Pubdate: Tue, 08 Dec 2015
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2015 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: Mark Davis
Page: FP10


It's a fascinating sight.

Former high school teacher and anti-drug advocate Grant Cluff leans 
forward to light a much-needed marijuana joint. He inhales deeply. 
Breathing out a dense plume of smoke, he slumps against the backrest 
of his mobility scooter. The muscle pain and stiffness throughout his 
body immediately subsides.

A tense expression gives way to a look of utter relief. His eyes 
brighten up. He smiles. "Now I can relax," he says. His herbal 
medicine - until recently, dismissed by society as merely a 
recreational drug for slackers - is already working.

A lifelong Calgary resident, Cluff, 68, proudly served his community 
for two decades as a social studies teacher. But his career was cut 
short in 1988 by the onset of multiple sclerosis - a painful, 
debilitating and incurable disease.

For 13 years, he was administered cocktails of up to a dozen kinds of 
pharmaceutical drugs. But they did him more harm than good, he says. 
"They weakened my muscles, making my condition deteriorate even 
faster, and to the point that I could no longer walk," he explains. 
"Some medications even burned holes in my stomach, causing painful 
gastrointestinal bleeding."

By 2001, he was at his wit's end. So Cluff tried to commit suicide by 
drinking half a bottle of rum and choking down around 50 painkillers. 
He was revived at a local hospital. As a last resort, he finally 
followed a friend's advice: he tried smoking a little marijuana for 
the first time. It was an instant godsend. Cluff became a convert. 
Within one week, he had cast aside all of his meds for good.

"The benefits were almost immediate, translating into far less muscle 
spasticity and less pain," he says. "Now I don't need any 
pharmaceutical drugs any more, mostly because the marijuana treats 
just about all of my ailments."

Since then, he's even lost about 50 pounds of excess weight and his 
mood and overall quality of life have improved dramatically. "These 
days, I can even do as many as 10 pushups. That's not bad," he quips 
with a chuckle. As he heads off on his electric scooter to his local 
coffee shop, he adds, "All in all, I'm pretty happy."

The benefits of medical marijuana for Cluff are obvious. This is why 
he and thousands of others with similarly debilitating diseases are 
given legal access to it.

But what about other Albertans with chronic health issues? Do they 
all have to be as seriously ill as Cluff to earn the right to use 
this herbal medicine? What about people whose quality of life is 
diminished by sleeplessness, anxiety, and depression? Opinion polls 
suggest they're all equally deserving.

The medical community is gradually being won over, too. This profound 
paradigm shift comes in response to growing scientific evidence in 
support of marijuana's healing powers. In fact, this once-demonized 
plant is proving to be a panacea for a broad diversity of medical conditions.

Medical marijuana may even help alleviate an emerging health-care 
crisis, namely the over-prescription of powerful painkillers and 
anti-depressants. Not only do many of these drugs come with dangerous 
and/or debilitating side effects, they can be dangerously addictive, 
too. So doctors and patients alike are looking to safer drug 
substitutes, such as cannabis.

All of this helps explain why marijuana sales are moving out of the 
shadows of back alleys and into the mainstream. It's no longer a 
seedy, secretive, and fragmented industry. Instead, it has such 
new-found respectability that it's even well-represented in Canada's 
highly-regulated capital markets.

An example of this quantum business evolution can be found with 
Aurora Cannabis - a publicly listed company that trades on the CSE 
exchange under the symbol ACB. By becoming Alberta's first-ever 
provider of pharmaceutical-grade cannabis for patients in need, 
Aurora just made history. More specifically, Health Canada has just 
granted Aurora a sales licence. This follows extensive laboratory 
testing of Aurora's latest harvest for quality control by an 
independent, licensed third party.

To achieve this validation, the company has demonstrated that it's 
proficient in standardizing each of its various strains of medical 
marijuana. In other words, every variety is identical from plant to 
plant in terms of composition, potency and medical efficacy.

This preoccupation with quality control is critical to Aurora's 
future success. That's because physicians are professionally obliged 
to seek out licensed growers who can guarantee a very safe and 
effective product. With this in mind, Aurora aims to become the 'go 
to' supplier for most Albertans.

