Williams Lake First Nation rolling out B.C.'s first farm-to-table pot shop
Williams Lake First Nation's new cannabis operation includes both growing and selling
You may have heard of farm-to-table dining, but what about farm-to-table doobies?
At the new Sugar Cane Cannabis facility — owned and operated by the Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN) — British Columbian bud buyers can soon purchase pot right where it is grown. The 650-square metre building opens Friday and will soon be the province's first "farm-to-gate" cannabis retail spot, meaning every step, from seed to sale, will happen on site.
Located on WLFN land on South Mackenzie Avenue in Williams Lake, the facility has both a retail area and 185-square metres of growing space. Chief Willie Sellars says the first harvest should reap about 200 kilograms of cannabis that will be sold at Sugar Cane and at dispensaries across B.C.
The first crops should be ready in a few weeks and the plan is to have product on the shelves in June.
"We're looking at netting anywhere from two to six million per year at this store," said Sellars, speaking Friday on The Early Edition. "It is pretty surreal and it's pretty cool."
The nation is the first in B.C. to enter into a government-to-government agreement with the province under section 119 of the Cannabis Control Licensing Act.
Construction began on the Sugar Cane Cannabis building began in spring 2020 and the facility received its Health Canada micro-cultivation licence in January of 2022.
The WLFN already owns Unity Cannabis retail stores in Williams Lake, Merritt and Penticton, and Sellars says three more are opening soon. According to a news release, Sugar Cane Cannabis currently employs seven people and, when the harvest is ready, there will be more paycheque opportunities for band members.
In January 2020, revenue from just one retail cannabis location the nation owned made it possible to cover 100 per cent of the post-secondary education costs for graduating band members who applied for funding.
According to Statistics Canada, recreational weed prices have dropped more than eight per cent over the past year. Sellars said he knows the market is saturated but expects success nonetheless with the novel farm-gate model.
The nation is hosting a grand opening Friday night and former Canadian Olympic snowboarder turned current cannabis advocate and entrepreneur Ross Rebagliati is in town for the celebrations.
He said pot has come down in price since it was legalized in 2019 because a lot of people got into the industry without much knowledge of it and are making corrections now after facing black market competition.
Rebagliati says the price drop is good for Canadians.
"It's a positive thing to see the price come down for the average person to be able to afford cannabis. Coming in at $10, $15, $20 a gram, I mean, that's completely unaffordable," he said.
The plan is to produce up to 650 kilograms of craft cannabis at the new site every year. Customers will be able to glimpse it growing from vantage points inside the retail space.
Sugar Cane Cannabis chief operating officer Daniel Penny likened the experience to visiting a vineyard.
"We'll also be able to provide a cannabis tourism experience like no other in this province. Our visitors will have the opportunity to connect with the product they're buying in the same way those visiting a winery might," said Penny in a statement.
The project did get pushback at times from the City of Williams Lake. In June 2020, city council raised concerns it did not have critical information about how much the facility would cost the city in terms of infrastructure and services such as water and sewage and insisted there be public consultation.
Sellars's response then was that the land where the facility sits belongs to the band. He said Friday that, for some "old school individuals," there is still a stigma around cannabis and some locals worried the facility would be unsightly and odorous.
"This industry has evolved and so should some of those politicians, because, I mean, it's a state-of-the-art facility. It looks gorgeous," he said.
- This story has been updated to clarify that not all parts of the farm-to-table operation are in place at the moment but should be soon.May 06, 2022 6:18 PM PT
With files from Melody Jacobson and The Early Edition