Canada’s first out­door cannabis farms are promis­ing bet­ter qual­ity weed – and at a bet­ter price – than the quasi-quar­an­tined stuff Li­censed Pro­duc­ers are grow­ing in­doors

NOW Magazine - - CONTENTS - By KIERAN DELAMONT [email protected] | @nowtoronto

De­spite the sus­tained protes­ta­tions of Canada’s largest cor­po­rate cannabis grow­ers, out­door grow­ing is com­ing to the coun­try’s cannabis in­dus­try. Be­fore the Cannabis Act came into force on Oc­to­ber 17, all Cana­dian weed needed be grown ei­ther in­doors or in a green­house. But in Oc­to­ber, Good & Green filed an ap­pli­ca­tion for a com­mer­cial-scale out­door grow op with Health Canada for a cannabis farm just out­side of Brant­ford, On­tario, promis­ing a big shift in the in­dus­try’s busi­ness model.

Good & Green’s ap­pli­ca­tion is be­lieved to be the first, but more for out­door cul­ti­va­tion are in the works.

Mark Spear, founder of Burn­stown Farms, has plans to start cul­ti­vat­ing weed out­doors at a farm in Beck­with Town­ship, south­west of Ot­tawa. He says he plans to sub­mit an ap­pli­ca­tion this week.

“In­door [grows] are go­ing to be­come di­nosaurs in the next five to 10 years,” Spear pre­dicts. “There’s go­ing to be a hand­ful of them that pro­duce ex­cep­tion­ally high-qual­ity flower – top shelf – and peo­ple will pay for it, but that might be 10 per cent of the mar­ket. The rest will be green­house or out­door.”

Es­pe­cially, he says, when ed­i­bles and con­cen­trates (which use up a lot of flower) are le­gal­ized next year. Spear says that most of Burn­stown’s har­vests will be sold whole­sale to oil pro­ces­sors, at least at first.

Ac­cord­ing to the con­sult­ing firm Cannabis Com­pli­ance Inc., “pro­duc­tion

costs for a very ef­fi­cient, large-scale in­door op­er­a­tion range from $1 per gram to $3 per gram, whereas out­door farm­ing in the­ory could bring com­mer­cial pro­duc­tion costs be­low 20 cents per gram.” To say noth­ing of the po­ten­tial boon to qual­ity. The gov­ern­ment’s in­door-grown weed has not been get­ting great re­views since le­gal­ized recre­ational sales started last month.

So far, the big­gest op­po­nents of would-be out­door farm­ers have been big Li­censed Pro­duc­ers (LPs).

Ear­lier this year, Bruce Lin­ton, the quasi-philoso­pher king and CEO of Canopy Growth, and one of the in­dus­try’s most in­flu­en­tial voices in Ot­tawa, took a bunch of sen­a­tors on a tour of the com­pany’s Smiths Falls grow­ing fa­cil­ity.

While they were there, he took the op­por­tu­nity to raise se­cu­rity fears over out­door grow ops, sug­gest­ing that tech-savvy teenagers would be us­ing drones to steal weed. The idea was widely mocked.

Al­lan Re­wak, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Cannabis Coun­cil of Canada, an in­dus­try lob­by­ing group of which Canopy is a mem­ber, says that the in­dus­try’s big play­ers are not op­posed to out­door cul­ti­va­tion, “but just be­cause of the reg­u­la­tory roll­out, we wanted to give it more time.”

Skep­tics see this cau­tion as self­serv­ing, say­ing the in­dus­try wanted the feds to hold off on out­door grow­ing just long enough to get in on the ground them­selves.

“It to­tally de­stroys their busi­ness model,” says Kelly Coul­ter, a sus­tain­able

cannabis ad­vo­cate with NORML in Vic­to­ria, BC, who was part of the lob­by­ing ef­fort that ul­ti­mately helped pre­serve out­door grow­ing in the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s le­gal weed leg­is­la­tion.

She says that peo­ple re­al­ize the ad­van­tages of grow­ing out­doors – not just the lower costs, but the in­creased vol­umes and more holis­tic na­ture of cannabis cul­ti­vated in nat­u­ral air and sun­light. She equates cur­rent in­door fa­cil­i­ties are “pro­cess­ing fac­to­ries.”

Coul­ter says it’s not what cannabis ought to look like, with many of the big LPs view­ing it es­sen­tially as a phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal

prod­uct that can be repli­cated.

Grow­ers like Spear see cannabis as a liv­ing thing for which per­fect con­sis­tency is nei­ther pos­si­ble nor the end goal. The ul­tra-sci­en­tific, cli­mate­con­trolled and quasi-quar­an­tined con­di­tions un­der which nearly the en­tirety of Cana­dian cannabis is grown at­tempt to im­pose con­trol over na­ture and serve only to mute one of the more won­der­ful fea­tures of the cannabis plant, which is that each has its own unique con­tours, and its own nat­u­ral ten­dency to­ward be­ing it­self.

Spear says, “Pro­duc­ers try and pro- duce a con­sis­tent crop, but I don’t know of any that have suc­cess­fully done it with a min­i­mum amount of vari­a­tion like a phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal. It’s never the ex­act same grow­ing en­vi­ron­ment.”

If we’re be­ing hon­est, out­door grow­ing could come as wel­come news to con­sumers. On Leafly, the on­line source for all things cannabis, the On­tario Cannabis Store’s (OCS) prod­uct rates a 1.8 out of 5 by users. And on fo­rums like Red­dit, many users have posted pic­tures of gov­ern­ment weed that is dried out, crumbly, and gen­er­ally poor qual­ity.

On­line polls are an im­pre­cise met­ric. It’s un­clear whether it’s the fact that the prod­uct be­ing sold by the OCS is be­ing rushed through the cur­ing process or be­ing ir­ra­di­ated to stop mould that is mess­ing with the qual­ity. The in­dus­try has been be­set by sup­ply is­sues.

These vari­ables, how­ever, il­lus­trate the fact that even with bil­lions of dol­lars of in­vest­ment, Canada’s in­dooronly LPs are still try­ing to fig­ure out the key to grow­ing great pot. Some, like RedeCan, which was forced to is­sue a re­call over mould in a whole batch of prod­uct last month, are find­ing it dif­fi­cult to per­fect the process of grow­ing safe, smok­able pot.

And while the idea of out­door grow­ing is slowly tak­ing root, Coul­ter is bet­ting on it over­grow­ing the in­dus­try. “There’s not a lot of peo­ple who are big on out­door [right now],” she says. “But there will be.”

The ad­van­tages of grow­ing weed out­side in­clude higher yields and lower over­head costs.

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