For the last year, the In Conversation series has focused on talking with the members of the Victory Square portfolio family. We’ve wanted to give you an introduction to the people behind the companies we work with. We’ve also wanted to give you a better idea of what these companies do.
With this conversation, we’re opening it up a little to talk to part of the wider VST family. The BC Small Cannabis Producers and Processors Co-Op is about to take its next big steps. Grow Tech Labs, in partnership with Victory Square Technologies, has invited small BC cannabis producers and processors to participate in a provincial consultation process. This will help them shape a provincial Co-Op, participate in Canada’s legal marketplace and ensure BC cannabis products find their way to consumers across the province, Canada and around the world.
To learn more about what the BCSCPP is doing, we sat down with Grow Tech Labs’ Natasha Kumari. We found out why she’s been traveling across British Columbia and learned just what a Co-Op can do for Cannabis culture.
James Graham: I guess we should start with the most basic question. Who are you and what role do you play with the BC Small Cannabis Producers and Processors Co-op?
Natasha Kumari: My name is Natasha Kumari. I am the senior project manager for Grow Tech Lab. I am assisting regional meeting leader David Herford and Co-Op consultant Sophie Mas. I’m also managing our digital communications channels, putting together the Co-Op rules, and meeting with local government to advocate on behalf of the Co-Op and its potential members.
James: What’s your elevator pitch then? What do you say when somebody comes and asks you “What is the BC Small Cannabis Producers and Processors Co-Op?
Natasha: The elevator pitch? We have a few different missions. The entire idea is to help transition cannabis producers and processors into the legal space. To give them a safe alternative to the illicit market, and to make the legal market viable for them. That means helping to change the way that the system is set up. While it is not really appealing for them to enter, they can be successful in it.
James What does the Co-Op provide then in that regard? I know that for the last couple of months the Co-Op has been going across BC and talking to people.
Natasha: We don’t have anything specific documentation on what the Co-Op will provide yet. The first round of community consultation was done to get a sense of what the pain points were for those considering entering the legal space. We also wanted a sense of what activities they wanted the Co-Op to provide. From there we went and drafted the Co-Op rules. They look at membership, governance, structure, who’s allowed into the Co-Op, how they can get kicked out of the Co-Op. The rules are there to also finalize how investment works with the Co-Op, and what those funds will be used for.
Finding out what was a priority for the people that were attending our meetings was a big thing. We got results in from that but at this stage, we aren’t incorporated yet. Once that happens and operations start taking place, that’s when those activities will begin.
James: Do you know what kind of a time frame you’re looking at?
Natasha: Once we finalize the name of the Co-Op, we will incorporate. The founding members work as an acting board of directors and then have the first annual general meeting. So hopefully in November or December and then operations will kick off from there.
James: Why is the Co-Op model important to the Cannabis industry and to small growers in this day and age?
Natasha: It’s important across Canada and specifically in BC because of the nature of the preexisting cannabis space. BC is home to many craft growers in the illicit market. Just based on the region and the geography, it’s very diverse in product and in its people. If we had a system where a few large entities entering into the legal space were governing and dictating what the industry look like, it wouldn’t work for British Columbia as it is right now. What the Co-Op model does is provide the growers and processors that want to be a part of the legal system an opportunity to still have autonomy. They own their businesses separately, but their collective voice is stronger because they’re part of a larger entity. It’s allowing them to have independence while still having a decision in how a larger entity is working for them.
James: Is the BCSCPP a marketing Co-Op or a growers Co-Op?
Natasha: The way that the membership is set up, it is primarily for cultivators and processors. There is an allowance in the membership category for independent retailers. Based on our feedback from the meetings that will include medical retailers as well. Right now what we’re considering is “what do these potential members need?” A retail network was voted as number one, followed by advocacy with the federal and provincial governments, and potentially even on a municipal level. They also need help with marketing and branding. There’s a lot that’s needed in the industry. I think the Co-Op will evolve over time as those needs change to fill whatever it is that its members require. There’s not one specific definition. It’s really trying to be a channel for them to access the information, the resources or the talent that they need.
James: Essentially allowing the small guys to maximize their opportunity.
Natasha: Exactly, this is the way that we make small, big.
James: What is Grow Tech Labs relationship to the Co-Op?
Natasha: Grow Tech Labs started developing this Co-Op because our mandate is to help accelerate pre-legalized companies into the legal space. Part of that mission is also to create a diverse market, both in product and in people. We recognized that the best way to have B.C. succeed and have pre-legalized companies into this space was the Co-Op. It’s an avenue where they still have their independence and their autonomy, but we’re allowing them to be brought into the market. Our reasoning behind it was that we are one of those indirect companies where we need people in this space in order to do our job. We recognized that we had to be the entity that helps transition people into this space. B.C. wouldn’t be positioned to be a cannabis leader the way that we would want it to be, otherwise.
James: By helping to facilitate, everybody wins. The industry as a whole wins, the little guy wins.
Natasha: Exactly. Craft (Cannabis) is an economic success story for B.C.
James: Do we have any definitive numbers on just how much of a success it’s become?
