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Augustyn: Pot operation “provides hope to our community”

Mayor Augustyn, centre, with CannTrust officials. Augustyn declared that the company's marijuna operation "provides hope to our community." GLORIA J. KATCH PHOTO

Ribbon cut at Pelham’s largest pot plant

BY GLORIA J. KATCH
Special to the VOICE

Billed as the world’s largest perpetual harvest cannabis greenhouse facility, CannTrust officials and local government dignitaries launched the 500,000-square- foot site with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at its Balfour Street location in Fenwick last Tuesday, June 26.

Michael Caplin, now General Manager of CannTrust, owned the greenhouse business prior to selling it to CannTrust. He went from growing flowers to flowering cannabis.

“I spent my entire career in the greenhouse industry and we have implemented the best of the best,” sais Caplin. Approximately 200 employees work on site, and CannTrust has said it intends to hire some 50 more employees within the next year.

Pelham Mayor Dave Augustyn offered well-wishes to the operation, which is the largest of six cannabis growing facilities in Pelham.

“We appreciate your investment into the community, and it’s wonderful to see the transformation in our workforce. This provides hope to our community.”

Dr. Michael Ravensdale commented on the efficiency of the climate-controlled technology.

In the perpetual system, cannabis is grown in moveable shelves in a sanitary environment. The result is a higher yield over shorter growing periods, with bountiful crops every few months, 12 months of the year.

CannTrust uses 15 megawatts of lighting power annually, as well as natural gas, co-generation heating during the cooler months.

“We have a lot of technology around efficiency,” Ravensdale said. The inside of the operation has an opaque lining in every room to prevent light from leaking out.

Large white, clinical-looking rooms filled with cannabis sat in movable shelves, in different growing stages. Caplin said they were conscientious over contaminants, including bugs and insects. The operation also integrated natural pest control, namely the use of bugs that eat other bugs that destroy cannabis plants. Large fans every 10,000 feet circulate the air.

Hydroponic systems are water-based, and the cannabis is grown in fibreglas porous casings sitting on shelves as water-filled nutrients flow through the plants. Rainwater is collected, with a reservoir on site, used in the computerized irrigation system. The water is de-contaminated and recycled, so it can be used again. “You have to be a very good grower to be in hydroponics,” Caplin said.

With the perpetual harvesting system, CannTrust can harvest an entire greenhouse at a time. Caplin showed his visitors a large crop of the blend “Catatonic” that was flowering, which is 24 percent C.B.D and two percent T.H.C., which means it’s used for pain management, not recreation.

A new outdoor greenhouse will be added as a part of CannTrust’s expansion. The company is already operating 600,000 square feet of space, and is planning to harvest eight more acres on Balfour Street.

Brad Rogers, President of CannTrust, told reporters prior to the ribbon-cutting that product planning is divided for many different uses. He said that he was hoping to keep costs for cannabis to 75 cents per gram and later 50 cents per gram, which he said may not be “internationally competitive,” but reasonable, considering that many may grow marijuana in their homes.

Among new product lines will be performance enhancing sports drinks that include vitamins and nutrients, a product that Rogers said he expects to be popular with athletes and sports enthusiasts.

Rogers acknowledges that not everyone is on board with marijuana.

“We have an incredible education system,” he said, asserting that CannTrust works with doctors and researchers, who can have “conversations,” with other medical professionals about product development. He noted there are also prescription drugs that have negative side effects.

When asked how much CannTrust spends in research and development, Rogers replied, “millions of dollars,” and later said the new products for pets alone could be a worldwide, five billion dollar industry.

Niagara Region’s Public Health department is also amped-up for the recent status change for marijuana. It was an “anticipated rush,” explained Amy Fishleigh, Health Promoter for the Niagara Region, adding that Public Health views the issue from a large population standpoint, and its message is cautionary.

The Region is planning “a wide-reaching campaign,” and educational materials will be distributed to school boards and public health centers. The Health Department also has volunteers doing educational outreach specifically targeting youth.

“People are entitled to know the truth. Just because it’s legal, we can’t say it’s for every individual,” said Dr. Andrea Feller, Associate Medical Officer of Niagara Regional Public Health.

She asserted that studies show that the brain is still developing until 25 years of age, and that high potency and frequent use of marijuana will cause cognitive issues.

“The earlier they start, the more at risk they are for dependency,” said Feller.

She also fears that getting high will lead to higher accident rates. She warns anyone under legal age not to use cannabis.

For those that have a history of mental health or addiction in their families, marijuana may create reactions that are detrimental to their well-being. Anyone with respiratory problems such as bronchitis and asthma, may find that smoking or vaping marijuana irritates the lungs.

“Breathing anything into your lungs in a recreational manner is not healthy,” she said, adding, “We know that just saying, ‘No’ doesn’t work,” which is why more education is needed, particularly among youth.”

Research from states in the U.S. where pot is legal indicates that cyclical vomiting, sometimes referred to as “Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome” by health practitioners, is increasing. For some people smoking pot irritates the receptors in the stomach and intestinal lining.

“It can mess you up,” Feller said.

Young children may suffer from poisoning if they accidentally consume marijuana. Expectant mothers should not imbibe pot, which could affect the baby’s health. As for any couple trying to get pregnant, research shows that marijuana alters and reduces sperm count.

Feller was enthusiastic about the upcoming weeks, as the public health department is expected to receive more federal policy guidelines regarding building educational campaigns, and targeting different sectors of the population.

“We’re going to hit the ground running,” she said.

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