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This article was published 13/12/2018 (356 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A virtual seminar aimed at cannabis growers who want to join the country's legal market attracted about 700 people Thursday, Health Canada says.
A team of bureaucrats with the department that regulates the drug ran participants through the basics of applying for different types of licences during the 90-minute conference call, which focused on "micro-cultivation" and "micro-processing," allowing cannabis production on a relatively small scale.
The micro licences were announced in November 2017, and include separate permits for growing and processing marijuana. They're meant to provide a path for unlicensed growers to play by the government's new rules and participate in the legal industry, even if they have some previous cannabis-related criminal history. Applicants must still pass security screenings co-ordinated by the RCMP.
"Our primary interest and focus is looking for individuals that have a history of serious criminal activity, connections to organized crime (and) serious financial crime," Joanne Garrah, the director of licensing and security at Health Canada's Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Branch, said on the conference call.
"The (Cannabis) Act and the regulations do not automatically exclude individuals if you have a history of what we would consider to be low-risk cannabis-related activities," added Garrah, who encouraged applicants to be honest with the government.
Garrah said Health Canada has received just 30 or so applications for the permits thus far.
Micro-cultivation licences allow licensees to grow cannabis within a space no larger than 200 square metres, with no limit on the actual amount of dried cannabis bud those plants can yield. Licensed micro-processors can process limited amounts of cultivated marijuana for sale into the legal cannabis market. Both permits require less physical security than standard cannabis production licences, which are issued for large facilities.Advertisement
Cannabis growers who get Health Canada's blessing to join the legal, regulated marijuana system can even bring some of their illicit cannabis-starting materials with them by registering them with the government on a one-time basis. Those starting materials, — called "genetics" in industry lingo — include the seeds, mother plants and plant cuttings from which different kinds of cannabis are grown, and rare varieties can be much sought-after.
Garrah said the decision to allow those genetics into the legal cannabis market is part of the government's goal of creating "a variety of different classes that enable different individuals to come into the market, and a variety of different business models, and that includes both small- and large-scale producers."
"It's not necessarily that we want to encourage people to rely on products that were from illegal sources... (but) to encourage people who might previously have been operating in an illegal framework and to give them a really viable option to come into the legal framework," she said.
Much of Thursday's virtual seminar involved walking participants through Health Canada's complex application system for cannabis licences, which must be submitted through a special government website called the Cannabis Tracking and Licensing System.
The application process can be something of a "culture shock" for longtime cannabis growers, said Jamie Shaw, a Vancouver-based partner with Groundwork Consulting, which specializes in helping clients switch from unregulated cannabis production to the regulated regime.
"If you're talking about somebody that's been an underground grower, and people didn't even know that he had a grow in his basement — it's quite shocking to have to say, 'Here's where I lived in the last five years, here's all my bank information,' to the government, right?"
Security clearances for government licences can pose a particular challenge for some aspiring legal growers, said Shaw. The government has a fair amount of discretion in approving or denying security clearances, she said.
"(We) do know one particular person who, he was turned down for a security clearance because he was seen talking to somebody, like, 10 years ago. The appeal didn't work, and now he's stuck in this limbo," she said.
"I think that is one thing we hear a lot, is, 'If I know I'm going to get turned down, I'm not going to waste my time (applying).'"
Processing times for cannabis licence applications can vary, the regulator warned. Shaw said security clearances play a key role in delays, as do improperly completed applications.
"I think a little bit of delay is inherent, but right now it's just a little too open-ended," she said.
"People have no idea.... Most applications are probably not going to be approved any time soon."
That said, Shaw feels Health Canada's micro licences might convince illicit weed farmers to get on board with the legal regime — given enough time.
"I don't think what this looks like five years from now, is what it looks like now," she said.