A British Columbia region’s legacy of Vietnam War draft dodgers and illicit cannabis gardens wants a place at the legalized recreational marijuana table.
Fears that corporate cannabis producers could accomplish what law enforcement never could — uproot the Kootenay region’s famed marijuana cultivators — has local producers mobilizing to protect what they call a longtime bedrock of their local economy.
“There’s been a lot of grey and black-market cannabis growers here for a long time and we don’t want to lose that business,” said Todd Veri, president of the fledgling Kootenay Outdoor Producer Co-op.
“It’s been driving our economy for four decades.”
Weed in the Kootenays has long been an economic lynchpin worth billions of dollars, supplemented by a tourism trade heavily bolstered by southern Albertans attracted by its beaches, pristine lakes and old-growth forests.
What Veri, who was drawn to the southern B.C. interior 20 years ago by the lure of green gold, is seeking is federal legal sanction to produce cannabis under an outdoor co-operative model.
It would start with a dozen one-hectare farms feeding a central processing facility, an operation that could initially generate $20 million in revenue and 300 to 400 seasonal jobs, he said.
With Ottawa and the provinces labouring to hash out regulatory and legal details to meet next summer’s legalization deadline, Veri says now is the time for local growers to get their feet in the door.
“We’re not sure the regulations are going to allow some of the nuances involved . . . we want to make sure we don’t get overlooked,” he said.
The region’s pot pedigree is a rich one, said Kaslo resident Veri, who quickly discovered the area’s reputation wasn’t smoke and mirrors when he first arrived in 1997.
In one cluster of 28 homes near where he lived, occupants of 22 of them were involved in cultivating marijuana, said Veri, adding he hasn’t grown the plant for 17 years.
“People here have been growing in Crown forests for 40 years . . . it’s safe to say it’s everywhere.”