After 13 hours of gruelling travel from downtown Vancouver, I stood in a thickly matted forest at 1,100 metres above sea level, under the beating sun examining soil pots nearly reclaimed by regeneration of second growth Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedars. Spread across rugged acreages lay the now empty industrial hoses, sagging plywood and other garbage which watered an intricate system of illegally grown cannabis plants busted years ago.

This is the garbage left behind from the grow.

I'm deep in the Kootenays surrounded by immense mountain ranges – I'm out of cell phone range, far away from electricity and indoor plumbing - this is Canada's equivalent to California's Humboldt County's third contribution in the Emerald Triangle. And, I'm experiencing only a small taste of what black market cultivators endure in order to cultivate cannabis.

The hidden gem of the Southeastern region of British Columbia is Nelson, a culturally rich and isolated town in the Selkirk Mountains with historical significance. Gold and silver were found in the area in 1867 and the town quickly boomed. By the 1900s, Nelson boasted several luxury hotels, a Hudson's Bay store, steam powered paddle wheelers and electric streetcars. The local forestry and mining industries were providing viable incomes for the town's people. The community comprised of English immigrants, Chinese, Doukhobors from Russia, Quakers and eventually American draft dodgers.

In the early 1980s, Nelson suffered a devastating economic downturn when the local Kootenay Forest Products sawmill closed (550 jobs lost), transfer of provincial government staff (300 jobs lost), reduction of staff by major employers like CPR and BC Tel (160 jobs lost), followed by the closing of the David Thompson University in 1984 which was a significant component of the community's economic base. After more than one hundred years of thriving in tough mountainous conditions, Nelson was on the brink of being another mining ghost town after a significant portion of the population lost their jobs.

Except people who live in the Kootenays are survivors who know how to thrive in challenging conditions, and most importantly, they value community above all else.

Instead of drying up, Nelson flourished.  The Kootenay's cannabis, quietly cultivated by locals, offers employment opportunities which feeds cash into the whole community including restaurants, farmers, artists, trades and athletes who choose Nelson as home to raise their children.  The Kootenays are the ideal advertisement for: it takes a village to raise a child.

Growing Exposed is a new video series produced by Jeremy Deichen. Coined “the MTV Cribs of the cannabis industry” the show is led by host Amanda Mackay.

The farmers of Kootenay's cannabis are people who live solitude lives in the mountains, several kilometres from bus stops on mountainous curving and steep roads. These are not people who feel a kinship to the federal government, Ottawa, Bay Street, lawyers or investors. They don't speak the regulatory or raising capital lingo; nor, do they wish to. They've been living on the outskirts of legal society for so long, that it's not easy to comply with and trust government regulations after being prosecuted and shamed for decades.

Two weeks after my Nelson experience, I gathered with a group of executives and influencers each with a security badge, hair net, beard net when necessary, shoe covers and lab coat without our trusted cell phones as all recording devices were prohibited.  We were on a professionally guided tour of 1,000,000sqft of greenhouses with automation of the cultivation of cannabis from seeds and cuts to flowering plants through the trimming and drying process to storage in the ‘Vault’… a high security above ground cement bunker in a greenhouse with 2 feet cleared on all sides for security to walk the exterior.  This is the pharmaceutical future of big money cannabis – this License Producer has a market cap of $571.38 million and is one of Canada’s top 10 cannabis companies.

Emerald Health partnered with Village Farms for greenhouse facilities seen with tomato plants.  The author has visited these facilities after they transitioned to cannabis.

Even though the cannabis community of the Kootenays is established as one of the best places in North America for high quality terpene rich flower sticky with trichromes, it’s now being threatened by the legalization of recreational cannabis and these massive facilities.

Canada's cannabis cultivators making headlines are the multi-million dollar deals and high valuations of corporate structured businesses featuring executive teams and board members from the mining, tech, finance and pharmaceutical industries. I've met many who don't even consume cannabis, they're simply in the industry to make big money fast.

Except, these brands with large capital are building world class facilities creating employment and investing in the science of the plant with the ability to support key opinion leaders and educational programs supporting Canadians in understanding the science of the plant and best safety consumption practices.  Emerald Health views scientific cannabis education as a key factor to destigmatizing the plant and they've launched #DiscussCannabis.

Simply put, each cultivator in the Canadian cannabis industry has value.  This plant can benefit all Canadians.  Each cannabis brand carries select strains, with diverse goals and varied end-consumers.  Instead of making others wrong for being different, let’s support each other, we’re at a point in the process of legalization where we need to collaborate to achieve the common goal of normalizing cannabis consumption.

The cannabis community needs the craft cultivators who create premium Triple A quality cannabis which will be the Glenfiddich of the consumption experience with the larger companies producing lower grade and more affordable products with the opportunity for pharmaceutical designed pills we can take to target specific ailments like a simple headache or menstrual cramps.

It’s important to support British Columbia's illicit/black/grey/off-white/under-regulated/pre-regulated/craft cannabis industry as they cultivate the highest quality flower and they’re an industry which brought towns back from near decimation and supported them to be thriving communities where children live growing up to be successful people giving back to the local economy.

It's time for the federal government to recognize the amazing contribution these cultivators have made by correcting the historical wrongs caused by cannabis criminalization by enacting legislation to delete records relating to minor cannabis convictions.

Let's support these towns by setting up local government offices where the black market can be supported in transitioning to the legal market with navigation and financial support to weather the Health Canada licensing process without threat of legal prosecution for activities once deemed criminal.

Let's show gratitude for these cultivators and bring their craft cannabis to Canadian homes and let's enrich this new industry with diversity so we can uphold the Canadian value of production, distribution and exchange being owned or regulated by the community as a whole.

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© 2019 by Unity Marguerite Whittaker.