This B.C. cannabis grower will battle illegal weed by driving down prices

A B.C. cannabis farmer is hoping to narrow the price gap between legal and illegal bud in B.C.’s cannabis market.

Marc Geen of the SpeakEasy Growers Collective near Rock Creek in the Kootenays said in a phone interview Wednesday (Aug. 19) that he expects to market cheaper and higher quality cannabis than his competitors in the underground economy once his farm gets fully licensed this fall.

Geen’s prediction comes eight months after a Statistics Canada report found that the average gram of illegally grown cannabis was selling in B.C. in 2019 for nearly one-third less than the same amount of government-licensed cannabis.

Geen is taking aim at his street rivals, relying on a strategy that’s centred more on the Collective’s passion for growing than on the farm’s business model.

Along with nearby Christina Lake Cannabis, Geen said SpeakEasy is “an OG,” or authentic, company in an industry that seldom rewards newcomers.

“Rather than being a toilet manufacturer figuring out how to grow weed, we’re a bunch of weed growers who figured out how to grow a company,” Geen said.

Geen also highlighted SpeakEasy’s economy of scale and efficiency. He expects that his farm will get its amended licence as early as October, allowing SpeakEasy to sell industrial harvests directly to provincial liquor boards across Canada. Conversely, Geen pointed out that illegal growers typically run small-scale operations sapped by unending payouts of what he called “shut up money” to production crews and nosy neighbours.

Clandestine grow-ops are easy prey to what Geen termed “professional rip-off artists,” thieves stalking the backcountry where unlicensed growers can’t call the police if their harvests are stolen. Meanwhile, Geen says his operation has the full support of Grand Forks RCMP, noting that SpeakEasy’s head of security is a former Mountie with nearly two decades on the force.

But legal growers like Geen have to contend with the slow-moving bureaucracy that makes them legitimate. Geen, who founded SpeakEasy, said the farm applied for their current licence in 2013. Health Canada approved their application in late 2019, granting SpeakEasy only limited access to the legal cannabis market.

Geen explained that the collective can sell to other licensed producers with the right to sell “flower” (the industry term for bud) to B.C.’s liquor board, which then sells the green to consumers. Geen is hopeful that B.C. will soon allow “farm gate selling,” which would allow operations like SpeakEasy’s to sell to visiting customers à-la B.C. wineries.

SpeakEasy employs 85 people in the Boundary area. The farm grows outdoor and hydroponic Cannabis, boasting an array of over 1,000 genetic strains of the plant.