Pubdate: Thu, 04 Jan 2001
Source: Western Producer (CN SN)
Copyright: 2001 The Western Producer
Contact:  Box 2500, Saskatoon, SK, Canada S7K 2C4
Fax: (306) 934-2401
Author: D'Arce McMillan


Prairie Plant Systems is into underground pot production.

What's even more surprising, the police are in on the action.

In fact, the federal government is paying Prairie Plant Systems 
almost $6 million to grow marijuana.

Is this a massive conspiracy to deride Canada's drug laws?


Health Canada has awarded the Saskatoon-based company a five-year 
contract to produce marijuana as a pharmaceutical.

Grown and processed to exacting standards, some of the marijuana will 
be supplied to a select list of people suffering debilitating illness.

But the majority of the almost two tonnes over five years will go to 
researchers who will try to determine what it is in the plant that 
makes it a pain reliever and anti-inflammatory.

People with conditions as diverse as multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, 
AIDS and arthritis have in some cases found cannabis relieves 

Prairie Plant Systems was chosen to produce the marijuana because of 
its expertise and because of its unusual facility -- a plant growth 
chamber in the Hudson Bay Mining & Smelting Co. Ltd. copper and zinc 
mine at Flin Flon, Man.

Plants are grown 360 metres below the earth's surface in a 24-hour 
environmentally controlled space. Without stress and with a slightly 
elevated carbon dioxide air source, plants grow faster than they 
would in a greenhouse.

"We identified way back that we could grow plants fast and we could 
grow them well, but because of the expense we had to grow things of 
high value," said Brent Zettl, company president.

Pharmaceuticals from plants fit the bill.

The company already has grown the Pacific yew tree that produces the 
cancer drug Taxol, genetically engineered tobacco that produces a 
pharmaceutical protein, genetically engineered canola that produces 
hiridin, an anticoagulant, and soon will be growing a polio-vaccine 
engineered rice.

Growing cannabis in a mine shaft offers obvious security benefits, he said.

The Flin Flon mine, and another in the United States, is one reason 
the company has targeted the bio-pharmaceutical market, he said.

In the Health Canada project, PPS is responsible for obtaining 
marijuana seeds from an approved source and screening them for the 
characteristics needed. Once varieties are selected, PPS will grow 
the plants and clone them for uniform production.

PPS has hired staff to run the laboratory to do the required quality 
control and measure the five active components of the plant's 
chemical makeup, including tetrahydrocannabinol, the ingredient that 
produces a euphoric feeling.

"They are really stringent," Zettl said. "If they are going to test a 
patient with this, they have to define what it is that's going into 
the patient and know how it affects the patient."

To ensure the operation does not produce unauthorized pot, staff have 
undergone fingerprinting and security checks by the RCMP and are 
subject to random checks by the police and Health Canada, he said.

While there will be growing pains pioneering this work, Zettl is 
delighted to have won the contract because it gives legitimacy to 

"We've been preaching this concept for the last five years and we've 
been getting sideways looks, especially from the finance community.

"Now with this contract, it will bring some legitimacy to what we've 
been talking about and crystalize this concept of bio-pharmaceutical 
production and pave the way for future research dollars."
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MAP posted-by: Kirk Bauer