Pubdate: Fri, 01 Sep 2017
Source: Nelson Star (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 Black Press
Author: Will Johnson
Page: A1


Initiative aims to keep industry jobs local

Todd Veri dreams of fields of marijuana.

The Kaslo farmer was reading a government report on cannabis
legalization last year when he noted that there were plans to allow
outdoor operations - which he's already perfectly set up for.

"I looked out my window at my fields, and thought to myself, 'I would
love to grow a hectare of marijuana, that sounds great.' My next
question was: 'How do I do that?'" the president of the newly created
Kootenay Outdoor Producer Co-op told the Star.

"I had just attended a townhall about cannabis legalization with our
MP Wayne Stetski, and through listening to question after question it
became apparent that we're all for legalization, but we want to make
sure we keep the Kootenays in business."

The way he saw it: "We've been doing this quietly here without any
real problems for a long time. We don't want this business to go to
the large companies, so how about a local co-op?"

After having a public meeting at Taghum Hall in May that was attended
by 100 people, the co-op now boasts 120 members from 35 communities in
the region.

Those numbers are way beyond what Veri was initially

"We've asked people, if you want to be a worker, an investor, a
landowner, the way we're envisioning it we'll hold licenses on up to
12 farm properties in the Kootenays that will apply to enter a
contract with the co-op to have cannabis grown on their property."

If everything goes according to plan, the co-op will provide the
plants, the man-power and the infrastructure while the host farmer
will make a cut of all profits.

Co-op council: 'This makes perfect sense'

Once Veri got the ball rolling with his co-op initiative, one of his
first meetings was with Zoe Creighton of the Upper Columbia
Cooperative Council.

She thought the concept was an absolute no-brainer.

"The co-op model is a perfect way to address the challenge of no one
grower being able to satisfy the volume we're going to need going
forward, and to secure job opportunities for existing growers," she
told the Star.

"This is exactly where co-ops shine, pulling together a bunch of
people with separate businesses to meet product demands and volumes."

Creighton worked closely with the co-op's compliance manager Kevin
Megale, whom Veri had enlisted to help them with the government side
of things. She was impressed by their approach.

"If anyone can do this, I think they can do it. They're doing a lot of
research and they're taking small steps. They didn't come out of the
gates racing to get incorporated, and they've been putting out feelers
to make sure this is as successful an enterprise as it can be," she

"A lot of that involves the waiting game for things to change legally,
but once the regulations are in their favour I think this will be
smart and forward-looking. If they're able to retain some money in the
local economy that would've gone to big folks elsewhere, that's fantastic."

Producing a desirable niche product

The driving belief behind the creation of the cannabis co-op is that
locally grown outdoor plants are superior to the ones being grown in
warehouses by large corporate producers. It was this element that
inspired Megale to get involved with the co-op.

"Kootenay outdoor organic marijuana is superior in every way," he told
the Star.

"First of all, the environmental costs are much lower. Outdoor grows
use less water, less electricity, require less new infrastructure to
build and won't use harmful agro-chemicals."

But it's retaining local jobs that he's most interested

"Our co-op business model can provide a sustainable community industry
over the long term: supporting small farmers, sharing profits with
hundreds of local workers and producing a desirable niche product that
is marketable across the country."

Philip McMillan of the Nelson Cannabis Compassion Club, which has been
providing the community with cannabis since 1999, told the Star that
the co-op is a great idea that would be a boon to the local economy.

"I support systems that spread the wealth around," he

"Cooperative and craft models will do this. If the government
over-regulates, taxes and monopolizes this new market then the black
market will continue to exist."

A waiting game and a guessing game

As things progress towards anticipated federal legalization, Veri has
been keeping a close eye on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and any news
on cannabis coming from the government. He's heard a number of
encouraging things.

"We don't know what their regulations will be yet, so a lot of it is a
waiting game and a guessing game," said Veri.

"We're going off what little information we have, but from our point
of view we need to get a lot of ducks in a row - we need to determine
the farms we'll use, we need to find a central location, we need to
get investors in order - so right now everything's geared towards
getting the license."

He feels the next 30 to 60 days will be crucial, and through Megale
and their communications with Stetski they've been able to get
information directly to Trudeau. They need the regulations to be
written in such a way so that they don't get excluded.

"The prime minister has a connection to the Kootenays, so we were
hoping that would put us on the radar. Their report strongly states
that small and medium-sized businesses, and outdoor weed, should be
part of the regulations. We just want them to follow through with what
they said they were going to do."

 From what he can tell, there aren't many other outdoor operations like
what he's envisioning.

"We thought we could own a good part of a niche market, but I think in
the beginning if we get a license and all our competition is factory
weed, then that bodes well for us."
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MAP posted-by: Matt