A new cannabis shop will soon be open in Witset, possibly followed within a year by a cultivation plant.
According to Kyah Development Corporation (KDC) CEO Trevor Morrison, Witset chief and council had already started talking about getting into the burgeoning cannabis business prior to bringing him on board in September.
Through his connections with other First Nations bands in southern B.C., Morrison was able to introduce council to the Indigenous Bloom people. Indigenous Bloom is a cooperative of First Nations and Indigenous peoples involved in the cultivation and retailing of medicinal and recreational hemp and cannabis products.
“The neat thing about it is, it’s one of the first cannabis stores that is owned and operated by a First Nation on reserve in northern B.C.,” he said adding it will observe safety standards above and beyond those imposed by Health Canada.
The company currently has partnerships with six bands including the Williams Lake Indian Band and has seven retail locations.
The Witset store, which Morrison expects to be open in three weeks, will be the first in the Northwest.
Plans are also underway to convert the Kyahwood Forest Products sawmill, which was permanently closed May 1, into a cultivation facility.
Morrison said the advantage of partnering with Indigenous Bloom is that they won’t have to deal with licensing issues because the company already holds a valid cultivation licence.
“That probably won’t delay anything, it’s just a matter of rezoning on the reserve,” he said, but added it will take some time to dismantle the current equipment and refurbish the mill, which could take up to a year.
In addition to the new cannabis shop, economic development is generally starting to ramp up in Witset.
Following approximately two years of inactivity for the KDC due to a lack of CEO, Morrison, who was originally hired as senior general manager for economic development for Witset, revived the corporation and has since settled in as CEO. He will soon be hiring some staff to beef up the organization.
Currently, KDC has a number of partnerships pursuing opportunities with Coastal GasLink including security, medical services, pipeline construction, land clearing and road-building companies.
Also on the near horizon is some restructuring at the gas bar to expand that business, Morrison said.
The long-term vision, he said, is to turn Witset into a self-sustaining community, partially driven by the current COVID-19 pandemic, which he said has changed their way of thinking.
“That’s what the community wants,” Morrison explained. “They want the businesses here, so we don’t have to leave here. They want the grocery store, they want the bank, they want the insurance company.”
There is even talk of building a drive-in movie theatre to enhance entertainment opportunities in the community.
“I don’t think it’s too profitable, but it’s a social enterprise,” Morrison said.
Morrison brings 30 years of economic development and business management experience to the position.
He is a graduate of the Harvard Business School Executive Program and is currently completing an MBA from Cape Breton University.
He is a member of the Gitxsan Nation, previously a Gitanmaax band councillor and holds the hereditary title of Gaxinim Looxw as a wing chief of the house of Niisto.