There are trails for wine and ale, so why not for cannabis?

Published on May 12, 2023 by David Wylie

Photo: Mark Brett/the oz.
Jack Kushniruk of London, England, toasts during a cannabis tour stop at the District Wine Village near Oliver in this 2022 file photo.

There are districts for beer, wine, and spirits… so why aren’t there any ‘Bud Districts’?

The largest city in the Okanagan Valley, Kelowna, BC, draws tourists from all over the world with its vineyards and wineries.

However, the City of Kelowna says planning for any kind of cannabis corridor—such as Kelowna’s ale or wine trails—isn’t on their radar at all.

That’s a shame says cannabis lobbyist Nathan Mison, president of Diplomat Consulting.

“The Okanagan is probably positioned to be one of the leaders in bringing BC bud to the world and inviting the world to see micro-producers with micro-restaurants in front of them,” says Mison, president of Diplomat Consulting.

Yet, Kelowna is an example of the problem plaguing BC, he argues, specifically that municipal involvement is overrepresented in cannabis. As one of the Fire & Flower founders, Mison says he has personally experienced the difficulties of the city’s process around rezoning for a store.

“If it doesn’t move municipally, it doesn’t move,” he says.

“BC is probably going to move fastest provincially and slowest municipally. That is not what people want to see.”

“Considering 27% of worldwide travellers want a cannabis experience when they travel, why can’t Canada build the only federally regulated environment in the world? Come have a food and drink experience, a coffee shop experience. Kelowna would be really well suited to that. You guys have done so well in the Okanagan on the wine experience, why can’t you have cannabis cellar doors in the same way you do wine cellar doors where you have local food, local products, local chefs cooking local cannabis that can only be eaten at that restaurant at that production facility?” — Nathan Mison

Nearly five years into legalization, BC’s Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth has been talking about revising provincial regulations for retail, farmgate, and public consumption.

“But you haven’t seen municipalities start talking about the new way cannabis regulations should be for cannabis retail, cannabis production, and cannabis tourism and hospitality, including these districts that you’re talking about,” says Mison.

Canada is on the precipice of losing the advantage of a big head start in cannabis tourism, he says.

Cannabis ‘not a significant lure’ for tourism

Tourism Kelowna has been supportive of the cannabis industry.

The organization’s president and CEO, Lisanne Ballantyne, has spoken two years in a row at the BC Cannabis Summit.

She says cannabis tourism is an emerging industry—but not a big one yet.

“Although currently not a significant lure for leisure travel, cannabis does provide excellent business travel, meetings and conference opportunities when you consider it as part of our agriculture and manufacturing sectors,” Ballantyne told the oz.

“A growing and thriving cannabis industry attracts business travellers and business investment.”

Opportunity for Indigenous businesses

The tangle of red zoning tape and mish-mash of municipal bylaws could open up opportunities for a variety of cannabis-based businesses to conglomerate in Indigenous communities and attract tourism as municipalities drag their feet.

Cory Brewer, who is Syilx, says wine districts and trails are great models to follow.

“Yes, there are talks of this type of initiative in the near future,” he tells the oz.

Owner of Timixw Wellness, Brewer was the first person to receive a cannabis business license from the Okanagan Indian Band (OKIB).

He also sees hemp farms as part of a sustainable future.

“Some of the plans also include the potentials of hemp as a tool for carbon sequestration and carbon storage as a big factor going forward,” he says. “There seems to be great progressive movement in the industry.”

Cannabis advocates’ job to convince councils

From Mison’s perspective, cannabis advocates have a responsibility to speak to municipal staff and council about opportunities in cannabis for economic diversification.

“Good information creates good outcomes, especially in the face of ignorance,” says Mison, who is also a board member of Grow Up Conference and Expo.

He also acknowledged municipalities have a lot of responsibility in cannabis but the least amount of money. It’s low on the municipalities’ long list of priorities.

The consultant has been focusing his own efforts on the City of Edmonton, which he predicts will be the first municipality in Canada to license a legal consumption space. He says he expects that to happen within a year.

Why Edmonton? Mison says Edmonton is doing a comprehensive bylaw renewal for the first time since 1959, focus on licensing and zoning. That opened up an opportunity to advocate for cannabis-specific licences, he says.