Pubdate: Thu, 26 Jun 2014
Source: Metro (Toronto, CN ON)
Copyright: 2014 Metro Canada
Author: Jessica Smith Cross
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal - Canada)


Medreleaf. Metro Reporter Takes Tour of High-Tech Pot Plant in Secret Location

The 55,000-square-foot warehouse in Markham is unremarkable from the 
outside unless you stand at the doorstep, take a deep breath and 
notice a faint but recognizable smell.

On Wednesday, MedReleaf began its first harvest of medical marijuana 
and invited a Metro reporter for a tour.

Metro has agreed to keep the exact location of the medical marijuana 
production facility a secret to protect the people who work there and 
the thousands of plants inside.

The company is one of 20 marijuana producers licensed by Health 
Canada so far, as medical pot production switches from numerous small 
growers to fewer, larger, more heavily regulated companies like MedReleaf.

Pharmaceutical-grade decontamination

Inside MedReleaf's pot plant, workers and guests are constantly 
monitored on video surveillance, mandated by Health Canada. The 
internal doors between growing rooms are secured with electronic locks.

Before seeing any marijuana, our small group, which includes 
MedReleaf COO Tom Flow, head of quality assurance Angelo Fefekos and 
communications staff, enters a decontamination room, puts on white 
clean-room suits, hair nets, gloves and booties, and passes through an airlock.

That level of contamination control is not mandatory, but MedReleaf 
trademarked their marijuana as "medical grade standard" pot, so the 
procedures are in line with those at pharmaceutical facilities that 
make traditional medical drugs.

Everything from the flooring to the HVAC is engineered to keep things 
hygienic and the plant meets the ISO class 8 standard, like an 
operating room, according to Fefekos, whose previous job was manager 
of Diagnostic Medical Genetics at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto.

He was recruited by MedReleaf CEO Neil Closner, who was then 
vice-president of Business Development at the hospital. Initially 
skeptical, Fefekos helped Closner prepare the application for a 
licence and was convinced to come on board because of how seriously 
the government was taking-and regulating-the pot business, he said.

The 'mother room'

After the airlock, we enter the "mother room," where there are rows 
of pot plants under 1,000 watt bluish lights. There are the 23 
strains of pot the company is currently producing. Some are varieties 
Canadian consumers are familiar with and have words like "kush" and 
"skunk" in their growing names.

Others have come from the Tikun Olam company of Israel, which has 
been growing medical marijuana for about a decade. A signature 
strain-Avidekel-is high in cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive 
anti-inflammatory, but very low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the 
chemical that gets you high.

Others strains have high THC and CBD, others are in between. Breeders 
work from seeds and cross-breed new varieties.

Clippings from the mother plants, called clones, are transferred to 
trays kept in a high-humidity "clone room" where they grow roots over 
seven to 14 days.

Flower Power

Next they're transferred to one of the "flower rooms," where 2,000 to 
6,000 plants grow under red spectrum light, are fed a nutrient 
solution pumped in from an irrigation system, and trimmed by the head 
grower and his team.

The Markham pot plant itself is still growing, but according to 
MedReleaf, they'll soon have 10 flower rooms and grow about 150,000 
pot plants without pesticide. Some are a deep purple, others are a 
light green. All have large buds and shimmering crystals of THC. It's 
time to harvest when the pot leaves yellow and fall and the hairs on 
the buds go red.

R2D2 on pot

When they're ready, the plants go to the trimming room. Everything 
that goes in and out is weighed so nothing goes missing.

The air quality in the trimming room is tested by an air particle 
counter-dubbed by employees as R2D2-and employees' gloved hands are 
tested for contaminates. Health Canada will spot test the end 
product, but doesn't mandate mid-stage tests like these.

"It's the only way I know how to make a medicine," explained Fefekos.

Employees pick off the leaves and trim the buds with scissors before 
they're hung over metal wire to dry in the drying room, where, on the 
first day of harvest, a Bob Marley song is playing.

The first day of the first harvest was a big deal for some of the 
employees. Facilities manager Ori Sher said he never expected to find 
himself doing this. "I was in the IT business for years," he said. 
"This is pretty far from IT."

When the buds are dry, they'll be tested and either quarantined or 
released by Health Canada.

All the pot that's good to go will be vacuum sealed, picked up by 
Canada Post and mailed to patients in unmarked packages.

Any pot that's stored is kept in the vault - a huge black safe - with 
two complex locks. The safe is kept behind a giant blue cage, which 
is also locked and secured with an alarm.

A budding business with lots of growth

Even though it has yet to ship any pot to a patient, the executives 
at MedReleaf see a big future for medical cannabis.

"We can service well over 10,000 patients from this building and 
we're already looking at expanding to other facilities," said CEO 
Neil Closner. "We believe it could be quite a big market for those 
producers who can produce at a level that not only patients want, but 
physicians feel comfortable prescribing."

According to the government, 920 companies have applied to become 
producers so far. Of those, 20 have been approved, 407 were returned 
as incomplete, 163 were refused, 34 were withdrawn by the applicant 
and 296 are currently being reviewed.

Some companies have elected to raise funds from the market. So many 
penny stocks posted big gains just by announcing there were planning 
to get in on the medical marijuana market that the Canadian 
Securities Administrators issued a warning.

"There's clearly a bit of a mania going on, a bubble going on with 
people rushing to invest in gold-mining companies that all of a 
sudden add 'marijuana' to their business name and all of a sudden the 
stock goes up by tenfold in one day," said Closner.

MedReleaf elected to go with private investors who pitched in 
significant capital to build the company-including its large, 
high-tech pot plant in Markham-because they believe in the product 
and the investment.

In part, that's because of Canadian law. While the new medical pot 
business is highly regulated, doctors can prescribe marijuana for any 
patient they feel needs it and where other countries that allow 
medical pot-such as Israel-allow prescriptions for only a list of 
ailments, said Closner.

MedReleaf expects to ship its first harvest in a few weeks.

"Today's a big deal, because after 18 months or so of planning and 
filing applications and regulatory paperwork with Health we're (harvesting) our first crop of medical 
cannabis," Closner said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom