Difficulties getting marijuana to market and connecting small-scale cannabis growers with customers were the focus of a presentation at the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce’s monthly meeting on Tuesday.
Barinder Rasode, a former Surrey city councillor, is the CEO of cannabis firm Grow Tech Labs, as well as the founder of the non-profit National Institute for Cannabis Health and Education (NICHE) which advocates for research and public policy around legalized cannabis.
Rasode, began by saying that if there were a report card for all three levels of government on the rollout of legal cannabis, the grades wouldn’t be good.
“My intention is not to point fingers,” Rasode said.
But she noted that there was still not a single legal cannabis retail shop in the entire South of the Fraser region, from Delta to Abbotsford, more than a year after federal legalization. Rasode questioned why it was taking multiple councils so long to decide on issues of zoning for retail marijuana shops.
Speaking before an audience that included several members of both Langley City and Township councils, Rasode said that local governments are the most important piece of the retail puzzle.
WATCH: Barinder Rasode talks about pot versus alcohol
During a question and answer session, Rasode did acknowledge that Langley Township has approved projects on both the growing side – several large cannabis farms are operating or have applied to start in local greenhouses – and on the processing side of the industry.
She acknowledged that local councillors have many important files to deal with, and may not have time to fully familiarize themselves with every issue. But she offered to have NICHE speak with local leaders.
“The challenge right now is nobody is asking the questions,” she said.
The lack of retail also leaves distribution with criminal gangs of “dial-a-dopers,” Rasode said, as most marijuana consumers are still getting their weed from the same dealers they were using before legalization.
As well as a lack of storefront outlets, restrictions on packaging and branding, and taxes that have made legal cannabis more expensive than the black market variety have created a difficult business, she said.
Revenue from legal cannabis is actually going down in B.C., she noted, and there’s as yet no equivalent of a craft industry for small-scale growers, like the “farm to table” model for local agricultural products.
“This is a huge opportunity for job creation,” Rasode said, but she fears the industry will slip away from B.C., where the “pre-legalization” pot industry was one of the most famous in North America, creating “B.C. bud.”
Rasode, speaking to an audience whose questions showed a certain skepticism of legalized marijuana, said she had been largely opposed to pot for years.
“I’m also from the generation of ‘Your brain on drugs,’” she noted.
There is also strong opposition from the Asian and South Asian-Canadian communities in B.C., not necessarily because of opposition to marijuana itself, but because of young people lost to a life of crime due to becoming involved in illegal pot and dial-a-dope rings, Rasode said.
She said she came around on marijuana after seeing how a friend’s mother, who was dying of cancer, managed her pain by using cannabis rather than opioids, which gave her a better quality of life in her last days.
“I stand before you as a mother of three, and I would much rather my adult children consumed cannabis than alcohol,” she said.
Fielding questions at the end of the presentation, Rasode was asked about issues surrounding the odour of grow ops like Canopy Growth in Aldergrove, where neighbours have complained for more than a year.
Rasode didn’t deny it’s an issue that needs to be mitigated, but compared it to other agricultural issues, like blueberry cannons and the smell of mushroom manure.
Langley MLA Mary Polak asked what Rasode would like the province to change, if she could ask for anything from the B.C. Legislature.
Rasode said she wants a “farm to table” model for local producers, and that the government needs to recognize access is not just about retail, but about types of products.
On a question about driving while high, Rasode noted that while there isn’t a test comparable to the Breathalyzer for cannabis, police can still pull over stoned drivers – and that prescription opioids are even more difficult to detect for police on the roads, or employers on job sites.
The sponsor for the monthly meeting was Hempyz, and store founder Randy Caine told the crowd that retail sails were a vital and missing link between producers and consumers. He was critical of delays at the provincial and local level.