Budding Success: Cannabis Transition Program Cultivates Thriving Economic Landscape in Central Kootenays

The game is changing for the cannabis industry in the Central Kootenay region with support from the Kootenay Cannabis Council (KCC), an outcome of the Cannabis Business Transition Initiative led by Community Futures Central Kootenay (CFCK).

Prior to the 2018 legalization of cannabis, the Central Kootenay region was home to approximately 2,000 licensed cannabis producers and an additional 500 unauthorized producers. Together they generated an estimated 20 to 30 percent of the regional economy. Although many of the region’s producers have been operating for years, the heavily regulated legal market requires a steep financial commitment and imposes strict limitations on marketing and packaging. Even well-established growers may lack the capacity and skills to navigate the regulatory environment on their own.

A United Voice for Cannabis-Related Businesses

The KCC, previously known as the Cannabis Economic Development Council, was formed in 2020 to support the development of the legal cannabis sector in the region. It responds to government engagement with one voice while reducing stigma and misconceptions about cannabis history and culture. Council members represent the sector’s diverse stakeholders including industry, government, economic development practitioners, researchers, and educators.

CFCK received grant funding from the Economic Trust of Southern Interior (ETSI-BC) in 2022 to help take the Council from its formative stage to the next level. The project was a good fit with the strategic pillars that guide ETSI-BC funding including building economic development capacity, developing human capital, and advancing key sectors. The funding supported the hiring of Council Coordinator Abra Brynne, a nationally respected food systems advocate and policy analyst. Additional funding for the role was provided by the Regional District Central Kootenay.

Collaboration With Multiple Partners

With a dedicated Council Coordinator on board, the KCC gained capacity to actively promote review and recommend changes to government policies while supporting growers as they navigate the transition process. The KCC has informed governments at all levels about the need for policy reform and reducing red tape. It engaged with the Provincial Government in the development of marketing initiatives such as the Farm Gate and Direct Delivery programs and collaborated with Selkirk College and Kootenay Rockies Tourism to explore cannabis tourism opportunities. The Council also endorsed an initiative by a Kaslo-based publisher to produce BC’s first cannabis directory, and supported BC’s first Cannabis Summit hosted by the BC Craft Cannabis Coop and the Association of Canadian Cannabis Retailers in 2021. The summit is now an annual event.

Between 2019 and 2022, Investment into the Kootenay cannabis sector included 19 loans from CFCK totaling $3,447,500 to support startup businesses with costs for construction, working capital, equipment purchases, retail fixtures and inventory. More than 135 jobs were created in the region’s legal cannabis industry.

Velvet Kavanagh, a Kootenay-based consultant with 20 years’ experience as a business owner and manager in agriculture, assumed the Council Coordinator role in November 2022.

“With the support of ETSI-BC, the KCC now has a solid foundation to continue its effort to create a more positive business environment around the cannabis industry,” says Kavanagh.

“Future cannabis-related opportunities could relate to destination tourism, education about cannabis use and production, and growth of ancillary businesses that serve the sector.”

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