forks, created the British Columbia Marijuana Party with Marc Emery (cannabis activist and politician) and was the first party leader during the 2001 provincial election.
Since then, he’s remained a face of rural B.C. growers, been featured in a CBC documentary called Cannabiz, created a journal magazine titled “Cannabis Health,” and developed the Grand Forks Cannabis Research Institute Inc.
“One of the things I concentrated on (with the regional board) was the economic advantages of rural British Columbia being inclusive in who we allow to be part of the new legal system,” Taylor explained. “There are 29 LPs (Licensed Producer) and I showed the regional directors the distribution of those in B.C. and Canada, then we looked at what is happening in the U.S.”
He points to the state of Colorado, which is similar to B.C.’s size and population. Since 2000, approved patients can possess up to two ounces of medical cannabis, and cultivate up to six plants. Then in 2012, Colorado amended a law that allows adults 21 and older to legally possess one ounce of marijuana for recreation.
“They included the distribution system that was in place for medical marijuana already,” Taylor explained.
If a similar move was made in B.C. then smaller growers wouldn’t be cut out of the new Canadian distribution system, he maintains.
“I am a small medical grower,” he told the Trail Times. “I did propose if smaller growers throughout the rural areas of British Columbia aren’t included (in the new Canadian system) then they will immediately become the black market in any new system that is set up.
“For the economic health of our region, we need to keep some of that revenue in the rural areas of British Columbia,” said Taylor.
“So the message I am sending is economic – in order to keep our rural economies healthy we need a piece of this action and the only way to get it is not just from LPs.”
He likens pot production to the liquor industry.
“There is a fear out there that LP investment dollars are going to be lost,” explained Taylor, referring to the inclusion of smaller operations in medical marijuana production.
“I use the beer analogy. Some of those big LPs are like Molson or Budweiser – but there is still a craft beer industry out there regardless if the big guys are supplying their product to a big piece of the market – people still prefer something grown locally, grown organically and different,” he added. “The whole craft thing has to do with utilizing the skills of those people who have been growing pot in rural areas for 25 or 30 years.”
No matter what the new government decides to do with the marijuana industry, McGregor says facts are key in making decisions at a local level.
“We are all going to be faced with this and (Brian) provided really good information,” she continued. “To me, how do you made decisions as a region, an electoral area, or municipality, if you don’t gather facts and start talking about this, because it’s not going away.”
The Harper government began new legislation in 2014, essentially moving the medical marijuana industry from small grow ops into commercially licensed businesses.
Becoming a cannabis producer hitched on the requirement to secure an LP, and geared large scale production and distribution facilities to regulations established by Health Canada.
There’s a glimmer of hope for Taylor because the federal court struck down that law in February citing it a violation of charter rights, thereby permitting about 28,000 patients to continue to grow pot at home.
The court suspended its judgment for six months, giving the federal government time to rewrite medical marijuana regulations while the Liberals also work on legalizing the drug for recreational use.
“The reprieve gives someone like me, a small medical grower, six months to grow an outdoor crop,” Taylor noted. “Which doesn’t work well for me because I need the whole month of October.
“But it does give six months to all those grow operations that are hiding behind the medical marijuana model and supplying all the dispensaries throughout the province – it’s a mixed blessing.”
Medical cannabis production including related accessory uses such as the drying, processing and packaging of the product are legal in land designated ALR (Agriculture Land Reserve), which include most lands zoned agricultural within the RDKB.
“We need to see rural British Columbia benefit from changes,” said Taylor. “People have been asleep at the switch on this one for a long time. Can you imagine if the forest industry was going to close down or open up something new and nobody paid attention until it actually happened?” he added. “That’s what I feel, and sometimes I want to yell at people and say, ‘wake up.’”