British Columbia

Provincial program aims to help marijuana growers enter legal market

A new program in Nelson establishes a cannabis transition team to help growers get recreational licences. The province has given the program $675,000 to help startup marijuana businesses and existing operations go legal.

First of its kind cannabis transition team in place

Che' LeBlanc stands in front Rosebud Cannabis Farms he developing with a transition team (Bob Keating/CBC)

Che' LeBlanc started growing marijuana before he sat at a desk in high school. He learned the craft at the foot of his father, who was also a pot grower.

"One of my first memories are in fact crawling up the rows of plants with the bright lights hanging above," said LeBlanc.

LeBlanc lives south of Nelson, B.C., near the U.S. border, and growing pot has been a passion for him his entire adult life.

He's not the only person in this mountainous region of B.C. who is skilled at growing marijuana. "The Kootenays have some of the best growers I've ever seen," he said.

"There is a reason B.C. bud is recognized internationally. Part of it is the climate and the rest is the community."

The B.C. government has also recognized the pool of skilled pot growers in the Kootenays. To that end, it's funded a pilot project aimed at helping veteran pot growers obtain licences to open legal operations.

The province's motivation is to one day capture a portion of the tax revenue the growers generate as legal, licensed businesses.

LeBlanc is one of the first participants. He wants to grow a lot of marijuana, far more than his personal production licence allows, and has signed up for the pilot project, which pairs marijuana growers with a cannabis transition team.

A marijuana plant with others behind it out of focus.
It's estimated there are 2,500 marijuana growers in the Nelson, B.C. area alone. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

The B.C. government has invested $675,000 in the transition team that will help growers obtain recreational licences and start above-ground pot -based businesses.

'Second to none' in expertise

"They have an understanding of the plant, they have an understanding of cultivation and I would say that is probably second to none in the world", said Paul Kelly, the manager of the cannabis transition team. "And so our objective is to help them navigate the new regulatory process."

Kelly says it's estimated there are 2,500 marijuana growers in the Nelson area.

Many are authorized to grow medical marijuana, but most growers are not making an attempt to get recreational permits because the regulations are cumbersome and expensive.

"The new industry is heavy in documentation, heavy in regulation," said Kelly. "So we are helping with those systems so growers can be successful in the new economy."

Five growers including Che' LeBlanc are the first in the program as a form of pilot, but the team is hoping many more sign up in the New Year.

LeBlanc's plan is to grow recreational pot on three football-field sized plots he's had cleared deep in the bush.

With the help of his transition team, the first is already gated and fenced in.

"We have a clear communication with Health Canada, we have the support of them to go through the application to help us make sure we are going to get his approved the first time," he said.  "It's a very valuable asset to us".