Metro Morning

Markham medical marijuana company bracing for legalization boom

Medical marijuana manufacturer MedReleaf says growing demand has prompted the company to expand, opening a new facility in Bradford, Ont., four times the size of its current plant.

MedReleaf says demand for marijuana justifies expansion to facility 4 times the size of existing plant

MedReleaf employees work to trim the harvest marijuana plants, removing all of the leaves to ensure only the bud of the plant is dried and distributed for patient use. (Amanda Grant/CBC)

Medical marijuana manufacturer MedReleaf says growing demand has prompted the company to expand, with plans to open a new facility in Bradford, Ont., four times the size of its current plant.

"It's an incredibly exciting time for us," said Darren Karasiuk, vice president of strategy with MedReleaf. "It really speaks to the growth of the industry." 

A closer look at a budding business, take a tour of a medical marijuana manufacturing facility in Markham, Ont. 2:18

The Markham-based company is one of 38 legally licensed medical marijuana producers operating under Health Canada regulations. That means Health Canada regularly visits the facility, testing the product, surveying security footage, and ensuring the drug is being handled like any other legal pharmaceutical.

The company sends patients with verified documentation marijuana in the mail, offering a variety of strains targeting different symptoms. 

Right now, the company operates out of a 50,000 square-foot building in an industrial park in Markham. But soon, the company will see that footprint grow to over 250,000 square feet. 

Karasiuk says the expansion will see the addition of 350 employees, including 250 full time positions in the grow rooms, trimming rooms and research departments of the company. All 350 of those jobs will come with salaries above minimum wage, with full benefits packages and bonuses, Karasiuk said. 

Large bins full of harvested marijuana buds circulate through the facility as they move from the trimming room to the drying room, to the packaging plant. At each stage the bin is weighed to ensure all of the plants are accounted for at all times. (Amanda Grant/CBC)

The town of Bradford has been working closely with MedReleaf on the expansion, and though the business may be unconventional to some, the town welcomes the new employer to the region. 

"We had a large industrial building that was ready to be occupied and their operation was a good fit," said Geoff McKnight, chief administrative officer for Bradford West Gwillimbury. "It would restore jobs that had been lost ... and at the end of the day our council saw this as a pharmaceutical business just like any other." 

Stigma of working in marijuana industry

Karasiuk himself is new to the company. He joined the team six months ago after leaving a position with Deloitte. Though it may seem like an unconventional career-change, Karasiuk says it was a smart decision. 

Darren Karasiuk was working with Deloitte last year before joining the MedReleaf team, a move he says ensures he's working in an innovative, cutting-edge work environment. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

"More and more people are recognizing, not only the industry, but Canada's unique position in this, because we really are ahead of the world." 

Adam Noyek has been with MedReleaf from the beginning, when the company was considered a start-up back in 2014. He says he's seen a considerable shift over the past three years with people growing more accepting of the industry. 

"There's so many misconceptions," said Noyek, MedReleaf's director of business planning. 

"I do think there was a stigma ... certainly when it came to recruiting new staff, I don't think they really got the full picture until they came here, saw our facility, saw what we were trying to do."

Rows of medical marijuana plants glow in the yellow lights of one of MedReleaf's multiple grow rooms. Each room contains thousands of plants at different stages of maturity. (Amanda Grant/CBC)

It was important to get people on board with the idea early, as the company focuses on recruiting top talent in fields like plant and molecular biology, as well as food science, to help them develop different strains of marijuana, and ensure the plants grow in the best possible climate and at the best possible rate. 

Company grows with promise of legalization

MedReleaf's expansion is partly thanks to growing demand for medical marijuana in Canada, but it's also a move to prepare the company for legalization and development of the recreational market. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government has said it will table legislation to legalize marijuana in the the spring of 2017.

"The recreational market is going to be some place between a $5 billion and $8 billion market on dried product alone, upwards of $22 billion when you factor in all of the other ancillary pieces," Karasiuk said. 

When asked if MedReleaf could one day have free-standing stores selling marijuana to recreational users Karasiuk says nothing is off the table. 

"What's most important, though, in our view, is that whatever that retail environment is ...  that it provides us the ability to communicate to the adult consumer in an effective manner where it's safe and secure ... just as you find in most alcohol-type distribution." 

Metro Morning

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