Legacy to Legal in the Heart of the Kootenays

November 9, 2023

Starting with an influx of draft dodging freethinkers in the 70s, The Kootenays has long since been a home to cannabis culture. From the incredible climate to the community of talented growers, it’s easy to see why BC has earned a global reputation for quality.

This culture is part of the legacy we come from. Not just because folks on our team at Woody Nelson are growers, marketers, or members from the community, but because we stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before us. From breeding to cultivation practices, it’s been nothing short of incredible to see the journey this plant has taken over the last 50 years. In recognition of that journey, it’s important that we pay our respects to those who pioneered this industry.  

When reaching out to our friends in the legacy community on this post, we found that many were still reluctant to share their experiences outside a private conversation. Having seen impact that legalization and its barriers to entry have had on this community, we get it. Still, our hearts were set on telling this story, so we’ve built it around those who were willing to share, like Jorg, our a key member of the Horticulture team.

We also sat down with Shannon Ross, CEO of Antidote Processing, a legacy-owned facility just outside Nelson. With more than twenty years of experience working with cannabis and managing commercial organic farms, she’s knowledgeable and passionate about sustainable agriculture and helping cannabis growers plan a thriving business from the ground up. Her Indigenous heritage and deep connection to plant medicine are demonstrated through Antidote’s commitment to sustainability and caring for future generations.  Shannon has been a keynote speaker at O'Cannabiz, CannaPortugal, LIFT, The Unicorn Cup, CertiCraft and the Future Cannabis Project. We’re really grateful for her contribution to both this post as well as the Kootenay Cannabis Industry, and excited she took some time to sit down and chat with us.  

While we do get a little bit into the cannabis history of this area, we also discuss like how legalization changed and impacted the culture and how we can positively move forward as an industry.  

Kootenay Cannabis – The Legacy

Shannon: “There’s a bit of a connection between rural communities and having a passion for cannabis. These are cultures that work really well together; communities in the Kootenays tend to be more grounded and connected to nature, art, music, the environment, and health, just like cannabis culture is. It’s in these spaces that cannabis isn’t just an industry or a way to make money, but rather, a way to connect with ourselves, each other, and the greater community. A lot of the legacy market in the Kootenays was built on networks of people coming together, building something, and finding ways to support each other. It also provided an opportunity for all sorts of people, particularly those more often left out of other social spaces, to connect, eat lots of good food, and create some really cool things.”

While there are many communities in the Kootenays, we’re located in Nelson. When writing this post and talking to people, I ended up hearing about how much cannabis money impacted the local scene. I even heard people claiming that Nelson is as diverse and exciting as it is because of all the money cannabis sales put into the community. While we can’t really confirm this impact with hard data and stats, I thought it was still an interesting thing to include. Regardless, from where we’re standing, cannabis has done a lot to help us develop our communities and has greatly contributed to Kootenay culture and economy.  

Jorg: “When it came to growing, there was a very large cultural component. Growers had very specific cultivars and could replicate them flawlessly. If you had a specific cultivar known by a particular name, you always knew who was growing it or where it was being grown. These in-depth cultivation techniques were then passed on to apprentices or other growers who were also looking to become equally as skilled. Things are very different now since the market has become more flooded and strain names have started to say less about a particular product or the plant’s genetics than they once did.”

Walker: “It’s easy to romanticize the time before legalization, especially if you’re talking about a 2017 Vancouver grey market. Still, there are reasons to be grateful for legalization and one of them is seeing these talented growers stepping into the spotlight. For the first time ever, craft growers in BC are building big brands and getting recognized by connoisseurs from across the country.”

While the secretive nature of pre-legalization cannabis networks provided opportunities for a diverse range of people to make money and build connections, many of these stories are still lost or hidden today. Unfortunately, this means that a lot of the contributions people made to cannabis culture pre-legalization often still go unrecognized.  

The Impacts of Legalization

Shannon: “There was a lot of excitement about legalization in the beginning. A lot of talented, experienced growers wanted to get their craft out there, have a chance to showcase their work, and bring something they were really proud of into the public space. Legalization would also give them a chance to hire employees legally and further support their communities. However, once the barriers to getting licenced became more obvious, the uphill battle to entry into the legal market started to wear people out and eventually led to a lot of resentment. A lot of folks felt unsupported in their transition into the legal world, which in part is due to the continued stigma around cannabis.”

