Pubdate: Sat, 10 Apr 2010
Source: Standard, The (St. Catharines, CN ON)
Copyright: 2010 Sun Media
Author: Karena Walter


The greenhouse is empty but still stifling hot as Delhi farmer Rick
West walks through and explains the idea he's hatched for the barren

Situated on 15 acres in rural Wainfleet, the location will be his
first franchise operation of sorts.

"I just don't have the time to live in a greenhouse like this," said
West, 48, who says he's currently working on setting up 20 properties
in Norfolk County alone. "This is my first turnkey operation."

The medicinal marijuana grower, who claims to be the largest
"producer" in Canada, is pumped about his new venture in Niagara.
He'll get the space up and running after partnering with Brian Julian,
who runs the advocacy Medical Miracles Group and is providing the
land. West said they'll then sell the property to another licensed
grower after a season and walk away in an effort to speed things up.

"It's a pilot project," said Julian, who was awaiting paperwork for
the property ownership. "We're just trying to push

In the almost nine years since the federal government legalized the
use of medicinal marijuana for people with terminal illnesses and
serious health concerns, the business of marijuana growing has evolved

"We're not talking about 75 plants anymore," said West, sporting a
shirt with a marijuana leaf and belt buckle to match. "Now we're
growing hundreds and hundreds on one piece of property."

West, who developed his own hybrid of marijuana for his company Highly
Recommended Plus, said he can provide medicinal marijuana for licensed
users at a higher grade and for less money.

But the goal down the road for both he and Julian is to provide the
drug -- not covered by OHIP -- for free to medical users.

It's a lofty long-term goal for a business currently under strict
regulations by Health Canada and tapping into grey areas.

A designated grower can only produce marijuana for medical purposes
for a maximum of two authorized people.

West insists he's following the rules. He said he matches growers with
licensed patients but oversees all aspects of the production with his
own high-quality marijuana. He's like a consultant.

Though he's had several criminal convictions for illegal pot growing
more than 10 years ago, he said that's all behind him now.

And though his property in Norfolk County was raided last summer by
police and he was charged with production, he said he was in his legal
rights because he has a licence for use and production. The charge is
still before the courts.

"It's the never-ending grey area," he said. "Health Canada will call
it a grey area. My doctor will not call it a grey area."

A medicinal marijuana user himself for a connective tissue disorder,
West said his main concern is getting product to people with multiple
sclerosis, cancer and other ailments who can't afford it.

"He is compassionate. It's too expensive," said Stephanie Nielsen of
Welland, whose 28-year-old son has Tourette Syndrome. West connected
her with a grower that was a cheaper alternative to buying marijuana
for her son at a Toronto compassion club.

She obtained a medicinal marijuana licence for him after trying other
drugs. The marijuana dries up his mouth, controlling a spitting tic,
and helps him deal with anxiety, she said.

"The bottom line is nobody should have to buy this stuff illegally,"
she said of people who turn to the street.

The number of people growing and using medicinal marijuana in the
country continues to rise each year. As of Jan. 14, 4,869 people held
licences to possess dried marijuana in Canada. That compares with
2,778 people in June 2008.

Health Canada said that's because the number of Canadians who apply
for access to marijuana, with the support of their physicians, and
meet all the requirements under Marijuana Medical Access Regulations
are increasing.

The government's contract supplier, Prairie Plant Systems Inc.,
doesn't anticipate a break in supply.

But West said the government's stash is cost-prohibitive.

People are paying up to $500 for a day's worth of marijuana from the
government or on the street, he said. He currently sells dried
marijuana at $2 a gram or less, compared to $5 a gram from Health Canada.

He said he's been able to keep costs down because of donations and
free labour by volunteers. He also makes money from selling seeds,
which is legal, and putting the money towards costs.

"I do it for whatever it costs me to produce it. I don't take any
money over and above," West said.

He's one of 3,529 people who have licences for producing marijuana for
personal use or for others.

With an abundance of greenhouses foreclosing in Niagara, West or his
partners can obtain farms for a fraction of their worth.

Julian, from Haldimand County, said he started a trust fund and
mortgaged everything he had to buy the Wainfleet farm.

His advocacy group helps people with medical conditions find referral
doctors, suppliers and marijuana recipes for more effective absorption
than smoking. It will be launching a website soon.

Julian, who suffers back problems and arthritis, said he knows
first-hand how marijuana helps muscles relax.

"I get out of my truck, I can work," he said. "If I didn't, I'd be

Health Canada said the average daily amount for a patient is one to
three grams of dried marijuana, whether it is taken orally, inhaled or
a combination of both. People can possess a month's supply.

The limits are required, Health Canada said, because the access
program was never intended to allow large production sites of
marijuana, but to meet the needs of a small number of people producing
small quantities for personal use.

Still, West has been pushing the government to loosen restrictions and
said Health Canada is looking at restructuring its system on who can
grow and how much.

A Health Canada spokesman said the government is considering
longer-term measures to revise regulations.

"Canadians can be confident that the regulations governing access to
marijuana for medical purposes will continue to balance access with
the government's responsibility to regulate it as a controlled
substance, and to protect the health and safety of all Canadians,"
Stephane Shank wrote in an e-mail.

The Wainfleet property will grow marijuana for a Norfolk man named
Kevin, who didn't want his last name used, and one or two other
licence holders yet to be determined.

Kevin, who suffered a spinal cord injury and nerve damage in a logging
accident, said his life was upside down on all the pills he was using
for pain, such as oxycontin and sleep aids. But he said he didn't want
to grow marijuana at home with his children around. He heard of West
through word of mouth and six months later was off all pills except

"I have family, so to me, finding this guy saved my life," Kevin said.
"If it's here and these guys are doing what they're doing, I praise
these guys."

But being a medicinal marijuana grower is a high-stakes occupation,
and not just because of the patient's dependence. Security will be
tight at the Niagara grow, just as West said it is on all his
properties. Pressure sensors, dogs, security systems and armed trained
guards will be plentiful.

West said he's never had a successful theft that was more than a
couple of handfuls.

The threat of theft is another reason some people don't want to grow
it themselves.

The biggest problem, West said, is not organized crime but
neighbourhood kids.

"Most people realize it's a medical product," West said. "Even the
Hells Angels don't want to be known as the people who ripped off all
the medical patients."

West said they don't want any products on the black market. One or two
people are kicked out of his operations every year and he is proud of
his security measures.

"I yell at law enforcement all day, every day, you cannot find my
product on the street and that's the way it has to be," West said. "I
rule that end of it with an iron fist. If I even think you're screwing
with any of my product you are gone."



People who require medicinal marijuana must apply for possession
through Health Canada and have to provide a medical doctor's
supporting declaration.

People who can apply include those in severe pain or have persistent
muscle spasms from multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury or disease,
complications from cancer or HIV/AIDS, severe arthritis or seizures
from epilepsy or other debilitating symptoms

Once someone obtains a licence they have three legal options for

1. Apply to access Health Canada's supply

2. Apply to grow their own

3. Designate someone else to cultivate on their behalf under a
designated-person production licence

"As for other distribution options, Health Canada continues to monitor
and consider the latest research and advancements in the field," a
spokesperson said in an e-mail. 
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