Quebec’s Greenhouse Growers’ Union (PSQ) wants to establish a regional network of cannabis “micro-producers” that would produce 50 per cent of the province’s supply and allow industry to flourish outside of the realm of big corporate entities.
Union president André Mousseau believes that Quebec’s two licensed producers, Hydropothecary Corp and the recently-opened Aurora Cannabis facility in Montreal, will only be able to generate half of the production needed to satisfy the demand of Quebec’s estimated one million recreational cannabis consumers. He said 50 greenhouse farmers from across the province with 1000 hectares each could take care of the rest, provided that they are given the opportunity by the government.
The PSQ is currently lobbying the provincial ministry for agriculture to help foster “a new type of production,” said Mousseau. It would be spearheaded by local farmers and be an alternative to the larger-scale medical cannabis companies already primed for moving into the recreational market on July 1. “Across Canada, it’s not producers who are establishing themselves, its funds and millionaires,” he explained.
While Quebec has two licensed medical cannabis companies, Ontario has 44. Mousseau estimates that there the province can generate $300 to $400 million annually from potential agricultural cannabis production. “Why would we import from Ontario and New-Brunswick? We have the infrastructure here … and we can easily produce it here,” he said.
Quebec’s cheap hydroelectricity is a boon to agricultural producers of all types. Moreover, Mousseau believes that cannabis is an “easy” crop to produce and farmers could quickly learn how to grow it. “It’s not like, say, bananas, that need a special climate.” Some greenhouse growers have already begun training, he said.
The PSQ’s parent organisation, the Quebec Agricultural Producers’ Union (UPA) classifies cannabis as an “agricultural product,” nestled in the fine herb category specifically. The government has not endorsed this classification, which would substantiate the union’s claim to production rights.
The UPA estimated last month that the province could generate up to $700 million a year overall from cannabis. Meanwhile, the Quebec government has remained tight-lipped on recreational cannabis’ economic impact, with finance minister Carlos Leitão telling CBC Montreal on November 22 that the government “doesn’t expect this activity to ever be a source of revenue, because we are approaching this issue from a public health perspective.”
Consistent with policy-makers’ focus on public health and safety, Health Canada is currently responsible for issuing all licenses for cannabis production, processing and sale. Mousseau is fighting for this to change. “We have asked the minister for agriculture if other [departments] can take charge of [recreational] permitting,” he said. “For the time being, they want to leave it with Health Canada.”
Health Canada’s proposed regulatory approach, released on November 21, stated that the department would continue issuing licenses, and outlined potential “micro-cultivation” and “micro-processing” licenses for small-scale operations. The public has been invited to share their views on the document by January 20.
It is not clear yet whether these licenses will be approved by the public and decision-makers, and if they are, who will stand to benefit and whether those eligible will have enough time to be set up by July 1. “It’s only on paper for now,” said Mousseau. “Nothing has been elaborated on or set in the law.”
Featured image by Goldilocks.