Currently, cannabis producers in Canada have to follow strict guidelines on how they can grow their crops, which includes the use of indoor cultivation facilities. Now the government has announced that they will be allowing producers to grow cannabis outside, lowering the barriers for entry into the cannabis market.
Growing cannabis indoors in expensive. It often requires many pieces of high-tech equipment, tight security and massive energy consumption. But on the plus side, it allows for high control over the quality and safety of the finished product, which is crucial when serving patients whose immune systems and overall well-being have been compromised by debilitating conditions.
Many licensed cannabis producers have argued that opening up outdoor cultivation will lead to theft, and product being diverted to the black market. As such, the lobbying group the Cannabis Canada Council has stated they don't think allowing outdoor cultivation is a good idea.
"We believe large-scale outdoor commercial cultivation should be disallowed," said the council.
The federal government however has argued that opening up outdoor cultivation will improve competition in the cannabis market, and will continue to be highly regulated.
"Our decision to allow outdoor grow under strict rules is the result of extensive consultations and will contribute to creating a diverse and competitive legal cannabis industry with the ultimate goal of displacing the illegal market," Thievery Blair, a spokesman for Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor told the Globe and Mail.
Deepak Anand, vice-president of consultancy firm Cannabis Compliance says he doesn't think people should be too concerned about the potential for theft. He says security regulations aren't likely to be any different than the ones currently in place for indoor operations.
"I don't think you will be able to walk up to a facility and actually touch the plants. I think there will be a lot of security requirements," he said.
Some producers have already begun planning for outdoor operations. Eric Paul says his company CannTrust Holdings hopes to be ready for outdoor growth next year. He says this will amount to big savings for his company, with cannabis grown outside costing around 25 cents per gram, versus the $2 per gram it costs to grow cannabis in a warehouse setting.
Others, such as Dan Sutton, who owns cannabis producer Tantalus Labs, says cannabis grown outside has a much smaller environmental footprint, and will likely take over the low-quality cannabis market once it begins.
"Outdoor definitely deserves to be part of the production mix in Canada. It's the most environmentally sustainable way to cultivate cannabis," he said. "Outdoor cannabis has a far lower cost of entry than building greenhouses and it can certainly cannibalize that mid- to low-quality product that is being produced right now."
This is one of the major tradeoffs of outdoor cultivation: The cost savings in energy expenditure are usually countered by lower-quality production. There is also likely to be more pesticides used in outdoor cultivation, and preventing things like mold and mildew can become difficult.