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Kootenay initiative to create jobs, support cannabis businesses

From right, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, Shane Simpson, Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall, Paul Kelly, Cannabis Transition Initiative Program Manager, (center back row), Andrea Wilkey, executive director, Community Futures Central Kootenay, front far left) and staff, announced Thursday the new Cannabis Business Transition Initiative in Nelson. — The Nelson Daily photo

Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, Shane Simpson and NDP colleague and Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall made a stop at Community Futures in Nelson Thursday to announce new initiative to support cannabis businesses in the Kootenays.

The two NDP Ministers said the Cannabis Business Transition Initiative, delivered by Community Futures Central Kootenay with over $675,000 from the Province, will help startup and existing cannabis businesses overcome the barriers to operating in the legal economy and soon lead to better access to employment opportunities in the industry and create sustainable cannabis operations in the region.

“Cannabis has played a large role in the economy of this community for a long time and now that the business is legal, we’re looking to create an opportunity for those many operators who have previously been illegal,” Simpson told The Nelson Daily following the announcement at the Community Futures office on Vernon Street.

“The transition to the legal economy, we know that’s what they want to do,” Simpson added. "They can use some help with the transition. We want to move them over, so the economy stays strong and that industry grows and remains strong in this community.”

Community Futures Central Kootenay has hired a new team of cannabis business transition advisors to run the project. Staff will work with individuals interested in testing tools and resources that would support licensing applications and help businesses transition to the legal cannabis economy.

“It’s early days in the cannabis industry and our government is very proactive with the Federal Government working to ensure the rules . . . the regulations are good for British Columbia, are good for our economy, are good for the craft industry and obviously the Nelson area is pretty essential to that,” Simpson explained.

“We know from people in this community they want to move into the legal economy and into that business and we want to help them to do that because it’s good for them, it’s good for the economy and it’s good for people who are working for them.”

It’s no secret that the underground cannabis market in the region was well established prior to Canada legalizing non-medical cannabis in October 2018. Studies suggest an estimated 2,500 small-scale cannabis producers in the region who hope to expand into the non-medical market, including some authorized to grow medical cannabis.

The cannabis business transition advisors will help them identify existing issues, strategies and opportunities in the current legalization process.

"With the legalization of cannabis, our region has an opportunity to transition its underground cannabis economy to a successful legal industry," said Andrea Wilkey, executive director, Community Futures Central Kootenay. "This provincial funding will help ensure that local entrepreneurs have the support they need to navigate the complex regulatory system and create a sustainable cannabis business."

Community Futures Central Kootenay's Cannabis Business Transition Initiative is the first of its kind in Canada. During the next two years, it is expected to support over 100 clients in their transition to licensed and sustainable cannabis businesses.

Mungall said the government heard from the local cannabis industry during a round table discussion led by the Nelson-Creston MLA and Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General heldin Nelson back in August.

“We took a lot of that feedback very seriously and sharpened our pencils, went to work and we’re starting to see some of the rollout as some of those ideas, and feedback coming from the cannabis industry to us,” Mungall explained.

“And there’s going to be more coming because as Shane said, this is early days for the industry and we want to be successful and as the local MLA for Nelson-Creston and Kootenays, we know we need this industry to be successful.”

Quick Facts:

  • The Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction is providing $676,289 through the Labour Market Partnership stream of the Community and Employer Partnerships (CEP) program. CEP's goal is to increase employment and work experience opportunities in communities throughout B.C.
  • Approximately $15 million will be invested in CEP projects around B.C. in 2019-20.