Edmonton

Inside dope on plans for Edmonton's first medical marijuana grow-op

A new kind of green economy could soon take root in Edmonton, if the city's first medical marijuana grow-op gets final approval. A company called Alberta Green Biotech is behind the project, planned for a northwest industrial park.

Plan for 12 pods, each big enough to grow $1.8 to million to $2 million worth of marijuana a year

A company called Alberta Green Biotech plans to build a massive medical marijuana grow-op in a northwest Edmonton industrial park. (Supplied)

A new kind of green economy could soon take root in Edmonton, if the city's first medical marijuana grow-op gets final approval.

A company called Alberta Green Biotech is behind the project, planned for a northwest industrial park.

The company is still waiting for a development permit, and said once that gets approved they plan to spend $4 million to $6 million to build a 125,000-square-foot facility.

From the outside it would look like any other warehouse. But inside, there will be 12 rooms called grow-pods: each big enough to generate $1.8 to million to $2 million worth of marijuana a year.

The company picked Edmonton because there is no medical marijuana facility in Alberta.

"There is a market. It's growing," said Gary Symons, director of communications for Alberta Green Biotech. "Health Canada expects it's going to be about $1.3 billion a year on the medical side."

Alberta Green Biotech was founded in 2013 by Noel Avila, a Filipino immigrant who is now a Canadian citizen. He and his brother, Leo, a software contractor, raised money from primarily Edmonton and Ottawa investors to pursue an application under Canada's Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations to become a licensed producer.

The first stage of construction, about 18,000 square feet, would include a research and testing lab, office space and a huge vault. The main warehouse would include two stories of self-contained grow pods, each with its own source of air to prevent cross contamination.

The company would have room to expand to 225,000 square feet.

There is currently no licensed marijuana producer in Edmonton.

"We just felt that Alberta needs its own producer and its own support," said Symons.

Under current federal regulations, producers can only sell "dried marijuana, which is generally smoked.

Symons said many doctors in Alberta don't want to prescribe medical marijuana.

"We've done our research," he said. "It's pretty clear in our minds that there are health benefits to medical marijuana.

"I understand that physicians are reluctant. It's simply because, right now, the delivery systems aren't what they should be."

AGB wants to develop methods to provide doses tailored to individual people and their medical conditions, Symons said. The company will work with others in Israel and the U.S. to develop new products.

"That isn't currently legal under the Health Canada framework," Symons said. "But we think it will be at some point. So we want to be ready to deliver something that's a better medical solution that doctors can support.

"And in the meantime, do everything we can to make sure that those who need what we can provide now get the proper medication, and doctors know what that is."

The facility would be ready to operate about a year from now, if the permit comes through. It would take six months to build, Symons said. Then the first round of crops would be tested by Health Canada.

The warehouse will have Level-9 security — that includes two fences, lasers, motion detectors, the huge vault, video surveillance, and tracking devices for all employees.

"Kind of like Fort Knox," Symons said, "with marijuana plants inside."

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