By John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The West Kootenay’s cannabis industry quietly reached an important milestone last month.
Antidote Processors Inc., a grower-owned processing facility at Playmor Junction, delivered its first shipment of locally grown and processed cannabis to its first local retail outlet customer on May 16.
“It’s a big day, for us, for our legacy growers, and for our industry,” says Shannon Ross, chief executive officer of Antidote Processing. “It’s the realization of a lot of people’s dreams.”
The delivery to a Castlegar retail store of two dozen 3.5-gram packages of ‘Jellysickle,’ grown by Kootenay’s Finest Craft Cannabis, is the result of years of hard work by legacy growers, entrepreneurs, and investors in the region’s once-illegal prime export industry.
The delivery completes the circle of legal production locally, with licenced West Kootenay growers delivering their bud to Antidote’s processing facility at Playmor Junction, where it is processed to government standards for legal sale.
“It’s so normal”
On the day of Antidote’s first retail delivery, the company saw another first — the first shipment to the processing plant from Kootenay Quantum, a Winlaw-based grower.
“It’s awesome, just getting the paperwork all lined up, putting it my car and driving it down the road is really amazing,” said Mike Corbiell, as he dropped off 23 kilos of cannabis flower, `Dark Matter,’ packed in official-looking black zip-lock bags. “It’s very surreal. It’s so normal. I keep laughing about it.”
Kootenay Quantum is the third of four indoor growers that form the initial group of Antidote’s suppliers — one was added to production every week in the last month. By the end of the year, that will mean about 80-160 kilos of flower delivered to the facility each month.
Two more producers are now being supported by Antidote in the licencing process, and they are expected to join the supply chain later this year. Outdoor growers will be added to the mix when the company is able to process lower-grade bud into oils, hash, vape products, and edibles.
The staggered growth gives the company time to settle its systems and carefully ramp up production, says Ross.
“We are going to scale up slowly and grow slowly because we’re very dedicated to the craft growers,” says the CEO. “We want to make sure it’s selling and everything is quality and if we have to grow slower to keep that quality, that’s what we’ll do.”
Right now, Antidote has a staff of 12, and only processes raw bud into retail-sized packages. But equipment for making hash, pre-rolled joints, vape cartridges and edibles is expected to arrive soon, and Antidote will hire more people as they grow in capability and quantity. Their target is a 30-day turnaround from harvest to retail, ensuring fresh product on shelves.
Ross says there’s no shortage of interested craft growers to supply product.
“Right now, we’re not working with anyone outside the Kootenays. We have a wait list of people asking for us to process for them,” she says.
Coming from the old-school Kootenay weed culture, and living the values of quality and care for the product is paying off for Antidote, Ross says.
“As all these big players are closing their doors and crumbling, but we have the culture, the ethos and energy of legacy growers. That is well known — it’s the Kootenay way to care for the quality of the product and the craft of growing it.”
A lot of hard work and focus got Antidote to this point, she says _ and a laser-focus on the needs of the legacy industry.
“Our mission is to be completely dedicated to the success of small-craft farmers,” says Ross. “When we are in a situation where we have to make a decision, that’s what we go back to. We’re here for the farmers — and you don’t hear that much in other businesses in the industry.”
“Good for all of us”
Meanwhile, Kootenay Cannabis store owner Heather Fancy, the recipient of Antidote’s first shipment (along with a dozen yellow roses as a thank you to mark the occasion) said she expected the local product to sell quickly.
“We already know how we are going to sell it, how we’re going to market it,” she says. “We’re really proud to be involved.”
Fancy says there’s still some stigma surrounding cannabis production and sales, and she’s working to change that. Having a local processor helps in that effort.
“To be a part of something happening right in our neighbourhood is really important. It is important, and it’s good for all of us,” she says. “Look at the families this industry supports, the employees here in this building, in our retail stores.”
She enthusiastically holds up the two boxes of Jellysickle destined for her store.
“We’re just so excited to be able to support local and enjoy local,” she says. “And you just know one of those jars is going home with me.”