Now Aurora isn't quite what some readers might expect. It's not run 
by swaggering, tattoo-covered 'entrepreneurs' with questionable 
backgrounds and suitcases full of cash. Instead, its founders are 
very successful, buttoned-down Albertan business people. And they 
have ambitious goals. Over time, Aurora intends to cultivate as many 
as 50,000 plants at any one time, involving enough varieties - up to 
a dozen - to treat a wide spectrum of ailments. They include cancer, 
heart disease, spinal cord injuries, autoimmune disorders, 
Parkinson's disease, PTSD and even migraines.

Meanwhile, government approved patients all across Alberta can now 
order exactly what they need. In so doing, they'll be validating the 
birth of a new-age, high tech agricultural industry.

By way of a little perspective, it's worth discussing the federal 
government's decision in 2013 to clean up Canada's problematic 
cannabis growing cottage industry. The new system is aimed at 
overriding a 2001 Supreme Court ruling that allows certain medical 
patients to grow their own cannabis, or to instead use a designated 
small-scale grower.

However, the cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana under 
this outdated system has been poorly regulated since its inception. 
And much of the cannabis has found its way on to the black market, 
thereby lining the pockets of organized crime.

Another longstanding problem is that it's commonly grown in mouldy, 
unsanitary and poorly-ventilated warehouses or household basements. 
This can expose patients with compromised immune systems to 
potentially dangerous bacterial pathogens. Furthermore, the overuse 
of toxic pesticides is very prevalent.

But that's all changing. Thanks to the feds' industry shake-up, 
patients are finally gaining access to medical marijuana from the 
likes of Aurora - which carefully cultivates its plants in a 
sanitized, laboratory-like environment under the government's watchful eye.

Yet the barriers to entry to this fast-growing, science-driven 
industry are high. Only wel-lmanaged corporations with millions of 
dollars of startup capital are able to meet the government's 
stringent new growing requirements. Since the fall of 2013, only 22 
of them have earned coveted growing/sales licences, whereas hundreds 
of other operators have been turned down.

Among the few government-endorsed market entrants is Aurora, which 
benefits from being one of the only purpose-built growing facilities 
in the world. It is located on rural land near the village of 
Cremona, 90 kilometres north of Calgary.

The company's expansive 55,200-square-foot facility (the size of a 
football field) cost upwards of $11 million to construct. Its 
white-washed interior looks much like a medical laboratory. Large, 
brightly-lit rooms pulsate with fans, filters, 1,000-watt lights, 
HVAC ventilation, irrigation systems and all sorts of other apparatus 
to ensure optimal growing conditions.

Ironically, since there are no tell-tale smells emanating from the 
building, the only real hint of what goes on inside comes from all 
the government-mandated security measures, all of which ensure that 
no one can sneak anything out and no one can break in either. Hence, 
the perimeter has razor-wire-topped fences as well as plenty of 
motion and infrared sensors. There are also 174 security cameras 
throughout the facility that operate 24 hours a day.

Nothing is left to chance. After all, there's a lot at stake. It's no 
less than the opportunity to become a power player in an emerging 
multi-billion dollar global industry. This is according to Aurora's 
personable and down-to-earth CEO, Terry Booth.

"Currently, Aurora's facility is capable of growing 5,400 kilograms 
per annum, which could translate into revenues of up to $70 million. 
These projected revenues would include extractions, such as cannabis 
oils. All told, we're expecting very healthy profit margins."

Beyond the domestic market, Booth relishes the prospect of Aurora 
becoming a legal exporter to an ever-growing list of 
progressive-minded countries. Most of them endorse 
pharmaceutical-grade cannabis for medical needs but don't produce their own.

Yet these lucrative medicinal markets merely represent the tip of the 
iceberg. Once cannabis becomes licensed for recreational use in 
Canada, production and distribution are expected to be strictly 
regulated in a similar manner to alcohol. Consequently, Booth 
estimates that up to eight million Canadians will eventually become 
consumers. Whatever the figure may be, analysts agree that the 
recreational market would eclipse the medical marijuana sector.

For now, Booth is content to savour the sense of being part of 
history: His company can now sell 'locally-grown', 
pharmaceutical-grade medical marijuana to fellow Albertans. And they 
include people like Cluff. He's forever thankful for the day that he 
shed his prejudices against what has become his herbal saviour.

"When I was a school teacher, I was anti-drugs and felt that 
marijuana has no value to society. Now nobody knows better than me 
that this couldn't be further from the truth."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom