B.C. cannabis co-op hopes to become largest collective producer in the world: organizer

Click to play video: 'B.C. cannabis industry considers co-op model'
B.C. cannabis industry considers co-op model
Proponents are calling for the creation of the B.C. Small Cannabis Producer and Processor Co-op where the small-time players can compete with the big boys. Kelly Hayes reports – Apr 5, 2019

David Hurford estimates there are upwards of 6,000 small cannabis producers in B.C. that are licensed by Health Canada to produce medical marijuana, which is more than a quarter of the entire 20,000 he said exist across Canada.

The Vancouver man is on a mission to organize a fraction of those cannabis producers into a co-op to give them not only purchasing power, but marketing strength on the world stage.

“There’s a real opportunity here,” Hurford told Global News on a visit to the Okanagan.

In rules that changed in late 2018, Health Canada opened up licensing to micro cultivators: a grower who has less than 200 sq. m., or 2,152 sq. ft., of canopy space.

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Hurford said there’s only one person in Canada who can grow weed legally in such a relatively small space. And that person happens to be somewhere in B.C.

“We don’t have enough,” Hurford said, adding that there have been fewer than 100 applications across the country.

Since the start of the year, Hurford has been taking his pitch for a provincial cannabis co-op across the province.

As a special advisor to Grow Tech Labs, a self-described Vancouver-based cannabis business incubator, Hurford comes into his role after years in both the private and public sector, including four years with Health Canada in Ottawa.

About a dozen people attended his pitch in Kelowna on Thursday night.

Click to play video: 'B.C. cannabis co-op pitch comes to Kelowna'
B.C. cannabis co-op pitch comes to Kelowna

They included small cannabis producers, processors and retailers, according to Hurford.

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“We’re talking to them about how they can get involved in the legal market,” he said.

Hurford is projecting impressive numbers for the co-op.

“We already have 5,000 to 6,000 in B.C that are already licensed by Health Canada to grow for medical purposes. If we just moved 15 per cent of those into the legal marketplace with the very low production cap that they have right now, we would have one of the largest collective cannabis producers in the country,” he said.

“If we were able to get those caps increased even just slightly, and allow them to grow a little bit more, and again just bring those 15 per cent in, collectively we would have the largest cannabis producer in the world with the product that everybody wants.”

The provincial government understands the co-op’s economic prospects, Hurford said.

“They know B.C. has the most to lose if we do not get small producers integrated into Canada’s legalized cannabis system,” he said.

The low turnout at meetings like the one in Kelowna are due to historic secrecy in the cannabis growing community, according to Hurford.

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“We’re dealing with a group of people that are hesitant to come out,” he said. “They’re not used to necessarily showing themselves.”

After his next planned engagement session in Langley on Sunday, Hurford said phase two is to host a number of large, regional meetings across B.C., “where we would really look at work-shopping the bylaws” of the co-op, he said.

Beyond marketing and purchasing power, growers need advocacy, he said.

“They feel that the rules are stacked against them and they need those rules to change,” he said. “They need an organization to help them with that. They need to help them with the application process itself which is very cumbersome. They need help with municipal governments around land use issues and so on.”

Hurford hopes that by the time he hosts regional meetings, word will spread and the co-op will have the critical mass it needs to move forward.

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