While the Canadian government deliberates on plans to legalize cannabis, new regulations are underway. The Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR) allow patients to grow a limited amount of cannabis for their own use – with seeds and plants to only be provided by licensed producers. As the ability to home grow has returned to patients, there has been heightened concern about quality and safety of product by independent growers, including cannabis sold at dispensaries, as Health Canada stated the product “may be unsafe”. To heighten the issue even further, a recent investigation tested nine dispensary samples of cannabis, and one-third of the samples failed Health Canada’s safety standards. It has been circulating however, that labs are discouraged by Health Canada to test dispensary cannabis and storefront owners have spoken out about not being able to test their own products.
Despite the facilitated access to cannabis that dispensaries provide, and considering the in-between phase patients are finding themselves in, the standards of Health Canada’s licensed production facilities are a much safer bet in terms of quality of medicine. One of the latest licensed producers to emerge on the Canadian market, Emblem Cannabis Corp., recently welcomed me to their facility to see the grow for myself, discuss bud quality, and talk about their new Health Canada license to begin in sales.
Our intentions of a quick tour turned into a great discussion on how Emblem began, the production process, and an opportunity to gain insight on industry thoughts. Emblem’s 23,500 sq ft production facility in Paris, Ontario started off early in cultivation. As soon as their license to grow was granted, work began straight away. As part of a fully integrated medical marijuana and health care company, high standards must be held to carry on business under the regulations. Tying in with the fresh energy of walking into a new business, Emblem’s President, Maxim Zavet, keenly described how excited the team is to serve patients. It was great to walk through the lunchroom as the marketing and sales teams enjoyed their group lunch, something that takes place every other Friday. Another day at work, doing something they love, in a place any cannabis-loving folk would love to see or to be within scent-distance.
“Quality” struck an important note with Zavet as we discussed product free of contaminants. There clearly are major benefits of growing in indoor, state-of-the-art environments that modern facilities can provide. Custom HVAC units, including humidity and climate control allow for perfect growing conditions and premium product that can be created as consistently as possible.
Starting off with the Cuttings Room, we observed the delicate first stages of strains Jesus OG, Northern Lights, and Lavender. Simply speaking, cuttings are created when a piece of stem or root of a plant is removed and placed in soil, coaxing roots to grow and completely become its own plant. Of course it has to be humid for success, which brought me to consider the humidity levels of rooms that independent growers need to keep, as well as the potential for mold and bacteria to multiply in those conditions – if plants are not monitored properly.
We entered a grow of large mother plants placed at the back, and closer to the front we could see the clones that were beginning to root. Bean plants were placed around strategically to deter any potential insects – thank goodness for natural solutions. With eight weeks to maturity, a few cycles were going on in this room at the same time as some plants had been there longer than others. We continued into the next grow with plants beginning to flower; a delight to see and smell, full of anticipated harvest of strain varieties Girl Scout Cookies, Exodus Cheese, Shark Shock, and Strawberry Cough – a favourite for sativa lovers. With 40 strains, and the goal of having 80 varieties in the near future, those looking for quality as well as variety will likely be happy. “I’m really particular and know what good cannabis looks like – I’m a bit of a canna-expert” said Zavet as the tour took us to the dry room – a low humidity haven for strains to dry out before distribution, approximately 3-5 days before packaging. I took a whiff of the Cheese strain and will announce that it was exceptionally cheesy, a scent that counteracted the fruitier tone of Girl Scout Cookies. “It’s a learning process, you learn along the way and you get better at it, you see all the types of strains, and how some plants just do better in certain environments as opposed to other plants that are not as resistant”.
The packaging room where the finished product arrives also holds the curing vaults, and I really wanted to sniff that Strawberry Cough after being told it smells like strawberries. It was beautifully pungent. Staff explained that drying the buds a bit extra makes sure there is no mold or bacteria growing on the final product. It is afterwards gently hydrated with a humidity packet to give it a bit of sponginess without adding moisture. The product is then placed in an airtight canister that is sent to a lab for testing.
As Emblem plans to be in the position to fulfil orders to authorized patients by November 1, 2016, quality of product before providing it to customers for consumption is a priority. As customers, both medicinal and recreational, have become more knowledgeable on their cannabis and their rights than ever before – the next step is to become more aware and selective of product quality and source. As for the perception and stigma of cannabis consumption – it will soon be a thing of the past assured Zavet, “It’s like drinking a cup of coffee, perceptions will change in the next 5 years”.