Kelly Coulter

Ethical Consumption, Cannabis, Feminism, and Environmentalism

Category: Sustainability

Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Cannabis cultivation is obligated to create a sustainable infrastructure for the health of our planet and future generations.

Farmers, feds, food and the future of cannabis

Kelly Coulter gives us her take on emerging food security issues and how they parallel changes in the cannabis industry

On Friday June 17th, over 100 farmers and citizens concerned about food security in Canada filled the local Cowichan Valley community centre on Vancouver Island, and were hosted by Alistair MacGregor.  MacGregor is the MP for the riding of Cowichan/Malahat, Justice critic for the NDP and will be sitting on the committee for Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act. He also farms on a small scale.

The Government of Canada is developing a first-ever food policy for the country. The food policy will revolve around the following four themes: increasing access to affordable food; improving health and food safety; conserving our soil, water, and air; and growing more high-quality food. The parallels between food, agriculture and cannabis, especially in regions like the Cowichan, are striking.  It has been estimated that a disproportionate number of cannabis cultivators are located in the region, much like the medicinal cannabis farmers of Northern California.

MP Alistair MacGregor wanted to engage with farmers and food security advocates in person and develop a comprehensive submission to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in order to ensure that their “views and priorities are included in the food policy for Canada. We need to look at the whole picture and bring an integrated approach to federal policy that connects agriculture, rural development, health, and income security.”

The panelists included: Niki Stutynski, a local farmer and member of North Cowichan Agriculture Committee; Chris Groenendijk, local area dairy producer; and Amy Melmock, the Economic Development Manager of the Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD). There was an opportunity for Q&A, at which time the subject of “specialty crops” was raised, and parallels were made with the thriving vineyards and potential hop farmers of the region. Micro-breweries and distilleries on Vancouver Island are supported by local industry and consumers, with some private alcohol distributors actively promoting local brands over products made in other locales.

The community is clearly in touch with not only its agricultural priorities, but also strong considerations of environmental stewardship.

Sarah Campbell, director of the Craft Cannabis Association of British Columbia, who lives and works in the Cowichan Valley, was impressed with the turn-out and the calibre of the feedback, and how it paralleled what could happen to the local cannabis economy.

“Farming is a way of life here on Vancouver Island, and it was concerning to hear how a community that was once thriving is now decimated due to strict governmental regulations. Many abattoirs, for example, were forced to shut down or have been driven underground since new rules were implemented in 2007 to address public health and safety. The community itself feels they were not a cause for concern and that the new rules were a way of getting rid of small agriculture. It’s hard not to see the parallels between the agriculture industry and cannabis.”

For more info regarding the proposed Food Policy for Canada check here.

Featured image by David Stanley.

International Women’s Day is an opportunity for the Canadian cannabis industry to reflect

In honour of International Women’s Day, the cannabis industry must take a good long look at how it will not only include and support women, but also raise…

In honour of International Women’s Day, the cannabis industry must take a good long look at how it will not only include and support women, but also raise them up. This will require forward thinking folks, and some fierceness on all of our parts.

There are initiatives from within the sector, but also significantly outside of the industry, that women would be well-advised to tap into.  The recent announcement by the Canadian and American federal governments of the creation of a Canada−United States Council for Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders—a joint initiative meant to help businesses owned by women as a way to contribute to economic growth, competitiveness and the integration of the two economies—is a signal of what is to come for all women.

Some of us may feel like we have been here before.  In her recent editorial for Maclean’s, Arlene Dickinson pulls no punches:

“We already know the challenges that women face when starting a business. We know that financial markets are tilted against women, and that, as a rule, women have more difficulty accessing capital from investors and banks alike.

“But we also know that women-owned businesses, on average, perform very well compared to those owned solely by men. And we know that if a company’s board includes a strong contingent of women, it will more likely do better. So, smart companies are now taking steps to seek out and support women entrepreneurs and leaders—not out of pity, but out of self-interest.”

The women of cannabis should embrace such initiatives with optimism, but also be willing to participate with a sense of pride in their duty to pioneer for the generations of women who will come behind them.

The tech sector has in recent years come to face its own shortcomings in diversity.  Uber, the golden child of the sharing economy, is being hit hard by its own much-publicized misogynistic leadership. This is not only bad for the women affected but it is really REALLY bad for business.  There are parallels here for our own sector that we can learn from as men and women who truly want the best for the industry.

Women are at the heart of the cannabis industry as much as men. When Melissa Etheridge spoke at the inaugural Women Grow Leadership Summit, her words garnered the heaps of affirmation that every woman has known for as long as women have been healing with plants. “We are at a paradigm of all of this wellness and it is now time for us to become balanced.” Ms. Etheridge was referring to our relationship with our healing attributes and our relationship with the patriarchy of money and business.  We owe this shift in thought and practise not only to ourselves, but also  to our daughters and grand-daughters and the young women who will come behind us.

