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COUNTRY LIFE IN BC • APRIL 2018
Cannabis smoke screen Farmers’ markets don’t know where they stand
by PETER MITHAM VICTORIA – A new season is around the
corner for the nearly 150 farmers’ markets in the province, but the potential legalization of recreational cannabis this summer has many wondering how to handle the controversial new crop. Recreational cannabis could have standing
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as a legitimate crop as early as July 1, though expectations of delays are rising as governments scramble to prepare. Still, market managers attending the annual conference of the BC Association of Farmers’ Markets in Victoria at the beginning of March pleaded for guidance on how to deal with potential vendors of a product not everyone considers acceptable. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to give. “The federal and provincial governments
hadn’t established any information to give to us,” BCAFM president Wylie Bystedt told market managers at the association’s annual general meeting. While producers require federal licences,
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the provinces are setting the ground rules for retail sales. BC has handed jurisdiction over cannabis to the ministry of the attorney general, which oversees liquor sales. While retail sales will be through the BC Liquor Distribution Branch, licensing of cannabis- related activities will fall to the BC Liquor Control and Licensing Branch, which is launching an online licensing portal to manage applications. Where those licences are exercised will be up to local government, which is responsible for zoning and business licensing. This is where farmers’ markets will need to
look for guidance, Bystedt said, as markets must respect local bylaws.
While a number of licensed and illegal dispensaries operate in Vancouver, some just steps from current farmers’ market locations, not all municipalities are so liberal. Delta and Richmond, both of which are home to production facilities eyeing the recreational market, are among the municipalities that have passed bylaws forbidding cannabis dispensaries. Residents of Central Saanich recently
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delivered a 1,400-signature petition to BC agriculture minister Lana Popham objecting to cannabis production on a local dairy farm. Protected agricultural land should be for food production, a view many at the farmers’ market conference also voiced. However, James Mack, an assistant deputy minister with the agriculture ministry, told farm organizations in February that cannabis is a crop and therefore can’t be banned from
farmland. Or, as John Bell, a veteran member and past
president of the BCAFM remarked: “It’s really not the Ministry of Agriculture that’s going to be dealing with it; it’s the [attorney general].” While local health authorities will have
requirements for cannabis products, staff from the BC Centre for Disease Control told BCAFM members that they have developed nothing to date because cannabis isn’t yet legal. Cannabis edibles, which BCAFM expects to be the key product for market vendors, won’t be legal until 2019. However, because they stand to be the most accessible products and most appealing to unwitting children, concerns exist about how best to balance marketing for adults with youth safety. To help markets navigate the challenges and speak with a unified voice on the issue, BCAFM staff pledged to develop guidelines and a template for working with potential cannabis vendors by early August.
Solid financial ground
Cannabis aside, association members had much to celebrate during the business meeting. Abbotsford’s Bruce Fatkin delivered a financial report showing association finances in good shape thanks in large measure to the former provincial government’s farmers’ market nutrition coupon program. “They tended to drop a million bucks at a time on us,” Fatkin told the Sunday morning meeting. BCAFM assets total $2.4 million, of which $2 million has been invested and is generating interest for association programs. While the association faces a measure of risk as funding mechanisms for the coupon program shift, the sizeable asset base received to support the coupon program effectively functions as an endowment. Should funding for the nutrition coupon
program end and the budget require scaling back to core functions, Fatkin said the association is in good shape. “The pieces are in place to make that happen very easily and very quickly,” he said. “There is some room for optimism going forward.”
The financial report was Fatkin’s last to the association. He stepped down from the association’s board along with Erna Jensen. Remaining directors include Vickey Brown, Jim Fowler, Rubina Jamal, James Macdonald and Laura Smit. Patty Hollister of Victoria’s Moss Street
Market accepted a nomination to the board. One director’s position remains vacant.
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