Pot profits predicted to soar with legalization on the horizon

Business is booming for Canada's licensed medical marijuana producers. With legal pot on the way in 2017, growers could be set to cash in.

Booming Alberta company supplies nearly 4,000 customers, and demand is climbing

Aurora Cannabis' sprawling 55,000-square-foot medical marijuana production facility contains 10 of these grow rooms. (Erin Collins/CBC)

Tucked into the rolling hills of Alberta's ranch country, just down the road from the small town of Cremona, lies one of Canada's biggest medical marijuana operations.  

Just over an hour from Calgary, the Aurora Cannabis production facility is set back from the road, and ringed by barbed wire. 

Security is tight, inside and out.

Inside the sprawling 55,000-square-foot facility, key cards are needed to enter and exit each room, and security cameras perched above doors monitor everything that goes on.

Cam Battley, a vice-president of Aurora and a board member of the Cannabis Canada Association, which represents more than half of Canada's 31 licensed medical marijuana growers, says the idea that pot is a medicine has gone mainstream in Canada.

"There are now about 70,000 patients in the medical cannabis system and that number is growing by about 10 per cent per month, so it is growing exceedingly quickly."
Aurora vice-president Cam Battley holds a bag containing 1,000 grams of dried medicinal marijuana, worth about $8,000, in the facility's 'vault.' (Erin Collins/CBC)

Battley says the industry is set to expand even more when recreational pot becomes legal, as the federal government has promised in legislation planned for next spring.

"We have the capacity to produce very large volumes of high quality cannabis, so Aurora and other licensed producers do intend to be involved in the consumer cannabis market."

That could help push Aurora and other producers into profitability, and Battley says it could be great news for the economy, especially in Alberta which continues to suffer the impact of low oil prices.

"It will be an economic success story that this province can be proud of and, more broadly, this is something we are seeing across Canada. Canada has become the world leader not only in medical cannabis research but also in medical cannabis production."

In the Aurora operation, Joel Fuzat's tattooed wrist peaks out from his medical scrubs as he reaches out to buzz himself into the "vault."
Joel Fuzat shows off one of the 10 grow rooms at the Aurora Cannabis in Alberta. (Erin Collins/CBC)

Inside, Fuzat, who runs this facility, cradles a large silver package in his arms, "Here in my hand protecting it from light, heat and temperature is about $8,000 in medical grade cannabis," he says.

All around him, similar packages are stacked neatly on trolleys and shelves. Each shiny, pillow-sized envelope, contains 1,000 grams of dried pot, bagged, tagged and ready for delivery. 

"Today we just packaged container number 33,000. Not bad for just starting sales in January."

The 10 grow rooms can each house thousands of plants under warm yellow lights. As Fuzat enters grow room W1, a pleasant floral aroma wafts out.

"Here in W1 you will see a strain called Grape LA. It has about two or three weeks left until we harvest it."

Once harvested, the many different strains that are grown here will be packaged and shipped to one of Aurora's nearly 4,000 customers.
Jennifer Cummings, who suffers from Crohn's disease and has severe migraines, grabs a bud from her container of medical marijuana. (Erin Collins/CBC)

Jennifer Cummings, one of those customers, is part of a growing number of Canadians who are turning to medicinal pot for what ails them.

Cummings shows off a container of prescribed pot, and the vaporizer she uses to take her medicine on the dining table of her suburban Calgary home. 

Cummings, who has Crohn's disease and severe migraines, worked as a nurse before chronic pain forced her off the job, "I know pain from both sides I know pain as a patient and I know pain professionally,"  she says.

The mother of two says she was on drugs from opioids to beta blockers before turning to medicinal marijuana out of desperation. She says nothing has relieved her pain like pot.

"It just feels like you are being enveloped with this protective layer around you and it is a relief."

Cummings says it is time for people to change the way they view medical marijuana, "People need to stop looking at it as a drug with a negative connotation and start looking at it as a medicine." The strain of pot she uses does not cause any kind of high, she says. 

About the Author

Erin Collins

Senior reporter

Erin Collins is an award-winning senior reporter with CBC National News based in Calgary.