Happy International Women’s Day to ALL the women of cannabis, the future is ours, if we take it!

Featured image via Donnie Ray Jones.

Climate change, cannabis and Trudeau

If the commitment to combat climate change is credible and sincere it should also impact the government’s regulations with regards to cannabis cultivation

Originally published in Lift News.

“We can fight climate change without sacrificing growth and prosperity. In fact, our global push toward a low-carbon economy will produce new companies, new growth, and new prosperity.”
— Prime Minister Trudeau.
World Economic Forum 2016, Davos, Switzerland

Earlier this year Prime Minister Trudeau resolved to combat climate change without sacrificing growth in his speech to the Economic World Forum in Davos, Switzerland. This is a marked difference from our previous government’s attitude towards a greener economy, and was welcomed by the environmental community.

If this commitment is credible and sincere it should also impact the government’s regulations with regards to cannabis cultivation. The current practice of indoor cultivation is driven by criminalization, pursuit of security, pest and disease management, and the desire for greater process control and yields. Once criminalization is no longer a relevant issue in Canada, would it not be responsible to pursue cultivation practices that are environmentally friendly as well as potentially environmentally beneficial?

The good news is we can fight climate change without sacrificing growth and prosperity in a very big way with the help of smart cannabis and hemp cultivation practices. It would be incredibly negligent for the Liberal government and the legalization task force not to take the environment into consideration, as the environmental impact of indoor cannabis cultivation is staggering.

Catherine McKenna, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, is aware of these impacts, as are other environmental advocates, politicians and policy makers. The sustainable cannabis movement is picking up energy in the United States and particularly in Northern California where the future of cannabis cultivation is taking on a strong environmental message. This is partially due to self-preservation but also because the cannabis farmers of NorCal are inherently committed to what is best for the planet as well as their own futures. It would be ideal for Canadian cannabis farmers to adopt a similar strategy for the same reasons.

According to a study published in the journal Energy Policy in 2012, the carbon footprint of the indoor cultivation industry in Colorado is consistently compared to the same usage as small cities. It is estimated that the energy consumption for indoor cultivation in the United States is 1% of national electricity use, or $6 billion each year. “One average kilogram of final product is associated with 4600 kg of carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere, or that of 3 million average U.S. cars when aggregated across all national production.” Jonathan Paige Founder of cannabis biotech company Anandia Labs and Adjunct Prof at UBC, believes that “The take-home message is that if legalization leads to an all indoor industry under HPS lights, it is going to be an environmental nightmare.”

The environment is not the first thing we think about when it comes to cannabis, but it should be. As Canada moves toward a regulated adult-use market, the consequences of decisions made by policy makers will impact future generations.

The Prime Minister also went on to say during his speech in Davos that the next industrial revolution will bring about “enormous change.” If the government implements environmentally responsible cannabis cultivation incentives, enormous change might be an understatement. The world is watching.

Balancing the government’s legalization objectives will be a challenge

If Canada approaches marijuana regulations equitably from the perspective of public health and safety, they have a much greater chance of succeeding

Originally published in Lift News.

The Government of Canada believes that the new regime for legal access to marijuana must achieve two of the following objectives:

  • Protect young Canadians by keeping marijuana out of the hands of children and youth.
  • Keep profits out of the hands of criminals, particularly organized crime.

In Colorado and Washington neither of these objectives have been achieved after regulations and legalization came into effect, so how does Canada expect to achieve what very well could be the impossible?


With respect to youth consumption, the challenges are twofold. If the government intends to stop or curb youth consumption by strictly “regulating and controlling” it, they will have to essentially quash any unregulated or uncontrolled market behaviour, as this is the existing market that youth are accessing in legal jurisdictions now. Access is a factor, but it is not the most effective way of curtailing youth consumption. According to Dr. Neil Bernstein in How to Keep Your Teenager Out of Trouble and What to Do if You Can’t, the reasons teens consume fall into eight categories: other people, popular media, escape and self-medication, boredom, rebellion, instant gratification, lack of confidence, and misinformation.

The first reason speaks volumes to the enormity of the challenge ahead for Canada, as teens are often introduced to cannabis and other substances, including alcohol, by their elder peers and family members. In a regulated market, access by these same people will translate to access for youth, as is the case in Colorado.

