February 07, 2018 – 6:30 PM
VERNON – Just how much of an economic impact is legalization of marijuana going to have on the North Okanagan? In the words of one local dispensary owner: “It’s going to be massive.”
New legislation coming down the pipe in B.C. is about to open up a large, legal industry for cannabis, MMJ Total Health Care co-owner Jeff Gaudette says.
“There’s going to potentially be thousands of new jobs in Vernon,” Gaudette says.
Unlike other provinces, B.C. plans to allow both government-run and private retail stores, meaning lots of opportunities for local entrepreneurs and for tourism, Gaudette says. Just look at what happened in Colorado, he adds.
RETAIL, TOURISM AND CRAFT CANNABIS
“I can see tours to dispensaries happening, where you load up a bus of people so they have a safe driver and visit the different storefronts to see how they differ from each other, try different products, and then maybe go to a lounge to consume,” Gaudette says.
He expects lots of opportunities for new businesses that cater to marijuana consumption, such as lounges and “Bud and Breakfast” accommodations that are cannabis-friendly.
But perhaps the biggest economic boom will be in the area of cultivation. Right now, the only legal source is federally-approved production facilities, however the government has also proposed allowing micro-cultivation or craft licenses. Gaudette estimates the Okanagan already produces half of B.C.’s bud and says there will be a massive opportunity for small producers.
“It’s going to be huge when craft licensing comes into play,” Gaudette says.
That will also lead to more economic offshoots, such as increased business for gardening and hydroponics stores, cultivation-related jobs, and eventually new markets for edibles and cosmetics, Gaudette says.
Craft production aside, there are already a couple of large-scale production facilities underway in the North Okanagan which will inject jobs and cash into communities.
Darcy Bomfield, the CEO of True Leaf Medicine International Ltd. is spending $8- to $9-million on a brand new production facility in Lumby. While the build is being managed by a Calgary company, Bomfield says they’ve instructed the firm to offer and seek out tenders to all local trades. Additionally, the company is looking to hire roughly 16 people full time, and 18 part time, for grow operations, trimming, packaging, lab testing, administration and security.
True Leaf isn’t the only company setting roots in the North Okanagan. Heritage Cannabis Holdings Corp. is building a 41,400 square-foot facility in Falkland. According to a recent press release, construction is expected to be complete this spring, with production beginning in June for a capacity of 4,000 kilograms of cannabis flower.
JUST ANOTHER BUSINESS
The City of Vernon’s economic development manager Kevin Poole agrees legalization will be a big economic driver in the North Okanagan.
“There are a tonne of interested growers in the North Okanagan, I think there is a lot of employment that will come out of that side alone,” Poole says.
Just two minutes after the B.C. government announced its plan for cannabis legislation earlier this week, for instance, Poole got an email from someone inquiring about local bylaws for growing.
The provincial government has left municipalities in charge of controlling things such as how many stores are allowed to operate and where they can go. That means Vernon city council and staff have some work to do in the months ahead, but Mayor Akbal Mund already says he’s against putting a cap on the number of shops allowed.
“You want to treat every business the same. Have we ever put a cap on the number of gas stations or fast food restaurants? The market will dictate how many can operate. I don’t think it’s up to municipal government to decide to limit the number of dispensaries,” Mund says.
He says the big question is how the province will divvy up the tax revenue, and hopes much of it will come back into communities.
“Obviously there is going to be a lot of extra work for municipal staff and administration,” Mund says. “We will have to look at the cost of doing business.”
Once all the details are worked out, there’s no doubt Vernon and surrounding areas will see the effects of this new industry. As Gaudette says, there’s going to be lots of demand both locally, nationally and internationally, and Vernon is poised to take advantage of it.
“Let’s be honest, no one is going to want to go on a cannabis tour in Ontario at a government-controlled store,” Gaudette says, referencing that province’s approach of only allowing marijuana sales at government stores.
From an economic development perspective, Poole says it’s just one more thing the area has to offer.
“Whether it’s wine touring, stand up paddle boarding or skiing, cannabis is just one more thing that enters into the fold as an opportunity,” Poole says.
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