Cultivating Change | A West Coast Perspective

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About Chantal

Bon Stock connected with Chantal Dorval on LinkedIn a few weeks ago. We did not know she was a accomplish master grower. We also did not know she was a IPM (Integrated Pest Management) SME (Subject Matter Expert). We only knew she loved cannabis. That was enough… But we learn quickly. So here is Chantal’s first article in Bon Stock.

Chantal Dorval sourire

Hi neighbours, It’s Chantal!

I’m the founder of DANK Magazine, and a prominent Cannabis grower and IPM Specialist from Beautiful British Columbia, and I’m dropping in today to share some insights from the other end of Canada. I was heavily involved with Cannabis through the medical ACMPR days through the evolution to Legal Rec, and I’ve watched the landscape change and develop into the industry we see today. When it comes to Cannabis, BC and Quebec are at the top of the game. Both having such a high number of quality LPs, as well as a long history of Cannabis activism and black market activity.

Here on the beautiful West Coast, there’s been an ongoing prevalent battle between the Legal Rec Cannabis market and black market. Many ask why the black market is still so prevalent out this way. Last year, illicit Cannabis made up roughly 33% of the market share. WOW, that’s a big deal! But why such a large number?

For decades in BC, we likely had the strongest Cannabis black market in the world, and an industry built on passion, saving the world, and saying F you to the big guy does not die easily. Especially with the addition of the flaming hoops one must run through to run a compliant legal business.

First and foremost, safe, accessible consumption is my top priority, and I do not tolerate putting public health at risk. Whether it’s recreational use or not, many people are consuming it for medicinal purposes, not simply for fun. As members of the industry, it falls on us to treat it as such. The following are just my observations as someone who’s heavily saturated in the industry but also as a consumer myself.

When the first legal stores opened up in BC, just about everyone I know was ready to jump on board. A safe pickup, and legal purchase? The convenience of just being able to walk in and walk out with your product rather than arranging a time, waiting around, sometimes taking days to get your green, what was not to love about this new system? On top of that, there were now regulations ensuring what we are buying is cleaner and grown under strict pesticide compliance. Why would you buy from anywhere else?

The promise of safety with legal recreational use is what drew in so many customers. However, in the early days, many consumers had a bad first experience. With any new industry, there are hiccups, but the Cannabis industry, unlike many others, isn’t just a manufacturing process, it’s a farming equation.

Any farmer would tell you that starting on the scale that we did is crop suicide. Many businesses were clenching their teeth waiting for that first return of profits, so they went big in fear of going home. Onboarding a black market grower to the head of their helm, it was more than presumptuous that these people would be able to successfully grow dozens of acres of Cannabis on the first try. Whether they were growing under glass or outdoors, many farms in the Fraser Valley here bit off way more than they could chew. Giving the growers no time to learn the specific strains requested of them did not help the process. Let alone the fact that most of these growers had never run a greenhouse or a large scale monocrop. Essentially, the people at the top messed up big time, then pointed their fingers at their growers, who were asked to complete an impossible task.

Those first couple of years tarnished the reputation of legal bud. Here in BC, there were many large-scale cultivators, and no one got it right the first try. Friends and family would complain to me about the bud they would receive, and many found contaminants such as Powdery Mildew, Botrytis (Budrot), and Fungus gnats in those first couple of years.

British Columbia is a hotspot for Cannabis enthusiasts, with 1 in 4 adults being consumers themselves. Many of us have someone close to us that worked for one of the large-scale legal producers in the early days, and insider information was not hard to come by. Maybe less than a year into legalization, workers started waving the red flag of the quality of bud produced in these facilities. Photos and videos were leaked on Reddit and other social media platforms of horrific cultivation practices. One video showed someone shaking dead fungus gnats off the leaves on a top cola, there was another video leaked of the Powdery Mildew outbreak at a large facility where the infection was so severe it resembled freshly fallen snow across the top of every leaf in the facility.

In the early days of legalization, black market growers were hurting. Many left the trade for mushroom cultivation as prices continued to drop. (That’s a story for another time) But as insider news continued to circulate and customers were left with one too many bad experiences, many returned to the black market. Here in my hometown, everyone knows a guy, so if quality is lacking, why would anyone pay that much more to purchase from a storefront when you could grab a bag off your neighbor Todd? Might not be the best bud, but it’s generally consistent and the guy at least knows how to flush a plant.

Over the years, black market prices have continued to slowly drop, regardless of there being a smaller supply. If legal Cannabis hadn’t dropped the ball in the early days, the supply would be much smaller. Again, that is no fault of the growers, but the corporate chads who forgot that Cannabis is a plant, and requires a farming approach! Not simply a manufacturing strategy.

Slowly, Legal Cannabis is getting better every day. As the growers better learn the tools at their disposal, we are seeing that it is possible to grow quality bud on a large scale. Operators are learning that you don’t just need a grower, you need an Integrated Pest Management Specialist, like NEED, this is a full-time job on its own. Growers are also learning greenhouse management and enviro controls. The greenhouse itself is in a way a living breathing organism and you have to manage your climate just as strictly as your nutrient regime, they are also learning that pest issues can become far worse much faster when you have 100 thousand plants, as opposed to the couple thousand most were accustomed to working with. We are improving but it is a long process.

Plants extérieur sur la cote ouest canadienne

The sky is…

Start small and upscale, your plants will tell you when.

Many look at the high market share of black market Cannabis and point their fingers to the operators there for criminal involvement. But if there wasn’t a demand, the industry wouldn’t exist in the first place. From my point of view, the responsibility falls onto legal operators and the government for such a poor execution in the early days. When I survey the public, these are the top 3 most common answers I get as to why they still purchase black market Cannabis;

It’s more consistent

I can see and smell the product

The price

I do believe we are on the right track to repair that relationship with the community, but it will take time and it will take work. Too many of us still have the image floating in our heads of some guy with a shop vac sucking two spotted spider mites off the tops of web-infested colas, or the video where one operator literally washed their plants after harvest to remove the appearance of Powdery Mildew before the drying process. Those wounds take time to heal, and they can only be mended with quality legal bud.

I have faith that more consumers will return to legal Cannabis, not just here in BC but across Canada. As the industry evolves, so do the growers, and so do the operators at the top calling the shots. Some lessons are hard learned, and moving forward we have the skill and knowledge to not repeat the mistakes of the past. Many small LP’s and Micro Cultivators are already proving this to be true, and I hope for them to continue to grow and expand as they refine the process. The rest is up to the government to help make Cannabis more affordable, and to loosen regulations surrounding packaging requirements so the customers can see what they are paying for.

Like a wise farmer once told me, “Start small and upscale as you learn your plants. Every soil bed, every greenhouse and every grow room breathes differently. Building a relationship with your grow is a must if you ever wish to grow on a large scale.”

Start small and upscale, your plants will tell you when.

Let’s heed this advice and continue to grow responsibly and sustainably. Together, we can cultivate a thriving and reputable legal Cannabis industry that meets the needs of both consumers and cultivators alike.

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