Pubdate: Thu, 28 Apr 2016
Source: Barrie Examiner (CN ON)
Page: A1
Copyright: 2016, Barrie Examiner
Author: Cheryl Browne
Note: With files from Miriam King


Medical Marijuana Not Only Viable Business, But Helps Those In

Farmers' plants are sprouting up a little more green than red in
Leamington, Ont., these days.

Once colloquially called the ketchup capital of Canada, many farmers
in the southern Ontario town were left holding their empty tomato
baskets when Heinz Canada moved its business south of the border in
2014, putting 750 people out of work.

But fourth-generation farmer John Cervini and third-generation farmer
Cole Cacciavillani decided if they were already capable of growing
food crops and flowers, they'd do just as well growing marijuana.
Legally. "Four years ago, my brother bought me out of the family
business and Cole and I said, 'Well, we're experienced growers and
marijuana is fundamentally a plant'," Cervini said, as he pulled on a
lab coat, hair net and booties for the tour of his factory, which is a
very secure greenhouse.

"If you had told me then, four years ago, what I'd be doing, I'd have
looked at you weird. The hard part was telling my parents - they're in
their 70s - but they were cool with it," he said.

Right off the bat, the men knew they weren't going to grow anything in
a warehouse.

Pooling together their resources, they opened Aphria, using one acre
of a parcel of nine acres Cacciavillani already owned and still grows
and sells flowering plants on.

Cervini said they've cut their hydro rates by half, using natural
sunlight to grow their 20,000 buds from stock to flowering plant by
using natural sunlight until the last stage of the growing process.

While Cervini may be easygoing, security is tight.

Card locks and keys are required to enter any door. A barbed-wire,
chain-link fence surrounds the building and a laser alarm system
criss-crosses the lawn between the fence and building.

Visitors must wear hair nets, lab coats and booties and sign in and
out at every door, of which there are many.

An earthy, citrus smell permeates the air inside the greenhouse. In
the halls and laboratories, filters keep the air clean and dry, with
the drying room changing air (to keep moisture out) seven times each

More than 50 workers pick, dry, compress and package the 16 varieties
of marijuana grown to strict government specifications; samples are
sent to federally run laboratories to ensure its policy of zero level
of microbials is maintained.

Aphria has more than 4,000 patients across Canada, with the majority
in Ontario. All marijuana is prescribed for patients by licensed
physicians and product is delivered and signed for by Canada Post or

Most patients are prescribed 150 grams, which would average 200 rolled

But many people don't smoke the product, Cervini said. Many eat or use
a vaporizer to ingest their formerly homegrown medicine.

In fact, the sterile cannabis oil laboratory which should be up and
running shortly (once approved by Health Canada), will offer doctors
the option of prescribing an oil that can be taken in droplet form as

Regardless of which product they prefer, patients are able to
determine if they require a stronger tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) drug
used to quell anxiety, insomnia and depression symptoms or a product
with more cannabidiol (CBD) which has a non-psychoactive effect but
helps with pain.

Cervini said now that the shock of opening (March 2014) and becoming a
publicly traded company (December 2014) have passed, he's still amazed
by letters he receives from patients who use their products.

"When Cole and I started, we never imagined that part of it. The
amount of patients who've called to thank us, saying this has made a
huge difference in their lives, still surprises us," he said.

Patients like David Hutchinson, a Canadian forces veteran who suffers
from post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.

The 55-year-old Barrie man said when he was in high school in Sudbury,
he had a dream of becoming a helicopter pilot, so he visited a
recruiting centre in 1980 and joined the armed forces.

He didn't become a pilot, but with a decade, Hutchinson was working in
429 Tactical Squadron as a load master.

In 1994, he was on tour in Rwanda when the fighting between the Hutus
and Tutsis broke out. By the end of the civil war, approximately
800,000 people were dead.

"A lot of horrors were seen," Hutchinson said. "After that I went to
Sarajevo (during the Bosnian war) a couple of times, too. I've seen
how cruel humans can be to other humans. I remember bodies floating by
in the water in Rwanda.

"I remember too much."

Hutchinson said he doesn't know when the symptoms of PTSD began to
appear, but it may have been when he began waking up his wife by
thrashing and screaming in bed with nightmares.

That marriage ended in ruin (as did several others) as his anxiety and
depression grew.

"People say just accept it. That's not the point. It's like a scar, it
heals over time, but you can always look at it and see it there. These
are emotional scars. They lessen but they're always there. They never
go away," he said.

After years of trying to drown his sorrows with alcohol, Hutchinson
spoke with a case manager about trying medical marijuana last summer.

Learning the difference between THC and CBD and how much of which
plant he requires to feel good but not goofy, has been a learning curve.

But as he says, he's finally learning how to deal with his

"It's not going to make you feel normal like you did before the
trauma. I'm never going to be the man I once was," Hutchinson said.
"But with marijuana and a doctor I speak with, I'm learning to cope.
I've come a long way from where I was."

And so have area municipalities.

In June of 2015, Barrie councillors gave initial approval to sell
36-48 Rawson Ave. to Skytek Pharmaceuticals so it could build a
$7-million, 65,000-square-foot medical marijuana facility that could
employ 120 people.

The city would sell this 4.8-acre site for $600,000 and the deal was
tentatively set to close late last August.

But the closing date has been delayed due to pending changes in
federal medical marijuana regulations.

City staff say Skytech remains committed to proceeding with its
development in Barrie, and staff are working with Skytek on confirming
a closing date.

Just recently, Bradford West Gwillimbury (BWG) town councillors
approved an application to Health Canada for a medical marijuana
facility in the vacant Faurecia plant on Reagens Industrial Parkway
that has sat empty for more than a year.

In its presentation to council, Med Releaf, which already operates a
55,000 square-foot facility in Markham, is proposing to expand by
locating in Bradford.

Med Releaf expects to hire 250 people to grow marijuana, fill orders,
provide customer service, administration and research and development
on the property, with a possible expansion of 100 part-time positions
in the ensuing 12 to 24 months.

BWG Mayor Robert Keffer said when he weighed the pros and cons of
approving a medical marijuana facility, it wasn't a difficult decision.

"Other than the perception and when you get past that - because these
are regulated by Health Canada and have stringent conditions they must
work under - this is bringing a new business and jobs to our town and
a product that relieves the pain and suffering of a lot of people,"
Keffer said.

- - With files from Miriam King  
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MAP posted-by: Jo-D