A minor tumult erupted on Parliament Hill during question period on Thursday, with clamor arising from house members as finance minister Morneau downplayed and dismissed ethics probing from Conservative MPs. After the Speaker called for order and steadied the house, NDP member of parliament Wayne Stetski turned the discussion to speak on behalf of farmers in his Kootenay—Columbia riding who have expressed concern that the government will not license growers who farm outdoors, and that licensing will go only to large corporate indoor growers.
“Indeed,” said Stetski in his address to the Speaker of the House, “Liberals on the health committee already voted down an NDP motion to allow provinces to develop production regimes that would support local economies.”
“As the government moves to legalize the recreational use of cannabis,” he continued, “will it stand with and support economically important, small-scale outdoor farmers across Canada and ensure that they have a future, yes or no?”
A response was volunteered by Bill Blair, legalization czar and MP for Scarborough Southwest, who inferred that the answer is “no”.
Touting the strict regulation of the production, distribution, and consumption of cannabis as set out in the federal framework, Blair’s response boils down to the reasoning that the licensing requirements are designed to ensure that what will be consumed by Canadians is of known potency and purity.
But that reasoning fails to consider that tobacco is already farmed outdoors in Canada, and is distributed with known potency and purity.
It also makes the incorrect assumption that outdoor-grown cannabis would necessitate being distributed and consumed in the traditional form of dried flowers, when in reality there are many uses for cannabis crops that may have a wider variation of potency and purity than crops grown indoors under controlled conditions. Here are just a few:
Plant-to-plant variation of potency becomes irrelevant when the entire crop is fed directly into a processing facility to be turned into cannabis cookies, cheeba-infused chocolate, and pot potato chips.
Roughly one month ago the Standing Committee on Health passed an amendment to allow cannabis edibles in Bill C-45. Just two weeks later reports emerged that the nation-wide demand for cannabis products is close to double that of previous estimates on which the federal government had based projections for supply requirements.
That means not only is there at least one valid use for outdoor cannabis in the legalized landscape, but with the increased demand from the edibles market it may in fact prove necessary to license outdoor farms in order to ensure the supply pool remains sufficient to keep shops open.
As with edibles, concentrates are made by processing entire crops using physical and chemical techniques that mix the materials from multiple plants together for batch extractions. Individual compounds like THC and CBD are isolated for maximum purity and potency within the end product, regardless of what source material is used or the variation of potency and purity from plant to plant.
The recent HESA amendment to C-45 also included provisions allowing concentrates (eg, “shatter” and “honey oil”) within the legalization framework. Therefore the same supply-and-demand dynamic exists with concentrates as with edibles—in order to produce concentrates, manufacturers will have to start with raw cannabis. If that raw cannabis isn’t coming from licensed outdoor farms, then the only other place it can come from (legally) is the retail supply pool.
3) The reconstituted tobacco model
Uniformity of potency and purity is achieved in the tobacco that goes into cigarettes by using solvents to wash nicotine out of the leaves, and then reconstituting sheets of mixed tobacco leaf and stem by spraying them with a specified amount of nicotine.
The same model could be applied to the production of cannabis, with cannabinoids like THC and CBD being removed from the raw plant material and then sprayed back into the shredded plant matter at regulated levels. The process could also ensure impurities are washed out of the plant matter after the active ingredients have been removed for reconstitution spraying later.
4) The regular tobacco model
Finer grade tobacco is simply farmed (outdoors) then harvested and cured for sale. Potency may vary from leaf to leaf, but not enough that the average tobacco smoker notices, mentions, or seems to care.
With the concerns of both purity and potency present equally with tobacco farming as with outdoor cannabis farming, the same regulatory framework that ensures consumers receive tobacco with known potency and purity should be easy to adapt to ensure the same with cannabis farms.
5) Topical products
The Canadian cannabis industry already offers an array of products that aren’t smoked, vaped, eaten, or imbibed.
Cannabis lip balms, skin creams, CBD muscle rubs, bath bombs, and even intimate personal lubricant products are made through similar processing techniques to those used to produce edibles and consumable extracts. Outdoor cannabis crops can be ideal for these types of products.
The above examples are just a few of the ways outdoor cannabis could be included in the post-legalization market. With due consideration, there doesn’t seem to be any justification for the federal legalization framework to give outdoor farmers the cold shoulder. But going beyond the rhetoric of offering a fair seat at the table, the pragmatic reality is that licensing outdoor farms may become a necessary step in ensuring Canada has sufficient supply—legal supply, that is—to meet demand for the full range of products sought by consumers, at prices that remain competitive with those of the black market.
And with hefty 14-year sentences being threatened for large-scale illegal growers, it certainly couldn’t hurt to have the extra tax revenue from outdoor cannabis farmers, rather than costing taxpayers the expense of keeping them fed and housed in prison for a decade and a half.
Featured image by Mark.