First medical, then recreational: Montreal marijuana plant opens

An Alberta-based company just opened Quebec's second medical cannabis production facility. Now, it's setting its sights on getting a license to produce consumer cannabis.

But it had a bit of a rocky start with no French translation at event for Quebec media

Cam Battley, executive vice president of Aurora, shows off the mother room at Aurora Vie's Pointe-Claire facility. (CBC)

For now, little clusters of green leaves make up the "mother plants" inside the Aurora medical cannabis facility that just opened in Pointe-Claire.

They look more like small house plants than the "source of all the genetic material" the company's executive vice-president Cam Battley says they'll become. 

But, Battley explained on a media tour Friday, by the time those mother plants — and their clones — grow to full capacity, the facility dubbed "Aurora Vie" will be harvesting about 4,000 kilograms of cannabis per year. 

It expects to employ between 40 and 50 people.

Aurora says it spent about $1 million revamping the former pharmaceuticals manufacturer for it to accommodate the medical cannabis harvest. (CBC)

Aurora, which has two facilities in Alberta, announced last spring it would break into the Quebec market with the 40,000-square-foot space as soon as it got approval from Health Canada.

Revamped facility

That was granted just days ago, but in the meantime, the company began setting up the production by upgrading the nondescript brick building on Hymus Boulevard.

It installed refrigeration panels on the walls and epoxy resin floors that can both be easily sanitized, and security card systems at every doorway.

But there was something it forgot, conceded Allan Cleiren, Aurora's chief operating officer, when questioned by a Radio-Canada reporter. 

The documents and flyers the French- and English-speaking journalists were greeted with were only in English. One of them was a nondisclosure agreement, containing complex language.

Radio-Canada reporter Émilie Dubreuil asked Auroro chief operating officer Allan Cleiren why the company publications handed to Quebec media were all in English. (CBC)

The two employees sitting at the table under a white tent in the parking lot were at a loss to explain why. 

The public relations nightmare was eventually smoothed over. The company's governmental affairs liaison, Andrea Paine, spoke French and so did Battley, who grew up in Beaconsfield, in a speech that followed. 

Battley also announced Aurora would be setting up a second facility in Lachute. 

Producing with an eye on legalization

The company is confident it will be able to get the licensing to produce consumer cannabis, when it's legalized in July 2018.

"We've demonstrated that we're able to follow rigorous regulation under Health Canada and, in essence, I think that we've established the trust that will allow us to go forward," Battley said. 

Aurora executive vice president Cam Battley inside the newly-opened Pointe-Claire facility's clone room, where the plant strains are reproduced to create uniformity in the product. (CBC)

Aurora has already set its sights beyond Canada's borders, though. 

It has begun to sell medical marijuana to German distributors, partnered with an Australian producer and acquired an European distributor, Battley said. 

He said Aurora is aiming to produce a wide range of cannabis products — including oils, for vaporizing, and in pill form. 

"You will find that the future does not include a lot of smoking of cannabis," Battley said. "That's becoming passé."

As for the lack of French to start off with, Battley says he's aware that's still very much in.

"This is a French-speaking province, we are hiring locally as fast as we can and we are hoping you can give us a little bit of time," he said. 

"But in the future, this is going to look like any other Quebec business and it's going to sound like any other Quebec business."

Only 2 medical cannabis production facilities in Quebec

What Aurora claims is "the most advanced indoor production facility in the world right now" is inside this nondescript Hymus Boulveard building. It is one of two medical cannabis facilities in Quebec. (CBC)

There are only two medical cannabis production facilities in the province, including the Pointe-Claire setup. The other one is run by Hydropothecary in Gatineau.

As of July, Health Canada had issued 29 licenses for production in Ontario.

Aurora Cannabis Inc. is a publicly-traded company. Its share price has shot up in the last few weeks and stands at $7.24.

With files from Jaela Bernstien