While the Canadian government deliberates on plans to legalize cannabis, new regulations are underway. The Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR) allow patients to grow a limited amount of cannabis for their own use -- with seeds and plants to only be provided by licensed producers.
As the ability to home grow has returned to patients, there has been heightened concern about quality and safety of product by independent growers, including cannabis sold at dispensaries as Health Canada stated their products "may be unsafe."
To heighten the issue even further, a recent investigation tested nine dispensary samples of cannabis, and one-third of the samples failed Health Canada's safety standards. It has been circulating however, that labs are discouraged by Health Canada to test dispensary cannabis, while storefront owners have spoken out about not being able to test their own products.
Despite the facilitated access to cannabis that dispensaries provide, and considering the in-between phase patients are finding themselves in, the standards of Health Canada's licensed production facilities are a much safer bet in terms of quality of medicine. One of the latest licensed producers to emerge on the Canadian market, Emblem Cannabis Corp., recently welcomed me to their facility to see the grow for myself, discuss bud quality and talk about their new Health Canada license to begin in sales.
The 23,500 square foot production facility in Paris, Ontario started off early in cultivation. As soon as their license to grow was granted, work began straight away. As part of a fully integrated medical marijuana and health care company, high standards must be held to carry on business under the regulations.
There clearly are major benefits of growing in indoor, state-of-the-art environments that modern facilities can provide. Custom HVAC units, including humidity and climate control allow for perfect growing conditions and premium product that can be created as consistently as possible.
Starting off with the cuttings room, we observed the delicate first stages of strains Jesus OG, Northern Lights and Lavender. Simply speaking, cuttings are created when a piece of stem or root of a plant is removed and placed in soil, coaxing roots to grow and completely become its own plant.
Of course it has to be humid for success, which brought me to consider the humidity levels of rooms that independent growers need to keep, as well as the potential for mould and bacteria to multiply in those conditions -- if plants are not monitored properly.
We entered a grow of large mother plants placed at the back, while closer to the front we could see the clones that were beginning to root. Bean plants were placed around strategically to deter any potential insects -- thank goodness for natural solutions. With eight weeks to maturity, a few cycles were going on in this room at the same time as some plants had been there longer than others.
We continued into the next grow with plants beginning to flower; a delight to see and smell, full of anticipated harvest of strain varieties Girl Scout Cookies, Exodus Cheese, Shark Shock and Strawberry Cough -- a favourite of sativa lovers.
The tour took us to the dry room -- a low humidity haven for strains to dry out before distribution, approximately three to five days before packaging. I took a whiff of the Cheese strain and will announce that it was exceptionally cheesy, a scent that counteracted the fruitier tone of Girl Scout Cookies.
The packaging room where the finished product arrives also holds the curing vaults, and I really wanted to sniff that Strawberry Cough after being told it smells like strawberries. It was beautifully pungent, living up to its name. Staff explained that drying the buds a bit extra ensures there is no mould or bacteria growing on the final product. It is afterwards gently hydrated with a humidity packet to give it a bit of sponginess without adding excess moisture. The product is then placed in an airtight canister that is sent to a lab for testing.
As Emblem plans to be in the position to fulfill orders to authorized patients by Nov. 1, 2016, quality of product before providing it to customers for consumption is a key priority. While customers, both medicinal and recreational, become more knowledgeable on cannabis and their rights than ever before -- the next step is to become more aware and selective of product quality and source.
As for the stigma of cannabis consumption -- it will soon be a thing of the past assured Emblem President Maxim Zavet. "It's like drinking a cup of coffee, perceptions will change in the next five years."
A version of this post originally appeared on the Canadian Marijuana Journal.
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