Small-batch bud growers hope to eke out share of cannabis market

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Rod Wilson planned to spend his golden years growing lavender and Christmas trees when he bought a five-acre farm outside Moncton a few years ago, but the call of a new niche industry proved too strong.

With a group of investors he also calls friends, Wilson is hoping to get in on the ground floor as a grower of small-batch, high-quality cannabis.

"How often in your career do you get a chance to potentially participate in something that's brand new, ground floor?" he asked.

"I thought it would be an interesting idea to be one of those pioneers."

Rod Wilson says the number one rule for micro-cultivators will be 'Grow a quality product.'

Two years into his retirement from the pharmaceutical industry, Wilson has already built a growing shed. There are no plants in sight, but Wilson does have a plan.

May Nazair, head of marketing and communications with Zenabis, says micro-cultivated cannabis is for 'experienced smokers.'

"A micro-cultivators, number one rule will be grow a quality product."

With that in mind, he wants to start small and, and build more growing sheds when and if there is a demand.

But even these humble beginnings don't come cheap.

Wilson has thousands of dollars in LED lights, an air-handling unit and walls lined with Mylar, a strong polyester film. He estimated he has invested $500,000.

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And the next step is to send in his application to Health Canada.

Micro-cultivators still have to adhere to strict quality assurance, security and safety regulations.

As of January, Health Canada has received 83 applications. It's approved one. But some people already working in the industry are banking on that number rising.

May Nazair, head of marketing and communications with Zenabis, said the company is looking to join forces with small-scale producers.

Zenabis is looking to join forces with small-scale producers. It already has a large-scale growing facility in Atholville, but the company says cannabis grown by micro-cultivators will offer a different kind product.

Zenabis already has a large-scale growing facility in Atholville, but Nazair said cannabis grown by micro-cultivators will offer a different kind product to customers.

'It's for experienced smokers, or users of cannabis to have access to this high-quality bud, high-quality strain and different strains. I think there's a lot of advantages to that."

Nazair said it's comparable to "buying a Bud Light versus a micro brew," in that different tastes appeal to different people.

And the price will reflect the extra care expected with small-batch production.

"Naturally, it is a much higher-quality product, a rare unique product as well, that isn't always going to be available … for that reason it probably will have a higher price point."

According to Nazair, Zenabis has signed a contract with one mirco-cultivator in B.C. and hopes to have 20 contracts signed by the end of the year.

As more licences are awarded, Rod Wilson wants to be ready.

He's looking for other interested people to help him form a group, which he plans to call it the New Brunswick Craft Cannabis Growers Association. Wilson hopes the group would "speak with one voice" to the government and regulators.

"There's a lot of those New Brunswickers that have five acres,10 acres, maybe a family farm, and I think the micro-cultivation cannabis industry could be another source of revenue to help keep that family farm viable and sustainable."

Wilson says he can imagine an entire tourist industry built around bud, where New Brunswick is to cannabis as Napa Valley is to wine.

Wilson gathered a group of friends together to get the business off the ground, and he thinks it's a model others should use.

"There's a lot people who fully understand how to grow cannabis and the cycle of cannabis cultivation, but they lack the financing to be able to buy these things, like $4,000 worth of LED lights."

If he allows himself to dream, Wilson said, he pictures an entire tourist industry built around bud, where New Brunswick is to cannabis as Napa Valley is to wine.

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