Mr. Speaker, last November I asked the government what it would do to support the small-scale outdoor farmers who are producing cannabis for recreational use.
Increasingly we see large corporations quickly taking the lead in getting licences to produce marijuana, companies like Tweed Main Street, founded by Liberal Party CFO Chuck Rifici; National Green BioMed, whose chairman is former Liberal cabinet minister Herb Dhaliwal; and Hydropothecary Corporation, whose VP used to be the Liberal health minister in B.C. They are all quickly expanding to meet the government's timetable. At the same time, new producers and small producers, like people in my riding, are being locked out.
Last week I met with Lesli-Ann Lancaster, the owner of Kootenay Marijuana Company, a new company in my riding of Kootenay—Columbia, who wants to produce marijuana for medicinal and recreational use. Lesli-Ann wants to run a legal, above-board company and is trying to raise the capital required for the licensing process.
The licensing process is lengthy and expensive and requires that the facility be developed as the licensing progresses. This means that companies need to have their capital in place before they can become fully licensed. Lesli-Ann went to the Bank of Montreal to open an account so she could start raising the capital needed for the licensing and development process. Guess what? The bank informed her, and I quote, “We need an approval from Health Canada before we can set up an account. I'm aware that you can't get the approval yet due to Health Canada's capital constraints, and this really puts you between a rock and a hard place.”
Let us go over that again. Lesli-Ann cannot get a licence because she does not have enough capital, and she cannot raise capital until she has a licence. That is pretty much the classic definition of a catch-22. I should mention that Lesli-Ann is a business consultant and bookkeeper and counts a number of potential marijuana farmers among her clients. She told me that many of them are enduring similar frustrations.
At the same time Lesli-Ann is struggling to overcome seemingly impossible federal government restrictions, a number of small marijuana growers in my riding of Kootenay—Columbia have banded together to form a co-op. They wrote me this week asking that I share their concerns with the Prime Minister. Their concern is that new licences will not be available until Canada's legalization becomes law. However, outdoor producers will miss the May 1 planting deadline and will not have any product for sale until November 2019, a full 16 months after legalization.
It is uncertain if the government will even license the outdoor production of cannabis. This government talks about the importance of legal production, but it is doing everything possible to prevent small rural producers from working within the law. These are businesses that want to operate within the law. They want full accountability, appropriate licensing, and to be part of Canada's new legal marijuana regime. However, they are being prevented at every turn while big pot corners the market. This is truly an example of the inequality that is pervasive in Canada. The wealthy get richer; working class people and small businesses get left behind.
When will the government take action to help small marijuana farms and outdoor growers instead of continuing to push them back into the shadows? They are not going away, and neither am I.