In the past few days I have spoken to several women cannabis industry members to address how policy makers can help women and minorities retain their existing share of the cannabis industry in Canada. Based on the information collected, the biggest obstacle women face in retaining their share in the edible market is the costs of licensing and application fees, followed by the exclusionary practice of forcing businesses to close indefinitely until licensed, as well as obstacles with packaging and dosing that leave industry members and cannabis consumers at a loss.

The regulations for legal cannabis in Canada favour the wealthy and privileged who are capable of jumping through endless bureaucratic hoops and the endless costs of licensing a cannabis business. These costly requirements set up obstacles to participation that few small business owners could ever hope to achieve.

When we take into consideration the systemic barriers women and minorities face in the world generally, how can we expect minority-lead edible businesses to compete when the regulations are written against them from the outset?

A method of retaining women’s current market share of the edible industry would be to develop a system that boosts women and minorities’ access to the legal edible market. The women I interviewed maintain that the government ought to be developing grants for small female led businesses, or loans with little to no interest to help cover the application and licensing costs in the initial stages. The interviewees suggested developing free programs that assist small business entrepreneurs to navigate the technicalities of the licensing process. You shouldn’t have to have a Masters in Business and a Chief Compliance Officer to participate in the legal cannabis market.

Photographed by Rick Collins is an editorial documentary photographer based in Victoria-Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Because the hefty expectations of the government have yet to be publicized, women who currently own edible businesses do not have the resources to prepare for the legalization of edibles. If these documents were released, most of these women wouldn’t be able to participate due to the financial obstacles mentioned above. In the legal recreational market, it is currently expected of black market participants to shut down their operations and to clear their illegal inventory to be considered for a license. These businesses have to maintain their retail locations and hemorrhage money on rent and application fees while waiting indefinitely for government to grace them with a license.

If we are to make sure that women retain their share of the edible market that they have worked and sacrificed for, telling them to shut down their income stream for an indefinite amount of time cannot be apart of the strategy proposed by government. This approach is leaving business owners, patients, and recreational consumers at a loss for high quality medicine. To retain women’s current market share, there must be legal pathways for edible makers to continue running their successful businesses until a license has been achieved. A special licensing procedure for experienced artisans, or other programs that create pathways to licensing would also have significant impact.

My last point relates to product dosing and packaging. One interviewee leads a small company that has created an award winning chocolate bar that is dosed at 375mg or 750mg of THC. This small team of women developed a high quality and consistent product and spent thousands of dollars on their brand and packaging. Regretably, edibles are likely to be regulated to a maximum dose of 10mg of THC per unit and sold in white plain packaging with no branding whatsoever. Therefore, all the costs allocated to brand recognition, the award winning recipe, and the trust of patients and consumers in this company will be lost to the current legalization scheme if they were to apply for a license.

Moreover, if 10 mg THC maximums are going to be the legal limit and the requirements to make those edibles are going to be astronomically difficult and expensive, then the cannabis industry will be legislated in a way that rewards the wealthy instead of those with the best product. The products that will hit the market in this scheme will not be award winning recipes developed by people who love this medicine. Instead, it will be mass produced, low quality, overly packaged and low dose edibles offered to consumers who deserve better, and, patients that require high quality cannabis medicine.

This action, to license the wealthy rather than the deserving, leaves patients and recreational consumers on the losing end of a bad trade policy while simultaneously pushing out small business owners who deserve a place in the legal market. The edible products made by women currently thriving in the underground market are meeting patients needs and deserve a chance to participate in the free market without the unjust weights of inequitable government regulations pulling them down.

Photographed by Rick Collins is an editorial documentary photographer based in Victoria-Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.