Rather than approaching youth consumption from a “restrict and control” enforcement perspective, society might be better served by studying and addressing the other contributing factors that lead to youth cannabis consumption. This would entail considerable investment in education, community programs, family programs, prevention programs and youth initiatives. Investment in prevention is not only monetarily responsible, it is socially responsible.

Organized Crime

The majority of organized crime groups in Canada are involved in drug trafficking due to the high revenue of Canada’s import and export drug market, with drug trafficking accounting for approximately 57% ($44.5 billion). Footnote2

Canadian-based crime groups continue to import illicit drugs from the United States, Mexico, China, India and several South American, Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian countries. Drugs exported from Canada, such as marijuana, are targeted mostly at the United States, Australia and Japan.

Cannabis is the domestic product of Canadian organized crime groups. If the Canadian government intends to de-fund these groups it should be strategic in its approach. Home cultivation and small business integration of cannabis cultivators would decrease costs, increase access, and remove profit incentive for the illicit domestic market. A decentralized market that includes current cultivators who are not affiliated with cartels or organized crime groups would create a highly competitive and robust market, driving prices down and removing the profit incentives that sustain the black market. Inversely, a tightly controlled and restricted regime would create the vacuum the black market relies on to thrive.

The de-funding of organized crime groups is a priority from a public safety perspective as much as it is from a public health perspective, as the two are intertwined. A safe society is a healthier society.

If Canada approaches the regulations equitably from the perspective of public health and safety, we have a much greater chance of succeeding in our goals, as lofty as they may seem at this time.

The beauty of sun grown cannabis

If the outdoor farmer is to prosper in a regulated market, now is the time to start educating the public about the benefits of sustainably grown cannabis

Originally published in Lift News.
If you have ever walked into a field of sunflowers, then you can imagine the hypnotic beauty of a sun grown cannabis garden.

The sunlight flickers between the broad leaves as resin sparkles on the flowers, and the sounds of nature are almost in congress with the good energy such a field evokes. Most of these fields are in remote and secret places, amongst the pines in the north, in the swamps further to the south, hidden between the rows of corn in many a farmer’s field, and on the sides of mountainous hills further west.

Hard to get to, hard to spot, and hard to maintain. “ Set it and forget it” is a cannabis farmer’s creed in many parts. It’s not like there is a lot of investment initially other than the hard labour of the planting. These fields grow themselves and they are bountiful with the right amount of sun and rain. Bumper crops are like winning the marijuana lottery. There is very little investment until harvest. An experienced seasonal marijuana farmer can easily live off their annual crop. It is a beautiful thing.

Seasonal cannabis farming is a cheap start up with potentially very high rewards. It is also high risk. Bad weather, getting ripped off, and the long arm of the law are just the obvious risks. There is also incredible stress, cost to personal freedoms and relationships, and uncertainty. It is a unique lifestyle. Sun grown seasonal farmers are the pioneers of cannabis cultivation. It is how things began and it is how they might end, ideally with much less risk.

In Northern California the seasonal farmer is the artisanal grower of the past and of the future, as they are now organizing to protect their economy and their way of life.

In various regions across Canada, seasonal farming supports communities. The nature of the activity lends itself to the notion of rural sustainability. There are a lot of plots in the back forty. Career seasonal farmers are men and women who have lived off and from the land for generations and they have done it with a lot of hutzpah.

Some folks have chosen to forego seasonal cultivation and have made cannabis a full-time way of life. This is partly due to technology, and a lot of loopholes in the medical marijuana systems that exist in all jurisdictions, as well as good old fashioned greed.

Indoor cannabis cultivation began in the early 80’s with the advance of technology and the heightened demand for a year-round supply. Also, grow stores started popping up in every city in North America. High Times magazine, which was the go-to for all things cannabis back then, began advertising lights, seeds, nutrients, and the big buds and bucks that would come with indoor grows.

It was intoxicating, but it was also extremely high maintenance and high tech. Then there were the costs. Hydro bills rocketed, and mold destroyed many a habitat. Indoor cultivations were not for the timid, technically challenged, or lazy — they were the factory farms of cannabis, even on a small scale.

Enter the new regulations for medical marijuana that began in California and made their way across the US and Canada at an alarming rate. The seasonal farmers of Northern California were always the providers for the more populated regions to the south, and business was booming.

The medical marijuana rules were a direct result of the AIDS epidemic. Since the early 90’s, California has been the frontrunner in the cannabis movement. And even with the failure of Prop. 19, which would have made it the first state to legalize recreationally, it remains the visionary and this is very much due to the efforts made by the seasonal farmers of NorCal.

The imminent legalization and controversial regulations facing California producers reflect similar concerns held by Canadian farmers.

