Manitoba

Winnipeg-based cannabis producer Bonify has licence reinstated by Health Canada

A Winnipeg-based cannabis producer had its sales licence reinstated by Health Canada on Wednesday, after it was suspended in February over an investigation that revealed the company sold illegal product at stores in Saskatoon, Regina and Moose Jaw.

‘A landmark moment,’ for budding Canadian cannabis industry, says Bonify CEO

Bonify's licence was suspended after the company sold illegal product in February. (Susan Montoya Bryan/Associated Press)

Winnipeg-based cannabis producer Bonify has had its sales licence reinstated by Health Canada, after it was suspended in February over an investigation that revealed the company sold illegal product at stores in Saskatoon, Regina and Moose Jaw, the company announced Wednesday.

The third-party investigation into Bonify came after Health Canada recalled two of the producer's strains in December over contamination concerns about products sold in Saskatchewan.

That investigation was conducted by George Robinson, who at the time was the chief executive of RavenQuest Technologies Inc. and now serves as Bonify's chief executive officer.

Robinson's investigation found three former Bonify executives, who were dismissed in December, hired an outside agent to buy what turned out to be illegal product.

In December, a number of front-line staff tried to speak out about the 200 kilograms of unlicensed cannabis that arrived at its 320,000-square-foot Winnipeg production facility but were pressured to look the other way, he said.

One of the dismissed executives later filed a lawsuit alleging he had been wrongfully dismissed by the company.

George Robinson, who handled a third-party investigation into the practices of Bonify, spoke at a media conference at the licensed producer's Winnipeg facility in December 2018 after allegations about the illegal product first surfaced. (Ian Froese/CBC)

Robinson called the licence reinstatement "a landmark moment" for the nascent legal cannabis industry in Canada, which he said has already faced several high-profile compliance challenges.

A spokesperson for Health Canada said the federal institution has suspended nine licences associated with six companies.

In 2014, it suspended licences from Broken Coast (formerly known as Greenleaf Medicinals Ltd.), ABcann Medicinals Inc. and Whistler Medical Marijuana Co. In 2018, it suspended one from Agrima Botanicals.

In 2019, Health Canada suspended one licence from Bonify Holdings Corporation, one from Evergreen Medicinal Supply Inc. and three from CannTrust Inc., one of which was for research purposes.

All licenses suspended from Ontario-based CannTrust and British Columbia-based Evergreen remain suspended, making Bonify the first company suspended since legalization to have a licence reinstated.

This freestanding concrete vault at Bonify's Winnipeg production facility can store 3,000 kilograms of product, company officials told CBC during a 2017 tour of the premises. It's heavily guarded with motion-detecting cameras and vibration sensors built into the 48-centimetre-thick walls. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

Robinson said it took nearly 11 months for Bonify to get its licence back.

"It's a very hard process," he said. "You really have to go through now-predetermined steps to actually identify the areas [where there are issues] and then prove through development of your standard operating procedures, your quality control and your operational security plan to make sure they're all in alignment with what needs to happen."

Robinson did not elaborate on the investigation into the company.

"It was a deterioration of culture, potentially led by certain individuals. We'll leave it at that," said Robinson. "We had to reestablish that culture, working with the core team, the shareholders and the new senior management team there."

Robinson said the industry needs new leadership that focuses on doing business the right way.

"The lessons from Bonify are clear: follow the rules, train your staff and run a clean, well-designed facility capable of producing high-quality cannabis without cutting corners," he said.

With files from Ian Froese

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