Pubdate: Wed, 30 Dec 2015
Source: Chronicle Herald (CN NS)
Copyright: 2015 The Halifax Herald Limited
Author: Aaron Beswick


A lawsuit, expensive pot, unpaid contractors and stalled projects are 
the harvest Nova Scotia has reaped from changes to the rules 
governing the cultivation and sale of medical marijuana.

In April 2014, Health Canada brought down rules meant to stop people 
with prescriptions for medical marijuana from growing their own. 
Instead, they would be required to buy from large producers licensed 
and regulated by the federal body.

This sparked a gold rush of venture capital racing toward medical 
marijuana proposals.

But despite the promises of a new industry for rural and small-town 
Nova Scotia, not a gram has been grown in this province under Health 
Canada's new program.

"If I can grow medicinal marijuana for $3 a gram and be commercially 
viable at $5 a gram, then I would say these big businesses growing 
10,000 plants are making a profit at $8.50 or $9 a gram," William 
Brady said Tuesday.

"By handing it to the big companies, all they've done is created this 
rush of pigs to the trough."

Brady and his wife grow three medical marijuana licences on their 
Antigonish County property.

A legal challenge to Health Canada's plan to commercialize medical 
marijuana now winding its way through the Federal Court allows them 
to, at least temporarily, continue growing.

Meanwhile, work remains halted at the former Clairtone factory 
building in Stellarton that proponent Vida Cannabis was renovating 
into a 315,000- square-foot medical marijuana grow-op that would 
eventually produce 30,000 kilograms annually and employ up to 240 people.

Lindsay Construction, contrac-tor for the renovations, now holds a 
$6,390,823 mortgage on the large building, which sat empty for many 
years before Vida purchased it for $500,000 from the Town of Stellarton.

"Vida and many other licensed producer applicants are in this same 
boat - waiting for the Health Canada approval process," was the only 
response Colin Trethewey, who works for a public relations firm hired 
by Vida, would provide after an interview request The Chronicle 
Herald recently made.

Then there's the proposed medical marijuana grow-op in Ohio, Antigonish County.

Financial backer Matica Enterprises Inc. recently filed a lawsuit 
against proponent Frank MacMaster and his wife, Jennifer.

The Ontario investment firm alleges that MacMaster, an industrial 
electrician and farmer, secretly diverted hundreds of thousands of 
dollars provided by Matica away from renovating the former abattoir 
in Antigonish County into a medical marijuana grow-op.

MacMaster denied the allegations on Tuesday but said he couldn't get 
into details while the matter is still before the courts.

"It's lies," he said. "They're trying to take my farm."

Meanwhile, contractors have gone unpaid.

Doug MacDonald estimates that his company, Nova Fence, and two other 
contractors that did work on the facility are out $300,000 to $400,000.

He doesn't put the blame on MacMaster, but on Matica.

"This guy from Ontario (Matica chief executive officer Boris Ziger) 
stood in front of me and said 'You guys will be paid,'" said MacDonald.

"That was about a year ago."

For its part, Health Canada declined a request to provide a person to 
comment on the fallout of the rush by venture capital to get into the 
new industry it has created.

Health Canada also declined to provide a list of the proposed 
projects for Nova Scotia and where they now stand in its licensing 
process. According to its website, however, none of the 27 fully 
licensed medical marijuana production facilities are in Nova Scotia.

George McCarthy, a Halifax-area roofing contractor and proponent of a 
52,000-square-foot grow-op in Woodside, said there are two main 
reasons for the existing problems.

The first, McCarthy said, was the rush to be the first out of the 
gate in the new industry.

He said project proponents spent significant money renovating 
buildings without a Health Canada licence.

"And the Conservative government wasn't really forthcoming with the 
licences," said McCarthy.

"Health Canada, in my opinion, was understaffed for the workload."

He estimates he has spent $500,000 worth of his own capital and time 
in planning and preparing for his project. But McCarthy said he 
wouldn't put money into renovations until he has a ready-to-build 
licence from Health Canada.

"With the (Justin) Trudeau, government things changed and we've heard 
Health Canada will give out licences faster," said McCarthy.

"I'm thinking that if the government does legalize it, then 
production would go to the commercial operators."

That is Brady's concern.

In 2013, he was charged by Antigonish County RCMP with eight counts 
related to the growing, possession and selling of marijuana outside 
of Health Canada's regulations.

With the federal Liberals' campaign promise to legalize marijuana for 
recreational use, Brady doesn't think Nova Scotians will benefit from 
handing it to big producers.

"They got rid of bootlegging by lengthening the hours that the liquor 
stores were open," said Brady.

"If they want to get rid of the black market in marijuana, then let 
small guys like me grow it and sell it. We'd be happy to pay income 
taxes on it, and it could be a nice little industry for rural Nova Scotia."
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