In Canada, the Medical Marihuana Access Regulations (MMAR) created a cottage industry almost entirely based on indoor cultivation. The outdoor medical marijuana cultivator was given some advantages but not nearly enough to make it truly worthwhile, economically and psychologically. Outdoor cultivators were given an increased plant count, and the costs were certainly lower, but it required a considerable amount of privacy and security due to visibility, not to mention the risks of a poor growing season. Thankfully, Health Canada, in the re-vamp of the MMAR — the Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulation (MMPR) — have since allowed for greenhouse cultivation, which is both cost effective and environmentally friendly.

The medical marijuana landscape is just the beginning. Where do we go from here? Cannabis will be legal for adult use everywhere eventually, it is happening. Will we build an industry that is conducive to positive environmental practises? Ultimately it will be the consumer who decides.

If the seasonal farmer is to continue to prosper in a regulated market, now is the time to start educating the public about the benefits of sustainably sun grown cannabis. Although this may not matter. During a recent conference in California, Steve DeAngelo pointed out that if farmers are excluded from a legal market, “We’ll take to the hills, like we always have.”

The concerns are legitimate for the regulators, the seasonal cannabis farmers, and the environmentalists who are now becoming more aware of the positive and negative impacts of cannabis cultivation.

The secret beauty of sun grown cannabis farming in a legal framework is that it will not only effectively create a fair market by minimizing the costs to the farmers and the consumers, it will also effectively bring about a shift in how we impact the environment with our cannabis consumer habits.

~See you in the Future~

Legalization lobbying fatigue

Policy makers need accurate information based on evidence and facts in order to make informed decisions, not self-interest and half-truths.

Originally published in Lift News.
Last week the Liberal Convention was held in Winnipeg. Conventions are ideal times to speak with politicians en masse in fairly relaxed settings — social in nature but with a healthy dose of policy chit chat. Most attendees are relaxed and approachable and often there are hugs and pecks on cheeks amongst political friends. The Liberal Convention this year was the most celebratory of the three I have attended. In 2012 the party was a bit of a wreck, but the convention was also the most exciting as cannabis legalization became party policy with the passing of Resolution 117.

Four years later the Liberals are now in power with a majority and we are headed into the future. Politicians have clearly been getting a good dose of cannabis education as they are being aggressively lobbied and deluged with media reports. There are over 80 registered lobbyists on the Hill speaking to Ministers and their staff, not to mention organizations and groups, all with different information and insights as to the how of regulation.

The only one thing the Liberals have to anchor these messages is not so much the how of regulation but the why. The goal was to de-fund organized criminal organizations and protect children from the potential harm of cannabis. As long as this remains the priority, Canada will succeed in creating a model of regulation that will set standards worldwide.

In order for this to happen it is imperative that the lobbyists, organizations, special interest groups and media provide accurate and credible information to the policy makers. Few people are experts in any one field and the very nature of regulating cannabis involves so many variables that the mandate has to remain central or it is all for nought.

Winnipeg Convention Centre Protesters

Protesters in front of the Winnipeg Convention Centre

Unfortunately one only has to read, watch or listen to the news on any given day to hear an untruth, exaggeration, or in some cases pure propaganda. The media relies on sources for this information and when the information is bad it puts all that we are seeking at risk. It is unfortunate that sensational media is what sells the most and so often we see the most sensational rhetoric reported over and over again, even when it is not true. This is coming from all sides of the conversation and has got to stop if we are to help guide the people we have voted for to implement effective and successful policy.

The politicians who gathered in Winnipeg have been listening to us. They are accustomed to listening to the concerns of their constituents: it is their job. They are smart and savvy people with incredible patience. They not only care about their communities but rely heavily on them for the information that will best guide them in creating the policies which will serve the greater good.

The greater good in this case is to fulfill the mandate. This is the message we got from every single Member of Parliament, including Health, Status of Women, Environment and Climate Change and the Liberal policy folk we spoke with while there. They need accurate information based on evidence and facts in order to make informed decisions, not self-interest, half-truths and propaganda.

Bill Blair is very receptive to the needed input from industry stakeholders. There are some good people working in Ottawa who have been very outspoken with respect to the concerns of what the future might hold, and who have even spoken out against the lack of movement on the file. It is our responsibility to provide them with streamlined and credible information with which to work. The industry stakeholders have an obligation to get real if we are to succeed.

The thought of how many mixed messages politicians are getting on this file is almost unfathomable. Is everyone who runs a dispensary a member of a cartel? Does cannabis cure cancer? Do people pretend to need cannabis for health reasons and lie about it? Does adult use cannabis need to meet pharmaceutical grade standards? Does it even matter?

