St. Albert horticulturalist Jim Hole announced Wednesday he's partnering with Atlas Growers to grow medical marijuana in a facility in Lac Ste. Anne County.

"The world of cannabis is evolving rapidly," Hole said during a news conference at Hole's Greenhouses & Gardens.

He pointed to the upcoming legalization of marijuana as an opportunity to further his exploration of plant science.

Several cannabis companies approached Hole in search of expertise on growing marijuana, he said, but he wasn't interested in working with them.

"The production methods weren't aligning with what I felt should be the standard for the industry," he said.

Atlas Growers, however, has set high standards for cannabis production, quality and safety, he said.

State-of-the-art growing practices

The collaboration resulted in the development of a 38,000-square-foot facility west of Edmonton. Construction is underway on the building that will be equipped with state-of-the-art technology, Hole said.

The cannabis will be grown in a clean, soil-free environment and horticulturalists will control every parameter of the growth cycle, from lighting to the use of nutrient solutions, he said.

The technology will redefine cultivation standards, said Sheldon Croome, president and CEO of Atlas Growers.

"The level of standardization we can achieve will allow Atlas to work with educational institutions for proper research and development, with the goal of discovering critical medical advancements that can help millions of people," Croome said.

Hole acknowledged that cannabis is controversial, but the medical benefits it offers convinced him to join the industry, he said.

"It seemed to be not only fascinating to grow, but just a crop that would be extremely beneficial to people in need of it," he said.

Hole pointed to the tight regulations on facilities, highlighting fire codes, security and pest control.

"It's a monumental task to deal with all those different issues, but having said that, when you look at what the product is as far as quality and safety, I think it's an important thing."

Despite all the rules and regulations, the facility will be ready by July, Hole said.

Planting is scheduled for spring and cultivation will begin later in 2018, he said.