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Victoria cannabis conference first in B.C. to allow sampling after change to regulations

B.C. changed its rules last month to allow licensed producers to provide samples for retailers to try.
From left, Sandeep Sundher, co-owner, and Marshall Anselmo, in quality assurance, of Cowichan Valley-based micro cultivator Nature’s Gates, at the Grow Up Conference & Expo. TIMES COLONIST

Cannabis convention attendees in Victoria could freely sample the goods on display for the first time in B.C. after the province changed its rules last month to allow for licensed producers to provide samples for retailers.

On Monday, smoke curled out of a fenced-off area in the Victoria Conference Centre’s courtyard, set aside for that purpose at the Grow Up Conference & Expo, the first cannabis industry event to take advantage of the new regulations.

Randy Rowe, president of the Grow Up Conference & Expo, said it’s a major move for the B.C. cannabis industry. “Imagine if you’ve got a product and you can’t show it to somebody, or they have to buy it to see if they like it — that’s a huge disadvantage.”

But with the new regulations around sampling for retailers, licensed cannabis producers can now make better sales pitches, he said.

Cannabis stores are not allowed to provide samples to customers in B.C. But the trickle-down effects from fewer barriers between producers and retailers could mean better offerings, Rowe said.

It’s something that Rowe is keen to facilitate. The industry got a boost for years when Canada looked like it was set to legalize the production and sale of cannabis. “It was kind of like a gold rush,” he said. Legalization came in 2018

While the COVID-19 pandemic took the wind out industry events, cannabis consumption remained steady. According to 2022 StatsCan data, annual sales of legal non-medical cannabis totalled around $4 billion in Canada.

Cannabis industry events have yet to recover to their pre-pandemic heights, but still play an important role, he said.

A cannabis grower might need two weeks to visit every cannabis retailer on Vancouver Island if there weren’t industry events such as Grow Up to bring the two parties together, Rowe said. “It’s a very personable industry. You need to be out and talking to people.”

The camaraderie was evident on the convention floor, where 50 vendors and the approximately 1,000 attendees mingled during the three-day conference.

While greeting old friends, Marshall Anselmo, of Nature’s Gate, a micro cannabis grower based in the Cowichan Valley, told the Times Colonist that he’s optimistic about the industry.

“Europe is opening up. Australia has a market. There’s lots of opportunity,” he said, adding that Islanders also appreciate consuming local product. “There’s a long history here on Vancouver Island of great producers and great genetics, so hence why this conference is here.”

Violet Wild Cannabis Co., based in Chemainus, was recognized as independent retailer of the year by Grow Up on Sunday.

Co-owner Terra Maibach said that it’s because her store focuses on direct deliveries, good customer service, and highlights local craft growers. “Clients are going that way with their buying trends.”

Maibach said that she likes to source from B.C. and points to Sooke, Salt Spring Island and Texada Island as the major local cannabis producing areas.

The biggest challenge is dealing with the high excise taxes and keeping up with the ever-changing regulations, she said.

Maibach points to the new sampling regulations as an example. “It’s a lot of paperwork, a lot of tracking, a nominal fee that’s not specified.”

“We have been doing sampling since the beginning of time,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be refigured out.”

The conference made nods to cannabis production and consumption in Canada before it was legalized.

Tommy Chong, 85, of comedy duo Cheech and Chong fame, was a main speaker at the event.

Ted Smith, founder of the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club, Canada’s oldest unlicensed compassion club, received a lifetime achievement award for his longtime advocacy of cannabis use.

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