Trudeau speaking at the Keynote Address

Trudeau on Stage/Keynote Address WPG16

The answer is no, it does not matter. If the mandate is not successful then the black market will continue and all of the mixed messages will have effectively confused the policy makers into creating poor policy. The dispensaries will go online. We won`t have cutting edge research because the funding will be lacking. People will use cannabis for whatever reason they want and continue to lie about it if they want to or feel they have to because of unnecessary stigma or barriers to access. Adult use cannabis will be grown and distributed just as it has been for the past 93 years under prohibition and the cultivators and distributors of the black market cannabis will continue to go to jail.

These failures will impact everyone who has a vested interest in the messages being delivered in the media and on the Hill now. From the large corporate entities who will continue to struggle for their market share and their investors who will not see their stock go sky high, the patients who are still out there who do not have access to either a doctor or healthy, safe medicine and the communities and the people who serve to protect them who are impacted by criminal elements.

The politicians in Ottawa need to hear the truth as to how we can help them create a successful regulatory model. This is what we have been asking them for all along, isn’t it?

The world is watching.

The Cost of Craft Cannabis

There are many areas in Canada and around the world that have considerable potential to become the craft cannabis regions of the future.
The Okanagan Valley now…

Originally published in Lift News.
There are many areas in Canada and around the world that have considerable potential to become the craft cannabis regions of the future.

The Okanagan Valley now supports a multi-billion dollar wine industry that was started by one lone farmer less than twenty years ago. And Prince Edward County is even younger, but still growing at an alarming rate with award-winning vintages. Micro-breweries are also enjoying incredible popularity and surpassing the growth of Big Beer.

Micro-groweries already exist in Northern California, usually in the form of collectives, and NorCal sungrown cannabis is considered some of the finest in the world. There is a good chance cannabis will become the next tourist attraction in Canada whether or not politicians and policy makers will admit it. If this is the case, micro-growery tourism signs could start appearing on our provincial highways. Imagine.

However, winery and micro-brewery models are not an accurate comparison with respect to the cultivation of cannabis when comparing the start up costs. It is worthwhile to examine what the more accurate costs might be in anticipation of the future craft cannabis farming industry.

For the purpose of this article we will compare and contrast the micro-beer costs to the micro-grow costs. Micro-breweries are not really craft. Very few of them grow the hops which make the beer, although there are some exceptions. Growing a plant is a far cry from distilling beer, especially if it is sungrown.

A more accurate comparison in costing craft cannabis would be to compare it to the costs of starting up a small farm, or most accurately, the costs of growing the hops that make the beer, not the beer itself, which is a value-added product. Value-added products typically incur the highest production costs and also the highest profits in any commodity. It is the farming of the hops we should be focused on.

Cannabis is a plant, most often compared to a tomato in how it grows and what is required in terms of sunlight, water and nutrients. Since there are very few small craft farms exclusive to tomatoes, the following estimates are taken from a variety of agricultural models including hops. So how much does it cost to start up a small hops farm?


The cost of the growing one hops plant is estimated at fifteen dollars per plant. In comparison a tomato plant equals approximately 5.52 lb per plant per season.

“For those seeking a more lucrative and significantly higher risk and more costly venture, an independent 10 or 20-acre farm selling pellets directly to brewers may prove to be a more appealing scenario. Although the start-up capital costs are high ($250,000 to $550,000) for growing and selling pellitized hops directly to breweries, the years to profit are relatively low (3 years for 5, 10, and 20 acre farms) and the projected net incomes range from $46,000 per year for 5 acres after year 10 and $198,000 per year for a 20 acre farm after year 10.”


Depending on where you purchase land and of course the size of a small craft micro-growery, the land will be your biggest investment. Ideally craft farmers will position themselves according to agreeable climates, proximity to markets and a hospitable and supportive infrastructure.

The wine regions of BC and Ontario support and promote all of their wineries to the benefit of surrounding communities. They have created an excellent template for future craft cannabis. Some of these regions already exist in Canada and it will be interesting to see which regions support the cannabis farming communities of the future. Farmland is both most expensive and least expensive in British Columbia.

Tantalus Labs under construction

Tantalus Labs’ cannabis greenhouse under construction outside Maple Ridge BC


If greenhouses are a part of the plan, expect to spend as little as or as much as you want. On the low end greenhouses are a dime a dozen if they are re-purposed. On the high end, technological advances have given us the ability for much more controlled environments and with that potentially higher yields. A top of the line, brand new greenhouse runs around 20K.


A solar/sungrown/greenhouse cannabis farm will require very little power as opposed to indoor cultivation.


Cannabis is a thirsty plant. A one pound plant will require one pound of water per day.

