WOODSTOCK — Farmers can now grow medicinal marijuana that is practically no different from the pot that gets you high. Farmers can quickly make a big profit on it, says a consulting company that is now offering to help people who want to get into growing marijuana. You need a prescription to buy medicinal marijuana.
The federal government brought in new regulations last year that makes it legal for medicinal marijuana to be grown on a large scale. Dave Key, of the Mallot Creek Group near Guelph, was one of several exhibitors at Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show last month promoting the medicinal drug. He said farmers are needed to grow the crop as the supply is nowhere near the demand.
As of Aug. 16, there were 29 grower licences issued in Ontario and 12 licences issued in British Columbia. While Key isn’t aware of any Ontario farmers currently growing medicinal marijuana, the interest he saw at Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show suggests to him it’s just a matter of time before they start.
Key said his company is pursuing cash croppers, former quota-holding chicken farmers and former hog farmers who have empty buildings that they may want to retrofit, as well as tobacco farmers who are retired and have land and resources.
“They’re businessmen and they know crops. They know nutrients. They know harvesting,” he said. “Farmers aren’t just growing in the field. They’re building massive hog facilities, dairy barns, chicken barns. It was an easy fit to bring it to them and say ‘Here’s an opportunity you maybe want to consider.’ And some of them were already considering it. They were just looking for a comfortable place to talk to somebody about it.”
Federal law states that medicinal marijuana must be grown in a controlled indoor environment with security features such as intrusion detectors, video cameras to monitor workers inside the building to prevent theft and key cards to limit room access. The compound must have a high-security fence with vibration detection and 24/7 video monitoring. Video footage must be kept for several years.
A starter’s facility of 20,000 square feet would cost anywhere from $5 to $8 million to build, he said.
“It’s not cheap to start, but the revenue that comes from the finished product is fairly lucrative,” he said, adding most companies are expanding by an additional 50,000 to 100,000 square feet within an year. Key said his company’s studies show that farmers can make $5 million or more by harvesting one acre of marijuana per year.
“Compare that to wheat or soy or anything else that’s out there,” he said. “In their best years, they’re not getting anything like that. That’s why a lot of farmers are looking at it, saying they see the potential.”
Farmers would need to file an application with Health Canada to grow medicinal cannabis. Applications are available online. The approval process plus building the facilities could take at least three years.
Medicinal marijuana can help people deal with pain from epilepsy, fibromyalgia, and Crohn’s, Key said. Medicinal marijuana can be, but is not necessarily, altered to eliminate the THC ingredient that gives the user a high. A similar cannabinoid ingredient offers pain relief.
The federal rules for medicinal marijuana are separate than the rules for recreational marijuana that will be brought in to allow pot to be sold at Ontario liquor stores. Only currently operating medicinal marijuana growers will be allowed to sell to the recreational market, although new growers will eventually be allowed to sell to recreational pot users, Key said.