Strict regulations stifle a green cannabis industry

Published on November 20, 2020 by Roohi Sahajpal

Sam Mik grows for Good Buds Co. on Salt Spring Island in BC. (Photo: Contributed)

If you’re looking to buy the most sustainably grown cannabis in Canada, you may have to wait a bit longer.

Producing the greenest cannabis is still in its infancy, say growers and advocates.

Mikael Rykes and Sam Mik are two growers for Good Buds Co., a craft certified organic cannabis farm on Salt Spring Island, BC. They say that sustainability was easier in the legacy market. While current Health Canada regulations do make it tough, it’s possible if companies take the initiative.

“It can be challenging with the regulations because there are certain things we need to comply with in terms of packaging requirements and microbial limits,” says Rykes, the master grower at Good Buds. He has over 16 years of experience in cannabis cultivation.

The farm currently grows indoors and outdoors in a greenhouse, with the whole facility running off collected rain water and natural springs.

“We do a lot of cover cropping and inner cropping, which is super beneficial both economically and sustainably. By cover cropping and inner cropping, we’re preparing the soil and improving fertility by filling back in our cover crops. It also attracts a lot of beneficial insects and has eliminated any need for spraying organic pesticides or fungicides,” adds Mik, who previously worked in the cannabis market in California and has been working in licensed cannabis production in Canada for almost three years.

Lisa Campbell says there are roadblocks in the way of a more sustainable approach. (Photo: Niv Shimshon)

Lisa Campbell runs the cannabis sales and marketing agency Mercari Agency Limited, which works with licensed cannabis companies to help them get their products to market through the recreational and medical channels.

“Cannabis is a very energy intensive activity when you’re growing indoors. Outdoor growing is the most sustainable way to grow cannabis, with the power of the sun. You’re not using HVAC to heat and cool your space, you’re not using energy intensive light. With the indoor environment there are ways you can reduce your environmental impact. For example, using LED lights instead of energy intensive lights to reduce your energy cost and your heating cost as well.”

She says that many cannabis companies are prioritizing moving towards a sustainable approach, but there are still some roadblocks.

“We’re the second country in the world to legalize, so that’s why our regulations are so strict; we’re setting an example. This means that for a lot of those craft outdoor BC farmers that are growing on the mountainside in living soil, if there’s any microbial contamination, it’s hard for that flower to come to market.”

Campbell says that even though BC has a rich history of growing high quality outdoor cannabis, an industry and consumer revolution, where consumers are demanding sustainable cannabis, is needed.

“I think that the unfortunate problem for organic, craft growers that are growing sustainably, is that it’s harder for them to get a good price, because of that market demand,” says Campbell.

That’s because there hasn’t been education to help both government and consumers understand why outdoor organic cannabis is just as high quality as indoor hydroponic, she says.

For home growers, grow boxes—such as the vertical farming start up, Mary Agrotechnologies, based in Ontario—focus on helping people grow the greenest possible cannabis at home. Their lights consume around 200W at full capacity, giving out as much light as a sunny July day in California, and they cost about $10-15/month on Toronto’s utility bills.

“For the people who are concerned for the quality of their cannabis, we made sure that we gave you a solution that you can grow with ease yourself, with the water you know, with the seeds you obtain yourself, so you’re sure you’re doing it right and in turn that it’s safe and healthy,” says Frank Qin, CEO and Founder of Mary Agrotechnologies.

Kelly Coulter co-founded the organization credited with convincing Prime Minster Justin Trudeau to legalize. (Photo: Contributed)

Kelly Coulter is a writer, farmer’s advocate and environmentalist. She co-founded the NORML Women’s Alliance of Canada which was credited with convincing Justin Trudeau to legalize cannabis. She expects that as the cannabis industry matures and consumers become more educated, consumer values will start reflecting that of how it has in the food and coffee industries. She likens it to the ‘three waves of coffee’—with coffee now being in its third wave, where independent and artisanal coffee has become the norm, compared to its early stages of mass production and main-stream chain coffee shops.

“Cannabis is on its first wave. We’re in the very regulated early days,” she says.

“Consumer deviation is going to be important in the next upcoming years in order to help develop the most sustainable and diverse cannabis industry as possible. If consumers don’t care, it won’t help the industry. People are paying more attention to everything they consume, they’re becoming more discerning and that will definitely affect cannabis.”

Roohi Sahajpal is a freelance writer based in Vancouver. You can follow her on Twitter: @_roohi.