Outdoor farming in good weather will provide rain, which helps to lower costs, but any craft farmer will have to be prepared to supplement water if needed.


Depending on your curing methods and what type of infrastructure you may need, including such variables as indoor space, heating costs and labour, your highest expense will be the labour costs. The licensed medical producers are currently paying trimmers approximately $12.50 per hour. The unlicensed market pays trimmers more and the rates run the gamut from about $20-$50 depending on which area of Canada you are in. More creative methods of payment are barter and by the pound.

Cannabis Bud


Packaging will also incur as little or as much costs as you choose and your market dictates. A box of GLAD bags costs less than $5, but a glass container with etching and labels is significantly more.


Craft beer sales have doubled in the past five years and are currently at $20 Billion in the United States. They are expected to reach $39 billion by 2019. This is without question due to marketing and investment in consumer education. The bottom line is: be prepared to invest time, energy and money in marketing, it will be critical to success.


Once again, your transportation costs will be a variable depending on your market and what the adult use regulations will allow. In the craft beer industry, transportation costs are significant. The licensed medical cannabis producers in Canada are currently only allowed to distribute via the mail, so depending on the weight of the package this cost is also significant. If your consumer base is coming to you, your transportation costs are nil.

The high costs of the value-added products typically come from the brewing equipment required to make the beer and the buildings which house these expensive pieces. You could apply these costs to cannabis extractions, but unless you are making bulk the costs are significantly lower. Edibles are capturing the largest part of the cannabis market in Colorado at this time. Is this the future of cannabis in Canada? It is hard to say.

Vancouver Island has a thriving craft beer industry and in recent years has had similar success in distilled alcohol. Local farmers markets have even allowed these small producers to set up and distribute, which would be unheard of in most other jurisdictions.

Local private alcohol distributors carry more locally crafted beers, wines and distillations than any other brands. It would be worth exploring if this is being propelled by consumer demand, good marketing, hospitable policy or shop owners steering the market based on their own ethics and vision for what serves their community best.

I suspect it is a combination of all these things, which leads us to our next conversation. How will the cannabis community, the farmers, consumers, medicine-makers, shop-keepers and marketing gurus help each other in order to support what they all have dreamt of and are now on the cusp of…..freedom and shared success in creating a positive and ethical industry in the true spirit of this plant.

Featured image via wikipedia

Sustainable cannabis: A higher purpose

A sustainable cannabis economy means consumers making hard choices about where they spend their money.

Originally published in Lift News.
On April 20th, 2010 the BP oil spill began. It gushed oil into the Gulf of Mexico until July 12th. I was working at a sustainability centre in downtown Kingston, Ont. and was most fortunate to be surrounded by some of the best informed and wisest in the local movement. We were collectively losing our minds during this disaster, but amid our discussions came clarity. We realized first, that this planet would survive us, although we may not survive ourselves. Second, in order for us to survive ourselves we need to go back to living the way we did 100 years ago, specifically with regards to our consumer habits.

It is my opinion that if the cannabis movement is to fulfill its “higher purpose,” it must bring about an exact awareness of our impact on our environment through what and how we consume ALL commodities. It is disingenuous to purport to be an advocate for the small, independent, craft cannabis farmer, or to suggest boycotting the larger corporatized producers, if such consumer practices are not universal. This is not as easy for some as it is for others; there are barriers. When we think of food sovereignty the obstacles to the most sustainable consumer habits are poor accessibility, poor policy, flawed group-think and last but not least, the almighty dollar.


Not everyone can travel to the nearest farm and/or grow his or her own food or cannabis. There are certainly regions in Canada that are more conducive to micro-grows. These regions have hospitable climates, and a wealth of knowledgeable farmers. The majority of consumers will not have access to these providers. Urban farmers’ markets do provide access for food, and both Seattle and California have hosted cannabis markets for patients. It would be interesting and welcome to see more of this kind of activity in the future, but unlikely.

The prevailing social logic is that cannabis is something that should be restricted and especially children should be protected from. Tobacco and alcohol are typically not sold at the farmers’ market for this same reason. I say typically because there are places which do offer space for artisanal craft spirits. If any cannabis farmers’ markets are to happen it will likely be in these same regions to start.

Poor Policy

The government rewards corporations in the food production and distribution industry; the small farmer is therefore at a considerable disadvantage. Sadly such policies have derailed the sustainability of food production, and have taken us on a precarious trajectory. This does not have to be the case with cannabis, and it will be imperative for us to make sure policy makers and politicians create a fair market for cannabis cultivation and distribution. Ideally these policies will also consider environmental impact.