The barriers to getting a cannabis licence created some interesting community challenges as well. For example, head shops that have been in the community for a long time weren’t always able to get a cannabis license. They can’t sell cannabis but can continue to sell the accessories for it. Also, the influx of cannabis shops opening all at the same time, especially in smaller communities, could lead to extra stress and too much competition, making many of these shops unsustainable. Of course, every community is different and will feel the impact in unique ways.  

Jorg: “Legalization was challenging because the government didn’t really consider the people who were already working in the industry. Instead, they came in like they owned the place and starting production facilities that ultimately ended up losing a lot of money because they didn’t know how to cultivate cannabis properly.”  

Shannon: “It’s in part due to these initial failures as well as existing stigma that funding has become a big challenge for newcomers to the space. Places where businesses would usually go to get support or start-up loans, such as banks, governments, insurance companies, or municipalities, weren’t always ready for legalization. This means that while many companies in the Kootenays may have all the other skills and experience, accessing capital and financial support can be a huge barrier to entry.”

 

Jorg: “There’s an increasing disconnect in the community between the grower, producer, and consumer. But this is a vital part of the culture: the connection to the earth, growing, and the process of cultivation. Honouring the work of growers and finding ways to bridge the gap between producers and consumers is important as we continue to move forward as an industry. “

Shannon: “All in all, regulations have kind of been a mixed bag. Things like testing requirements, COAs, and health standards ensure that products are better quality and won’t actually harm anyone. After all, cannabis is known for being a bioaccumulator, so testing for things like heavy metals is important to do. Legalization has also helped to open opportunities, specifically for women. Typically, women have been in labourer positions. Legalization has helped to create a climate where more women can be business owners, as many women were risk-averse prior to legalization to protect their families.”

All this aside, legalization is of course a good thing. While challenges exist and the industry may be experiencing some growing pains, bringing cannabis into the public sphere has provided opportunities for more scientific studies, helped to begin combatting stigma, and minimized things like prosecution and jail time. “Scientific advancement is particularly important,” Shannon noted, “not only because cannabis has a lot of potential to be medically effective and improve the lives of many people, but because of its potential environmental impact. As a bioaccumulator, it could be used to clean soil and help with environmental restoration. Of course, we couldn’t do any of that without legalization.”

Moving Forward as a Culture

Shannon: “There were a lot of things we were doing right before legalization that could make a big impact on the industry today, especially if the goal is to get more people trusting and utilizing cannabis shops. For example, one thing we could do is to change our packaging regulations. The number one reason people don’t go to stores is because they’re not able to smell, look at, or taste products. Additionally, cannabis culture is inherently environmentally aware – cannabis connects us to nature. However, the packaging we’re often using now is not always environmentally friendly, which isn’t in line with the values the culture and communities hold. While this is just one example, making adjustments to the industry in order to better honour the values inherent in cannabis culture is an important way to move forward.”

“Of course, these are also legislative changes that need to be made on a regulatory level. It's important to make your voice heard – whether through voting, reaching out to local MLAs, and supporting local shops or other cannabis advocacy organizations such as Antidote or the Craft Cannabis Association of BC. Supporting non-profits and other cannabis advocacy groups can help the voice of the community and all the diverse players within it be heard on a more federal level.”

“Of course, it’s also important to go out to events, participate in the space, and work to build up our community. Kind of like what the Unicorn Cup is doing, it’s important to bring people together and build connections with each other, showing, up, and having fun. The more we can support people within the cannabis industry, the more folks are going to continue to show up and invest in that industry. It’s also re-energizing, which is often needed in an industry that’s been challenging for many people.”

TL;DR

Cannabis culture was built on the values of connection, environmental responsibility, art, inclusion, community, and health. As the industry and regulations continue to grow and develop, it’s vital that we don’t lose sight of these values and rather use them as the foundation for further growth and development. “Cannabis is a master plant with a spirit and it has a bigger purpose,” Shannon said. “Part of that is bringing the values of cannabis culture into modern society, and restructuring how we do business and agriculture.”  

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