BY GLORIA J. KATCH
Special to the VOICE
“We’re coming out of prohibition, we’re coming out!” is how an elated Brad Rogers, President of CannTrust Inc., described last Wednesday’s legalization of marijuana, noting its monumental and historical significance. CannTrust owns and operates a 500,000 sq. ft., state-of-the art hydroponic facility on Balfour Road in Fenwick, which is expanding like wildfire.
In a telephone interview from his Toronto office, he said he wasn’t surprised by the news, despite the stipulations on Bill C-41 by the Senate. He said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had the majority of support and willpower to get the bill passed into law.
“This will be [Trudeau’s] legacy,” he added.
To celebrate the occasion, CannTrust was to have launched a tour and press conference in Fenwick on Tuesday, marking the completion of Phase One of the facility.
CannTrust says that the facility is Canada’s first perpetual- harvest cannabis greenhouse. Since its inception, CannTrust has also been connected with the pharmaceutical company Apotex Inc., which has been a catalyst in its success.
CannTrust’s Brand Manager, Kayla Rochkin, said Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony is a “soft launch” of the facility, in that some 500,000 square feet of the greenhouse have already been in full production for several months. Brad Rogers confirmed that Phase Two is “well underway,” and estimates another eight acres is being expropriated to create a total of some one million square feet of land for marijuana production in Pelham.
CannTrust asserts that it is being compliant with applicable regulations, and has already completed all the paperwork for permits to be in place for Phase Two completion by spring of next year.
Rogers estimates his yield will be in excess of 100,000 kilograms a year.
Ironically, Rogers noted CannTrust is expanding to other countries including Columbia and Mexico, where marijuana is still illegal, and a hot topic due to the crime and corruption involved in the black market.
When asked if he felt like a marijuana kingpin, Rogers chuckled about a potential news story on how he might be compared to the notorius Pablo Escobar, the Columbian drug lord. However, Rogers did it the legal way.
As for many Canadians, his exposure to marijuana came early in Rogers’ life. He lived in Kingston, Jamaica for many years. Even back then, he was forging new empires. He started an entertainment business, which he eventually sold to develop Mettrum, a marijuana, bio-pharmaceutical company. Canopy Grow, another large marijuana producer, bought Rogers out. Soon after, he joined CannTrust.
Images of Escobar aside, Rogers is more like Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, and wants to be a good neighbour.
“We want to be great neighbours, and in good standing with the community.”
Rogers has visited the Balfour street site several times. “There are a lot of nice people down there. People have been great about [the facility] and there’ve been no complaints.”
CannTrust continually monitors its odour-control system.
“We do try and do everything we can to mitigate the smell.”
In future, as production amps up, Rogers noted, “That’s not to say we might not have a little smell down the road, but it’s better than some of the smells you get in the country. It’s like someone parked an outhouse beside your door,” he remarked on the customary spreading of manure in preparation of the crop-growing season. Notwithstanding, Rogers maintains his staff is willing to listen to complaints, and “be a good neighbor.”
If one checks online, CannTrust has jobs listed for Operations, Quality Compliance, Harvest technicians, as well as Growers.
He said in the first six months of establishing the Balfour site they hired about 250 people to produce 15 different strains of marijuana. Rogers said they have collaborated with Niagara College to develop its educational course on marijuana production, and have already created scholarships.
“We’re hiring right out of school,” he said.
Overall, Rogers believes the economic contribution to the local economy is huge.
For the company, legalization means Rogers can create a rainbow of products around the globe. Considering all the new blends of marijuana, drops, teas and edibles, the opportunity for developing new products appears endless, and Rogers wants to create his own brand. CannTrust even has a partnership with Grey Wolf Animal Health Inc. to develop cannabis products for pets.
When asked how he will control those underage ordering cannabis online, Rogers said Health Canada monitors credit card identity, and is aware of the age of card holders.
Before speaking to the Voice, Rogers said he was meeting with officials from the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), which is authorized to sell marijuana to the public. Its staff will be checking the age of consumers at the door, and not allowing anyone under 19 into the building.
“It’s a new thing. The LCBO is a great retailer and very disciplined in what they do,” he said.
Despite the regulations in place, he admits there are always people trying to break the system.
“No matter what you do, you just have to try and build a better mousetrap.”
The stigma of reefer madness still exists among certain segments of the populace. There are still those concerned about the effect of marijuana usage in youth, and its gateway potential to other drugs.
Rogers said marijuana will have to be treated like alcohol.
“It was only a gateway drug because it was illegal, and kids would go to someone’s basement. where there were other drugs.”
He believes legalizing it, will mean more education, transparency and responsibility with respect to underage use.
There are four clinical trials being done around the globe on the benefits of marijuana in assisting those afflicted with neuromuscular diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis, and A.L.S. (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).
On the cultural and social spectrum, Rogers is similarly planning wine and cheese tours as “Wine and Weed, with the last stop being at marijuana facilities, where tours will be the norm.
Consumers may soon be pairing up the distinct bouquet of wines with a flavourful assortment of cannabis-based delicacies, imbibed in many forms. The stigma of reefer madness may disappear as marijuana becomes commonplace in products and on our store shelves, restaurants and coffee shops.
For Rogers, keeping up with the changing demands and varying product lines on this new frontier will be challenging, “darn exciting, and a little crazy.”