Group Think-Marketing

Consumers like brands and tend to have brand allegiance. This can work for and against marketing gurus and their clients. Everyone loved Heinz ketchup until most recently an incredible grassroots movement got behind French’s ketchup based solely on the fact they were using Canadian grown tomatoes after Heinz had closed the factory in a small farming community in Ontario.

Canadians stood up for the tomato farmers of Leamington and for the brand (French’s) that supported them. The solution to corporatized branding is educating; sometimes that includes shaming. Social media campaigns can make or break a brand and a business. The cannabis industry is going to be very susceptible to this, especially initially. There is considerable opportunity to create very high standards for quality and ethical practices, and this is the hope.

Price Point

How Price influences consumer habits is the big variable. The cost of post-prohibition cannabis is virtually an unknown at this time. The research is just not in yet. Even in the American states where such data could be evaluated, the evidence is thin. When applied to other commodities there really are no static numbers. We know that pricing does influence consumer habits, but prohibition skews the data significantly.

The past decade has seen a renewed interest in craft and local consumer habits. There are more than 2,700 craft breweries operating in the U.S., the highest total since the 1880s. This would be great news for my friends at the sustainability centre who were dedicated to many things including “going back 100 Years. If we are to return to the old ways to save ourselves and live sustainably, we are going to have to take a very hard look at ourselves and create the cannabis consumer conscious mind… ”the higher purpose”.

Women seek their place at the legalization table

Women have a long history of cannabis activism in Canada

Originally published in Lift News.
At a well known restaurant in downtown Vancouver, a private room was reserved for a gathering of women. They were women of a “certain age,” elder women. They were coming to meet each other for the first time. They were coming to share their stories. There was joy, relief, tears, celebration, anger and triumph. It was at once exhilarating and exhausting to be in the room. So much magic.

These are the women of the cannabis craft industry – only some of them, for there are many, many more. It is estimated that women comprise between 75 to 90 percent of all artisanal producers of cannabis tinctures, lotions, salves, oils, balms and edibles. The women who met on this day had been working at their craft for many years. Their stories always ended in triumph but were also rooted in pain – lost family members, illness, economic hardships, career upsets, divorces, single motherhood. Life.

Women are traditionally and historically healers. Midwifery has gone from the norm to fringe. Now, after many years of proactive educating and savvy public relations it is undergoing a resurgence in the western world. The same could be said of plant medicine and women’s’ role in traditional healing methods.

As jurisdictions transition into a regulated cannabis economy, these women are coming together in anticipation of “what’s next?”. “Will we be included?” is the most common question.

They are not alone, as the jockeying for position in the adult use cannabis market has already begun. The “messaging” coming from the currently licensed medical producers is that they are the only obvious choice to transition into the adult use market as the current grey market is run by gangsters and organized bike gangs. This messaging is not based on any real facts, it is simply a mantra that is being used to convince the general public, media, and policy makers that the adult use market should be heavily regulated to keep the bad actors out of the potentially highly profitable new economy. Not only to keep the bad actors out but to make sure they, the very small group of licence holders, will see the money they seem to feel they have earned by jumping through the hoops of the complex licensing process.

As dominant as women are in the artisan spectrum of the cannabis economy, the opposite is true of the the licensed medical producers, comprised almost entirely of men. The average cost of achieving a coveted licence can easily exceed 5 million dollars and go as high as 100 million dollars. These are not “Mom and Pop” farms, these are sophisticated, industrial operations financed by investors hoping to cash in on the inevitable “green rush”. Typically women do not have access to this kind of capital, although this could be shifting in the coming years, if trends continue.

Dundee Capital Markets estimated earlier this year that a legal marijuana industry in Canada could be worth some $5 billion annually. This does not take tourism into consideration, which could be significant. Some would say the tourism industry is already active in places like Vancouver, Victoria, Nelson and Toronto. Coincidentally these are the same cities where women are organizing and gathering together to help each other transition into what they hope will be their future. In the United States women hold 36% of leadership positions in the entire industry. That’s significantly higher than the 22% average for U.S. companies in general, according to 2014 data from the Pew Research Center.

The reason for this encouraging statistic is simply that women were allowed to participate. Their experience, knowledge, ingenuity and wisdom were embraced and sought after. The regulations in the US which were crafted understood and acknowledged the importance of the existing artisans and how their participation in the future would be imperative to a sustainable and successful industry. The regulators also were familiar enough with the industry to fully understand that inclusive growth was reasonable, safe and essentially the right thing to do.

The women who gathered on a winter morning spoke with courage and integrity about what they do. They are healers, they have wisdom and they have messages to share. They are not organized gangsters, nor do they belong to bike gangs. Someday soon, they hope they will also not be considered criminals.

