Roll up with our cannabis sup­ple­ment

One of the last prov­inces to stake a claim, Nova Sco­tia is rac­ing to get in on the le­gal weed green rush.

The Coast - - FRONT PAGE - BY CAORA MCKENNA

“What would you do-o-o for a Klondike Bar?” sings the com­mer­cial, a nod to the epic dis­cov­ery of gold in the Yukon in 1896. In the en­su­ing gold rush, after news of the Klondike’s riches reached the out­side world, tens of thou­sands of would-be gold­dig­gers giddy’d up and headed for Canada’s north.

News of Justin Trudeau’s elec­tion win in 2015 on the back of his cam­paign prom­ise for recre­ational cannabis le­gal­iza­tion in­spired the same starry-eyed fever in Cana­dian en­trepreneurs. For those swap­ping travers­ing vast planes on horse­back for nav­i­gat­ing rigid gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions, one thing is sure: Green is cer­tainly the new gold.

As Canada flings it­self to­wards cannabis le­gal­iza­tion later this year, Nova Sco­tia grow­ers and pro­duc­ers are try­ing their best to bull­doze through the bu­reau­cracy. Thirty Nova Sco­tia com­pa­nies have spent some part of the last five years in li­cens­ing limbo. With 2,000-page ap­pli­ca­tions, a fed­eral reg­u­la­tor wield­ing god­like power, the loom­ing pres­ence of money and no map to guide them, it’s a mir­a­cle half are still stand­ing.

Back in 2001, the year Canada le­gal­ized med­i­cal cannabis, An­drew Robin­son en­rolled in one of the first cannabis agri­cul­ture pro­grams in the coun­try at Dal­housie’s Agri­cul­tural Cam­pus in Truro. He thought he was too late, that com­mer­cial­iza­tion would take off be­fore he grad­u­ated.

Luck­ily for Robin­son, now pres­i­dent and

mas­ter grower of Robin­son’s Cannabis in Kentville, rec le­gal­iza­tion is tak­ing its sweet time. Canada didn’t have any med­i­cal cannabis li­censed pro­duc­ers (LPs) un­til 2013; Nova Sco­tia’s first li­cense wasn’t is­sued un­til Novem­ber of 2017; and with the orig­i­nal goal of July 1 be­com­ing po­lit­i­cally un­fea­si­ble, there’s still no of­fi­cial date for na­tional recre­ational le­gal­iza­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to Health Canada, as of April 5, Nova Sco­tia has three LPs—a measly three per­cent of the na­tional to­tal. (New­found­land and Labrador, Nu­navut, Yukon and the North­west Ter­ri­to­ries have none.) Robin­son’s Cannabis is one of Nova Sco­tia’s 13 would-be pro­duc­ers stuck in li­cens­ing limbo; 13 NS ap­pli­ca­tions have been re­jected.

The prov­ince’s slow start is surprising if you con­sider that Nova Sco­tia has the na­tion’s high­est per capita con­sump­tion of cannabis, ac­cord­ing to Stat­sCan. It’s less surprising if you con­sider that fro-yo took off in Nova Sco­tia about five years after ev­ery other prov­ince, and there’s still no Uber.

In Canada’s easy­go­ing Ocean Play­ground, the gov­ern­ment is of­ten hes­i­tant to dive into new things. Myrna Gillis, CEO of Aqual­i­tas, Nova Sco­tia’s third LP, says the prov­ince’s at­ti­tude is sim­i­lar to the way she likes to in­tro­duce new cannabis con­sumers to the prod­uct: “Low and slow to start, and it will evolve.”

But Nova Sco­tia’s pro­vin­cial fren­emy is mov­ing quickly. New Brunswick has planned a fund to sup­port cannabis re­search and de­vel­op­ment, is get­ting into the recre­ational pot re­tail mar­ket with 20 “stand-alone” shops sep­a­rate from liquor stores and, in 2016, in­vested $4 mil­lion in Zen­abis’ weed grow­ing fa­cil­ity, which re­ceived its li­cense last year.

To An­drew Robin­son, these ini­ti­ates are “fan­tas­tic,” and leave him all the more “puz­zled” by the Nova Sco­tia gov­ern­ment’s hes­i­ta­tion to join the green rush. “I re­ally don’t un­der­stand why they are so in the dark, so be­hind the times,” he says. “They are just so stub­born.”

It’s hard to know what the mar­ket for weed will look like on le­gal­iza­tion day, when­ever it ar­rives. (The most-re­peated re­frain out of Ot­tawa has changed from “by July” to “be­fore Oc­to­ber.”) But Robin­son thinks Nova Sco­tia, with only nine re­tail stores planned, has vastly un­der­es­ti­mated de­mand.“In the United States, after le­gal­iza­tion there were line­ups down the road—and they had stores on ev­ery block,” he says.

The pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment hopes that on­line sales will make up for any lack of stores, while it waits for the smoke to clear be­fore mak­ing fur­ther in­fra­struc­ture plans.

Mean­while, the small team of NSLC staff as­signed to the cannabis file ap­pears to be do­ing the best they can with what they have to get ready for le­gal­iza­tion. In Jan­uary, they reached out to grow­ers in the prov­ince and across Canada, and have 35 pro­duc­ers—li­censed or in pro­cess­ing—in­ter­ested in sell­ing pot in Nova Sco­tia.

“We are en­joy­ing a very col­lab­o­ra­tive re­la­tion­ship with li­censed pro­duc­ers,” says the NSLC’s Bev­erly Ware, “high­lighted by open and trans­par­ent di­a­logue on both sides.”

With only three LPs, all of whom are still wait­ing for their re­tail li­cense, there’s not go­ing to be much—if any—lo­cal bud on NSLC shelves, though Bill Stan­ford of Breath­ing Green So­lu­tions, the first pro­ducer in the prov­ince to get its pro­duc­tion li­cense, is con­fi­dent his com­pany will be ready. “We’ll beat the recre­ational date,” he says. “I’m not wor­ried about that.”

SUB­MIT­TED

Con­struc­tion at Robin­son’s Cannabis in Kentville in the fall of 2017 (left), and Breath­ing Green’s first rows of cannabis plants (right).

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