From Writing Code To Cultivating Cannabis

"I wear many hats, but thoroughly enjoy getting my hands dirty and taking care of the plants."


I’m sure each of us has heard our fair share of stories of cannabis companies raising millions of dollars in venture capital only to burn through all of their investor’s cash.

Well, the start of this story is no different; its ending is what makes it unique.

In 2017, Earl Oliver had invested over $300,000 CAD into cannabis producer Vodis Pharmaceuticals ahead of Canada legalizing cannabis for adult use purposes. After many months of the company’s management failing to secure a health Canada license, Earl decided that enough was enough.

With the support of the company’s investors, Earl unofficially took the reins of the company, packed up his life, and moved to Delta, B.C., where he began doing whatever was necessary to save the company from going bankrupt.

Earl and his team were in a fight to keep the company alive, and on January 31, 2020, over two-and-a-half years later, they received their cultivation & processing licenses from Health Canada.

Today, Gnomestar Craft Cannabis is producing some of the most highly sought-after cannabis on the Canadian market, selling out in B.C. in a matter of hours.

Earl Oliver is the former CTO for technology startup VoteBlast and is currently the Chief Executive Officer for Gnomestar Craft Cannabis located in Delta, B.C.

For anyone who may be interested in becoming a craft cannabis producer, what advice would you offer based on your own experiences to date?

Pinch every penny, and do as much of the licensing work as you possibly can.

I talk to a lot of micro license applicants who find me on Twitter. They’ve all got a horror story about some licensing consulting company who has charged them a fortune and delivered little. 

Cannabis is a highly regulated industry, and small craft producers, in particular, can’t be spending large sums of money on consultants in perpetuity. They need to be able to navigate the regulations underlying the industry themselves, and that starts with writing their own SOPs and submitting their own license application. 

(📸 / Meatbreath by Gnomestar)

What aspect of your job do you enjoy the most?  

Now that we have shipped products, the best part of my job is interacting with customers who have bought our products and give feedback on social media.

We’re small enough that I can thank every single person who makes the effort to tag me or @gnomestarcraft, and with COVID going on I don’t have much of a social life, so most nights I’m mellowing out on my couch thanking and interacting with customers. 

Right now the reviews of our product are totally positive, but we could ship a bad crop someday. Obviously, I hope it never happens, but as a small craft producer I think it’s important to build the relationship with the customer, both the retailers/budtenders and the end consumer, so that when we make a mistake they will first and foremost tell me and give me the opportunity to make it right as best I can. 

I really enjoy spending time in the garden, too. I wear many hats, but thoroughly enjoy getting my hands dirty and taking care of the plants. 

Cannabis Content For Cannabis Professionals

The over-taxation of legal cannabis is a major reason why the legacy market will continue to thrive in Canada. What would a more appropriate taxation system look like?

Despite legalization, the legacy market is thriving. 

A large segment of consumers doesn't care if their weed has been grown to Health Canada standards, tested for pesticides, heavy metals, etc. They just want cannabis and they vote with their wallet by buying from legacy sources at a fraction of the price. 

I want to see the price gap between legacy and regulated products shrunk both through reduced regulation and the removal of excessive taxes.

Currently, the CRA (Canadian Revenue Agency) imposes a $1/Gram Excise Tax (sin tax) on all dried cannabis flower. This tax is added by the processor when the excise stamp is added to a package and sold to a provincial distributor — the tax is baked into the wholesale price.

Then the Excise Tax itself is further taxed at the retail level when sales tax is applied at the time of purchase. Sales tax on top of a sin tax is offensive and should be abolished!

Abolishing the Excise Tax would also remove the CRA’s involvement in the industry.  We don’t need two government agencies counting how many plants we have on-site!

(📸 / Gnomestar’s First Shipment)

If there's one policy that you would like to see changed, what would it be and why?

As a small craft producer, we want to get our product to retailers as fast as possible to maximize the quality of the products purchased by consumers. 

Currently, in most provinces, processors have to ship their packaged cannabis to a provincial distributor, who then re-distributes it to retailers; so I’d love for the large provinces to transition to the Saskatchewan retail model, whereby processors can ship directly to retail stores.

I'm already building relationships with retailers, so being able to sell and deliver to them directly seems pretty natural and efficient.

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