Sustainability in the Future of the Canadian Cannabis Industry

We should encourage and work with our policy makers and legislators to develop and implement the most sustainable model possible as we move towards a fully regulated cannabis…

Originally published in Lift News.
Imagine a commercial sponsored by a cannabis industry association in the future.

Here is what you will see. In the first 5 sec, a man holding a pitchfork or shovel in his garden. He says, “I’m going to get my marijuana from my backyard”. Cut to a stylish Mom and her 20-something daughter. “We’re going to get our marijuana from the Cannabis Boutique”. Next is an elderly woman who proudly proclaims, “I’m getting my medicine from the cannabis dispensary”. Cut to a Zoomer couple standing beside their convertible on a country road. “We’re getting our cannabis from the micro-growery”. And finally a blue-collar worker packing up his gear at the end of the day, turning to the camera; “I’m going to the big Canadian marijuana store for mine”. Fade out to the graphics “This public service message was brought to you by Sustainable Canadian Cannabis Farmers”.

As Canada slowly navigates the inevitable legalization and regulation of cannabis we are also being given the opportunity to incorporate the most sustainable and environmentally friendly model for the industry. It is our responsibility and obligation to do this and potentially create a template for sustainable models in other countries. Canada could be the first of the G7 nation to federally regulate cannabis.

The potential wealth distribution to local communities via employment and taxes will be a boon to many. “Micro-groweries” could have the same blue signs on the highway directing travellers to small towns across Canada, bringing with them tourism dollars and prosperity. Small farmers are also the natural providers for dispensaries, catering to their local markets in the adjoining towns and cities

In the most sustainable model for all consumption, we should be “growing our own”. However, as society has become less rural this model has become less practical and realistic. Most people do not grow their own food anymore although many do have a few tomato plants and herbs outside their door. It is not unrealistic for some people to grow their own cannabis and so in the future it would be sustainable and desirable for people to be able to maintain their own personal gardens, whether it was in their backyard, on a balcony or even in a community garden.

Canada has a long history going back three generations now to highly skilled and knowledgeable cannabis cultivators. Many of these farmers are seasonal outdoor but the majority grow indoors year round. Not all climates are conducive to outdoor cultivation but indoor has become the norm primarily due to prohibition.

Once prohibition is lifted cultivators will seek innovation and more cost effective methods. Solar/Sungrown farms and greenhouses with supplemental lighting will become popular, as will more attention to how farms impact water tables and power grids. The most ideal farms would have their own power source and a recycled watering system. Small farmers are the natural providers for dispensaries. Think of it as the 100 Mile Cannabis Diet.

Jan Slaski checks plants in a nursery

Jan Slaski checks plants in a nursery field of “Silesia” industrial hemp seed in 2013. image via

The wine and beer industry has developed in such a way over the past 50 years to what we see becoming more and more sustainable as the market demands. Marketing and an investment in the culture of sustainability has made craft brewers and small wineries highly successful for both artisans and consumers. There is no reason that cannabis cannot replicate these models immediately under a regulated regime.

The potential wealth distribution to local communities via employment and taxes will be a boon to many. “Micro-groweries” could have the same blue signs on the highway directing travellers to small towns across Canada, bringing with them tourism dollars and prosperity. Small farmers are also the natural providers for dispensaries, catering to their local markets in the adjoining towns and cities; Farmers Feed Cities.

Currently Canada has a legal medical industry with 26 currently licensed producers with a cumulative indoor growing space of well over 1 million sq ft of currently approved space. If Health Canada allows these large indoor facilities to transition into the regulated non-medical market the infrastructure is in place for the “bigbox” consumers. Even though the indoor facilities are currently not the most sustainable they would likely transition into greenhouse cultivation as cost will drive them to it.

Although the current medical marijuana rules allow for import and export, the notion of cannabis coming from China ala The Walmart model does not seem plausible. This possibility is something that the larger licensed producers will want to pay close attention to in the future. If Canada is in fact the first kid on the block, it will be a considerable advantage over other potential competing markets.If they hope to participate in that market, the legal medical market in Canada has the opportunity and obligation to create sustainability in the industry as we move into the future of regulation.

Ultimately it is the consumer who dictates the market and who will thrive. With good messaging and proactive sustainability marketing there is a the potential for many to succeed and thrive in the “growing economy”. It will be the competition of lower costs and ethical cultivation practises that should dictate the flow, but it will also be imperative that the most sustainable models are allowed for under federal and likely provincial policy.

It is critical that we encourage and work with our policy makers and legislators to develop and implement the most sustainable model possible as we move towards a fully regulated cannabis industry.

It is our obligation to the plant and the planet.

© 2018 Kelly Coulter

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