Pubdate: Sat, 06 Jan 2018
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2018 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: Armina Ligaya
Page: FP10



Even though Ernest Small was the biggest legal grower of legal
marijuana in North America back in the 1970s and is the federal
government's foremost pot expert, the Canadian researcher is in
disbelief that the country is on the cusp of legalizing the drug's
recreational use.

The principal research scientist for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada,
who was named to the Order of Canada last week, says the aura around
marijuana in government and law enforcement circles was "repressive
and conservative" for decades.

"I would never have predicted that we would come to this. ... There
was not the slightest suggestion that one day, marijuana could be a
legal commodity," he said in an interview. "It just didn't seem possible."

Now, there are more than 80 licensed producers of cannabis in the
country, all ramping up to be ready for the July deadline for the
legalization of recreational marijuana. Pot shares have been on fire
for months.

But looking back, Small had to aggressively plead his case with the
government to allow him to begin researching weed, when he joined as a
researcher in 1969.

At the time, the now 77-year-old had just finished his doctorate in
plant evolution from the University of California. Before landing in
the Golden State, he said he had "no idea what drugs were, no idea
what hippies were."

"It was just a total culture shock. And nevertheless, I did become
quite interested in the cannabis plant because that was the thing that
students, and even my professors were doing. And I was interested as a
botanist in studying it as a plant."

Small said he convinced the government to allow him to study what was
"basically verboten" by focusing on pot's risks and how research could
help law enforcement depress its use. He was eventually able to
convince Health Canada to give him the green light, he said.

The government also wanted, at the time, a standard supply of
marijuana for experimental purposes. And in turn, Small was involved
in establishing a two- acre pot crop at the Central Experimental Farm
in Ottawa, at Health Canada's request.

"I actually grew several tonnes of marijuana, and at that time more
legal cannabis than anybody in the world, at least in North America,"
Small said. However, the outdoor plot only lasted for the summer of
1971, after being "raided frequently."

Small describes a "very flimsy fence" around the plot, as well as
guards and "very ferocious dogs" to protect it.

"It very quickly became apparent that teenagers were doing a lot of
the raiding. And we could not expose them to these dogs, so the dogs
were kept chained up," he said. "We didn't have searchlights ... so
the whole plot was a sitting duck."

After one summer, the operation was later moved indoors until roughly
1980, when the Department of Agriculture decided it didn't want to
grow cannabis on the premises, he said.

Subsequently, Small said he grew legal cannabis in association with
the private sector, on private land.

Small was also closely involved in selecting the strain of marijuana
that is now the basis of all licensed medical marijuana in Canada.

"It was a reasonable strain, easily producing 12-per-cent THC," he

Today, Small noted, there are stronger strains with different balances
of cannabinoids - chemical compounds which give pot its medical and
recreational properties.

Small says cannabis is "on the verge of huge changes that are
agriculturally significant, in terms of the productivity of this plant."

While most other crops have undergone the so-called Green Revolution,
which has boosted agricultural production, cannabis has been left
behind, he said.

"The green revolution phase has totally been overlooked, because, of
course, it's been illegal most of the last century," he said. "We are
standing on the verge of huge changes that are agriculturally
significant in terms of the productivity of this plant. It's just a
mind-boggling situation. There is no other crop but cannabis that is
in this remarkable situation."

When asked whether his research, or recreation, has ever involved
dabbling in pot himself, Small responded, "Hell, no."

He said if there is even the slightest odour of cannabis at a party,
he leaves. It's an approach he intends to keep, even after July.

"I'm as pure as the driven snow," Small said, adding that he does not
drink alcohol or coffee either. "The simple fact is I'm entrusted with
an enormous responsibility. And I am not going to, and have never,
considered compromising that."
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