Kootenay-based Sweetgrass Cannabis recently became the first micro cannabis cultivator in BC to get a sales licence. They hope to have products on shelves in BC very soon, followed by Ontario and several other provinces. The path of getting to this significant milestone has been decades in the making.
Mathieu “Jimmy” Page and Tim Deighton both moved to the Kootenays about 20 years ago before meeting through a common love of cannabis. The two operated their own medical cannabis production facilities under their ACMPR licenses, before eventually retrofitting them to house two indoor micro cultivation facilities, side-by-side on adjacent 10-acre plots of land located about 20 minutes south of Nelson.
The first Sweetgrass cultivation licence (obtained in May 2020) was a long process, says Deighton, but their second micro facility only took a few months. Both were costly retrofits, and the two partners had to raise significant funding on their own, as well as acquire loans through the local Community Futures groups that have helped them create several new jobs in the region.
Sweetgrass is also one of only a handful of growers who are certified organic. They are certified by the Fraser Valley Organic Producers Association.
By January 2021, the Sweetgrass team was ready to send in the application for the sales amendment for dried cannabis flower. The process took nearly 11 months, which they say was in part due to long delays in communications from Health Canada’s licensing division.
They finally got the sales licence in November 2021 which now gives the company more control over its product. Despite those delays, Deighton says he’s optimistic about the next steps and being able to now control more of their own sales and build their brand.
“It was a learning curve and took a bit longer than expected due to some issues with coordinating lab results, but I think it will be easier the next time around. Our first micro (site) took over a year but our second was only two months so I think once you know how to do it, the next time around will be easier.”
In order to get products to market before they had their own sales licence, Sweetgrass was wholesaling to a few other cannabis producers who were able to get their products in a handful of provinces, mostly in the Maritimes.
While this approach worked and they may still work with one of the processors to handle sales in eastern Canada, they are both eager to be able to really build their own brand by selling it all themselves.
“It’s been good, the B2B, but we’re definitely ready to take on more ourselves with the sales amendment,” says Deighton.
Consumers in BC and Ontario should be able to find their 3.5-gram offerings of Mint Chocolate Chip and Crunch Berries in the coming weeks, and they hope to have pre-rolls available in some provinces in early 2022.
Page says he’s happy to see more businesses like theirs being able to contribute to the local Kootenay economy which has relied on the cannabis industry for a long time.
“Being some of the first here in the Kootenays, I think a lot of people are going to follow our path and jump on board so we can have a little hub here (to) help the local economy,” he says. “The Kootenays are already very well known in the legacy market so we just have to create that in the legal market.”
Page also operates a restaurant in Nelson, and he says he sees a lot of similarities to the level of regulations he deals with in both the restaurant world and the cannabis world.
“I see a lot of positives for where we will be in about ten years,” he explains. “It hasn’t been easy, but if you compare it to other things like running a restaurant or having a liquor licence, this is just the nature of things.”
“But a healthier market would be one with more opportunities for craft growers and more assistance from the government to help transition and to….make sure consumers can buy our product.”
Deighton shares the cautious optimism.
“I’m pretty hopeful that it will come around but it has a long way to go. We really need to support more people, especially in the Kootenays, coming onto the micro scene to support community employment.”