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By David Brown
A new option for sourcing legal starting materials for home cannabis growers in BC could be available soon in the form of cannabis seeds, says one cannabis nursery licence holder in BC, as well as a spokesperson for the BC LDB.
Geoff White, the owner of ProgenyBio Agricultural Services Inc. in Penticton, BC says he has been working with the province of BC's Liquor Distribution Branch (LDB) to get seeds from his cannabis nursery (under the brand erbaceous) available for sale to British Columbians potentially as early as this month.
The BC LDB is the sole wholesale distributor of non-medical cannabis for the province and also operates their own standalone, public retail stores and supplies products for the BC Cannabis online store.
The first batch of cannabis seeds to be available, says White, will be something they are calling Kilimanjaro (Stylized as: “K 1 L I M A N J A R O”), with parentage from a Nigerian landrace, which he says features THC-V, CBG and CBC, among other cannabinoids, coming in around 12% THC.
This will be only the second company yet to offer seeds for the legal home cultivator market in Canada, the first being Tweed Inc, who has had two varieties of seeds for sale in BC and other provinces since as early as Oct 2018. One other company, Eve & Co, has been offering clones for sale via Newfoundland and Labrador's online store.
While the federal Cannabis Act allows for Canadians to grow up to four cannabis plants at home (with the potential for other provincial restrictions), this limited number of legal options — not only in brand but in variety — has meant many are forced to continue to access seeds through other channels.
White’s Okanagan valley nursery has been licensed by Health Canada since November 2019, one of only five cannabis nurseries currently licensed, and had previously operated in some capacity under what used to be called a Dealer's Licence as early as 2015. He originally moved to the Okanagan in the early 2000’s for his own PhD work, eventually starting ProgenyBio and working to help provide molecular virus testing for wineries, before eventually moving into the field of cannabis research and analytical testing.
A Dealer's Licence used to be what was required by the federal regulator to produce, gather or cultivate cannabis for scientific purposes. After passage of the Cannabis Act, these licence holders were migrated to the new Analytical Testing licence category, of which there are currently 99 listed publicly. Health Canada says there are 105 active licences currently.
Under federal regulations, a cannabis nursery is allowed to produce and distribute cannabis plants and cannabis plant seeds both to other commercial cannabis growers, as well as through the various provincial consumer supply channels. While seed production under a Nursery licence is limited to 50 sq m (~538 sq ft), there is no limit on space for non-flowering clones or other aspects of cannabis research or propagation such as tissue culture.
This five-year history in the regulated cannabis space in Canada has allowed ProgenyBio to transition to a nursery very efficiently, says White, allowing the company access to a wide array of cannabis genetics they could migrate in under their Nursery license, while also doing so at a very low cost due to their existing infrastructure as a research facility.
“I didn’t hire any consultants, I didn’t hire anyone else. I did every little step myself on my own. I spent about $6k for security clearance and application fees, not the $1.5 million or more some people say.”
This is, of course, in addition to his existing infrastructure as an established research facility.
White says ProgenyBio’s licensed facility is about 2,500 sq ft, with 1,350 sq ft of processing area and 500 sq ft of production area separated into four isolated rooms. About half is dedicated to tissue culture, while the other half is for seed development and cultivar development. The actual seed production space, says White, is about 200 sq ft, where he says they can produce about 200-500 seeds per sq ft.
This means that White sees himself able to offer many more varieties of seeds for the home cultivation market in the future, although he wants to take things one step at a time. This relationship with the BC LDB is the first step, then says he hopes to begin exploring those possibilities with other provinces. As the demand grows, White intends to scale up production of their erbaceous cannabis seed by partnering with micro producers.
While other cannabis nurseries have been focussing on research or on B2B sales, ProgyenyBio will focus on the consumer market.
Despite his own relatively low cost to becoming licensed, White says there are still real challenges in this space for those looking to get involved, especially for those with a lack of experience in a highly regulated market, as well as potentially unrealistic expectations for how to get their product to market.
Dealing with provinces as well as the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) has been a learning curve for all parties involved, says White, but he sees things improving:
“It is a real challenge. The cost associated with engaging with different provinces, with the CRA, etc. It’s a challenge and an opportunity. It’s a Catch 22 to stay small and not over-leverage, to be careful with how many provinces we take on while also needing to be financially sustainable over the long term.”
One example White gives is that the CRA treats cannabis seeds differently than other types of seeds, which otherwise wouldn’t be required to have a CRA stamp. And the extra logistics required with just those tax stamps can be another challenge for smaller businesses, from obtaining them to obtaining the adhesive necessary to affix them to packaging. Overall, White says he sees that these agencies are learning as they go when it comes to how to manage this new legal product.
As far as this new offering through the BC LDB, White says they were excited by the opportunity to work with them and to supply seeds to British Columbians. The process of engaging with the province began about a month ago, he says, and quickly moved forward.
“They were extremely eager. Normally how the system works is they have vendor on-boarding and there's a vetting process and the vetting would require a weekly team meeting and that weekly meeting is every Thursday. We contacted them on a Tuesday, they called me back within an hour saying ‘we want it’”.
A spokesperson for the BC LDB, Viviana Zanocco, Manager, Corporate Communications confirms the agency is currently working with White’s company and their new product will be made available in the future through retail outlets in BC, although says there is no confirmed date when these will be available.
“Our Cannabis Operations team is in the process of registering ProgenyBio as a vendor, and is in the process of registering their product which will be made available to wholesale customers. These customers include private cannabis retailers and our BC Cannabis Stores. It is up to the retailers whether they carry products offered by our Wholesale division. There is no date of estimated delivery at our end, so no telling when our Wholesale customers might order product or have it in their stores”.
About David Brown
David Brown has been working in the Canadian cannabis industry since 2012—following, reporting and advising on the evolving cannabis landscape in Canada and abroad. With his in-depth knowledge, extensive research, and industry connections, David brings his passion for accuracy and advocacy to all his work in the cannabis industry. Most recently, David served as a Senior Policy Advisor with Health Canada's Cannabis and legalization branch