Natasha: We did do an economic impact analysis. We looked at what would happen if we transitioned 15% of the medically licensed growers. That doesn’t include the numbers of the illicit market that aren’t registered under the medical system. If we registered 15% of them, you would be looking at over a billion dollars in retail sales volume under the current capacity limits. The implications of direct tax and income tax that comes from that as well. Part of this study was that we were fighting for capacity increases for canopy sizes. If we just doubled the canopy size for micro cultivators and the processing capacity for microprocessors, we’d be looking at $3 billion in retail sales volume
James: Has there been any government response in the last year to information like this?
Natasha: We’ve been meeting with a lot of different government officials on a provincial and federal level. Many of them seem open to the idea, which is a really great starting point for support. I think it’s a matter of continuing to advocate for these changes. Change is slow. But I think if there are organizations like us that are providing them with this information, it will be a viable option as well.
James: You just got back last week from another round of regional meetings. How have they been? What has the response been like?
Natasha: There was a lot of gratitude. I think there was a consensus on the membership categories and board structure, with a few minor points and feedback. This is seen as a really viable option for them and one that will not only support them but has their best interest at heart. I’d say there’s also still a lot of frustration, it’s challenging to navigate the process. I think the stigma in relation to micros and legacy growers as well as the challenge in terms of financing and navigating the licensing process has them in a position where they feel a little bit overwhelmed.
James: We’re essentially a year into the post-legalization era, are they still feeling like going legal is an intimidating challenge?
Natasha: Going legal is an intimidating challenge for several reasons. There’s a stigma related to people coming into the legal space from the illicit market. They have to overcome that with the public and within themselves, as well as the biases that the public has for them. On top of that is the change in regulations that happened in May from Health Canada that requires fully built out sites prior to the application process.
It means a greater reliance on having funding. Yet funding is still a challenge because financial institutions are slow to provide lines of credit or loans for cannabis businesses, especially smaller operations. Beyond that, cannabis growers and processors in the legacy market or those entering the space, they have their own expertise. That has to do a lot with the clients and the networks that they’ve built, not necessarily in navigating document management, licensing, management and orders. There are a vast number of obstacles for them and I don’t think that those have lessened since legalization. If anything, they’ve only increased.
James: Is there an expectation of change?
Natasha: Based on public opinion and a lot of the dialogue that’s been happening lately, I would say that more people are becoming aware that craft is a part of the success story. I believe that those regulations will lessen. You always have to think of it from the perspective of the government introducing this into the legal space. They started off with a more limited and restrictive mandate and release policy. I think that was to get a sense of what the rollout would look like. As time goes on and they understand the system better and what procedures will look like, the regulations will lessen and become easier for people to manage. That’s the hope at least.
James: What differentiates the BCSCPP from other Cannabis organizations out there?
Natasha: There are a lot of cannabis associations out there and I think that’s to the benefit of the Co-Op. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done. All of these organizations can work in tandem to see those changes made that will support BC craft. We’ve worked together with a lot of these associations already, having them be a sounding board for our rules, the way that we set up the Co-Op and even connecting us to people who can provide input on the way that the Co-Op is being created. I would say that there’s a benefit in working together.
James: What don’t we know about the BCSCPP that perhaps we should?
Natasha: I wouldn’t say that there’s anything that the public doesn’t know because we tried to be pretty transparent and put everything out there. The aim of the Co-Op is to make sure that the members and the public have access to all the information. The one thing that I would say, and it’s specifically to micro growers and processors, is that this is an organization that’s meant to be run by the people and for the people. Their input is always valuable and there might be other associations navigating the process that makes them feel like their voices don’t matter. This Co-Op is specifically created to let them know that they do, their voices can impact the structure of the Co-Op and what their future looks like in the legal space.
James: Where do you see the Co-Op five years down the line?
Natasha: I see the Co-Op in a completely different space to what it is right now. Right now, advocacy, retail networks, compliance, marketing, and branding are the key focus. Once the industry settles and more cultivators are in the industry, their needs are going to change. I can’t predict what it would be like at that time. I’d say that there’d be a stronger alliance on developing the collective craft label and what that looks like for BC and across Canada.
James: It makes sense. I mean craft beer and craft distilleries developed themselves in the last couple of years. Why can’t BC weed, which is as big a brand as anything else out there?
Natasha: A lot of the conversation and examples used for the Co-Op relate to BC craft beer and the success of it here. The challenge right now is that the way the regulations are set up, cannabis is treated the same as alcohol but also as tobacco, so that puts a very limiting perspective on it.
James: Isn’t that slightly confusing for people?
Natasha: It’s challenging, for sure. It’s challenging in terms of the fact that cannabis already has a stigma associated with it for consumers and the general public. Having it so heavily regulated makes the transition and education of cannabis, its uses and its functions more challenging. It is a controlled substance, so we would obviously see that it would be managed as such. Managing it under several labels of controlled substances makes it very challenging. Both from a branding perspective and also from a consumer education perspective.
James: What’s next for the Co-Op? What does the future hold?
Natasha: Next up is just getting the Co-Op incorporated. Then we’re opening up the membership and looking at ways for consumers and vendors to support members of the Co-op this fall. From there it’s operations and then the sky’s the limit.
You can learn more about the BC Small Cannabis Producers and Processors Co-Op at www.BCSCPP.com
Natasha Kumari is the Senior Projects Manager for Grow Tech Labs. She’s running a half marathon really soon.
James Graham is your favorite writer’s favorite writer. He’s the cream in your coffee and the physical embodiment of being really tall.