A group of New Brunswick investors is seeking a federal licence to grow medicinal marijuana inside a secure warehouse in St. Stephen.
Tidal Health Solutions already has the blessing of the local town council and hopes to hear from Health Canada within four months.
The group is so confident its application will be approved, it plans to start construction of a one-hectare marijuana factory before that, said founding partner Darren Marshall.
"We feel we'll have a very good chance," said Marshall, who has expertise in the horticulture industry as co-owner of Mayfield Gardens with his wife Krista McAllister, who also offers experience on the medicine side as a practising veterinarian.
"So as soon as we have the application approved, we'll be able to move forward ASAP."
New rules take effect April 1
As it stands, patients with marijuana prescriptions are allowed to grow for themselves or designate someone else to do it for them.
But starting April 1, small backyard growers will have to stop. All production will be turned over to licensed indoor farms.
More than 150 firms like Tidal Health Solutions have applied for a piece of the business, which could top $1 billion in revenue within a decade, according to federal projections.
Marshall declined to discuss potential revenue, but said he hopes to supply between 500 and 1,500 patients, shipping by secure courier.
"With the new system we see a totally new structure, heavily mandated and regulated by Health Canada about things such as site security, safety and audit capability," said Marshall.
Council welcomes jobs
St. Stephen council has offered a unanimous letter of endorsement for the proposal.
"I know when they first came into my office and they mentioned it, I said, 'Oh no, don't tell me,'" said Mayor John Quartermain. "That's your first impression."
But he and all six councillors were impressed with the group's presentation and welcome the estimated 10 to 15 jobs the project is expected to create, Quartermain said.
"We are trying to diversify the local economy," he said, with the main employers currently Ganong and the Flakeboard plant.
Marijuana "has a stigma attached to it," said Quartermain. "People think of smoking marijuana for pleasure. But there are people who do require this and it gives them huge benefits," he said.
"It's an established thing in Canada now with over 40,000 users."
'I'm absolutely excited about all the possibilities it has to offer to people that require it. The medicine part of it is fascinating.' - Krista McAllister, Tidal Health Solutions
Still, even Marshall's wife and co-founding partner had to be convinced.
"I said, 'no,' immediately. I didn't want anything to do with it," recalls McAllister, who is a mother and a practising veterinarian.
"I am not a marijuana user. I didn't know anything except what I hear about street marijuana. So I wasn't interested. And I was also concerned about the safety of our family. I didn't want to have greenhouses full of marijuana growing here."
But they started researching the idea in June and she was won over by the science, she said.
"I'm absolutely excited about all the possibilities it has to offer to people that require it. The medicine part of it is fascinating."
Marijuana compounds have several therapeutic properties. with more being discovered all the time, said McAllister.
"It's actually what we call a neuro-modulator and immuno-modulator, so it has great benefits for diseases like Parkinson's, MS [Multiple Sclerosis]. There's a lot of research right now into diabetes, great pain control," she said.
"Of course, everybody associates it with AIDS and chemotherapy as well. And it has very few side effects."