Canna Farms, located on the outskirts of Hope, was the first licensed producer in British Columbia to receive an Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR) licence.
Daniel Laflamme, owner of Canna Farms, said his makes his firm one of only 68 currently licensed to produce marijuana, and that his crops are only available to those with a doctor’s prescription for the controversial product.
“We distribute through the mail to about 7,000 customers at the moment, and all of them are individuals with a doctor’s prescription. We do not sell to the general public or to the dispensaries that have popped up all over B.C. They are illegal and are currently supplied by people who are growing the product illegally and with no supervision to ensure safety or quality of the product they sell,” said Laflamme.
Yet the market for the, as yet, illegal distribution of the product is enormous.
Police and industry insiders estimate there are thousands of illegal growers of marijuana, and the value of the cash crop could be worth as much as $7 billion, province-wide.
And it’s these kinds of figures that has Laflamme wanting to expand his operation as quickly as possible, particularly in light of the promise of the federal government that Canada will become the first industrialized nation to legalize marijuana from production to consumption by next July.
“We could expand from our current client base in the thousands to the tens or even hundreds of thousands, but we have to be able to expand our facilities and get ready for the change,” Laflamme said.
“If legalization comes and we’re not positioned to take advantage of the expanded legal market, then those customers are going to go elsewhere. If we don’t do it here, there are other municipalities that are dying to do it, and they are going to do it somewhere. Wouldn’t it be best to keep the jobs here in Hope?”
Laflamme’s biggest concern is the amount of time it’s taking the district to process his request for construction permits.
“We’ve been aggressively expanding but our biggest problem is getting building permits from the district. It takes months to get a permit, and with legalization we’re going to have to move faster, just to keep our market share,” he said.
Mayor Wilfried Vicktor takes issue with the complaint.
“We’ve been really good at processing building permit requests. I know we’ve been able to turn them around very quickly, so I think he (Laflamme) may have his facts wrong,” Vicktor said.
That assessment was confirmed by Hope CAO John Fortiloczky.
“We received an application from Canna Farms on Oct. 12 and our regular turn-around time of eight to ten weeks will apply. There have been no delays on this application at all,” he said.
Another issue facing Laflamme is the uncertainty about how his product will eventually be sold to the public.
Under the proposed legislation, the Canadian government would license the growing of cannabis by tightly regulated producers and set standards for potency and penalties for abuse; the provinces would decide on methods for distribution.
In Ontario, the provincial government has announced that they intend to sell the product through their liquor control board while in Manitoba there have been indications that a hybrid model of liquor control and private sellers will be applied.
In B.C., Premier John Horgan has indicated that his government has not yet determined an exact model for the sale and distribution of the product but has hinted that the currently illegal, yet tolerated, series of dispensaries in the province have a role to play when the recreational use of the drug is made legal.
“However they decide to sell the product, we have a role to play and need to be able to expand to meet that role,” Laflamme said.
“The important thing people should realize is that, when it becomes legal, it’s far better to have licensed producers, providing a product that’s lab-tested and quality-controlled so you know what you’re getting.
“The illegal growers may be providing inferior product that is laced with pesticide, contains mold, has unknown THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) content, or heaven knows what else,” he said.
“This is coming and Hope stands to benefit from jobs and an important part of the industry. But we have to be able to move faster.”