Medical pot plant eyed in district
It won’t recoup the ones lost when Resolute Forest Products Inc. permanently closed its mill here last month but Angela Ferguson and Brad Olson are hoping to add more than a dozen jobs to the district economy with a medical cannabis production facility they’re in the process of starting up in Stratton.
“Nobody gets into this to go broke but it is our intention to keep as much [of] the financial benefits local,” stressed Ferguson.
“Anytime an employer can come to the area, that’s a positive,” she added.
“We were going to do this project somewhere in Canada; we just happened to find the perfect location here.”
Olson grew up in Rainy River District but the couple had lived in Kamloops, B.C. until last year, when they returned to the area to say good-bye to his mother, Jo.
“We came back for the funeral and the laws had just taken effect for the ability to become a licensed producer,” she recalled.
She said they spotted the location of the former Sturgeon Creek Alternative Program and knew if would be ideal for their endeavour.
“We decided to make the move because Brad couldn’t work in the traditional environmental anymore,” Ferguson explained, noting Olson, who had owned a business focused on landscaping and horticulture, injured his neck in 2010.
“We lost everything,” she remarked. “It was a devastating financial situation.”
She also said Olson was prescribed a number of opiates for the pain.
“But he wasn’t really able to be a part of the family as much as he was before,” Ferguson remembered.
She said he then looked into medical cannabis and got a prescription.
“As a horticulturalist, he began growing his own medicine at our property,” Ferguson noted. “Within a month of starting the cannabis, he was off of all his pain medication. . . .
“It was a miracle for us. It was an incredible change.”
So armed with the knowledge and the perfect location, the couple began moving forward with their project.
“Before we signed the papers on the property, we met with [Morley] council,” Ferguson said. “We were never going to take a location unless the community wanted us there.
“In this kind of work, you can’t force yourself on a town,” she stressed.
“They either want you there or they don’t.”
Ferguson said they talked to the neighbours and everybody seemed on board.
“Basically the mood is as long as you follow the rules, we’re glad you’re here,” she noted.
The couple currently is working on renovations for the facility.
“The nice thing about the location, and what appealed to us, is it’s basically a shell,” Ferguson explained, noting they are leaving the exteriors of the buildings on site intact and doing all the renovations on the interiors.
“Basically ripping off all the wood panelling, fixing the drywall, painting,” she said.
“We’re turning the grow room into a lab environment so think stainless steel, think white, think clean.
“Our employees will be cleaning the grow room two or three times a day,” she added. “It will be a very sterile, very clean environment.
Ferguson said they even will be installing showers. That way, employees can have a shower before they start their shift so they don’t bring in any contaminants.
Meanwhile, the HVAC system is expected to be state-of-the-art, with the engineer having also designed systems for hospitals and surgical rooms in Ontario.
A very sophisticated security system will be installed, as well.
Finally, the growing system—designed by Olson himself—will be an extremely high-tech one using, in part, a nutrient film technique (NFT) system.
“The plants are going to be grown in pipes and nutrient-rich water will be fed through tiny pipes at the base of plant, so they’ll be top fed,” Ferguson explained.
“The other component is we have nebulizers that create fog, so inside of the pipe the roots will always be inside of a fog cloud, if you will.
“And that will have a root accelerant in the fog,” she added. “So they always have humidity, they always have moisture, and the temperature will be kept very low.
“This system is superior for a couple of reasons—one, obviously, yields,” Ferguson remarked. “You’re going to see much higher yields.
“Two, you’re able to very closely monitor the plants as far as flushing them and getting them ready for production at the end of the process.
“The bud material is medicine so we want to make sure those plants are as clean as possible,” she stressed, noting this system lends itself well for that.
“We’re not aware of any other licensed producers growing this way. . . .
“So I can’t stress enough that the technology used at every level, from HVAC to security to the actual production of the plant, as well as drying, processing, and packing—everything is going to be top of the line,” Ferguson vowed.
Of the 13 licensed suppliers currently listed on Health Canada’s website, Ferguson said some are huge corporations, which is not what this operation will be.
“We’re more of a boutique, family-run business,” she remarked.
“Our focus is going to be on smaller batches and higher quality and quality control.
Ferguson added the research part of the project will include coming up with their own genetics and new strains that are disease-specific.
“Nothing about this project is being done on a dime, it’s all being done to the highest standards,” she reiterated, adding she feels this project is for the community.
“Our primary focus is as an employer.”
The couple is looking to hire at least 13 positions—from office manager and grow room assistants to security, sales, and end product processors.
Job descriptions and information is available at the NCDS office on Scott Street.
“We’ve made the commitment to hire our entire staff from the Rainy River District,” Ferguson said.
“We don’t see the need to go outside to hire anybody. . . .
“We need everything filled,” she added—encouraging people of all different backgrounds to apply.
“I think it’s safe to say there is a spot there that would appeal to pretty much everyone,” she reasoned.
“It’s fascinating work.”
And Ferguson said she and Olson plan to make the business a fun place to work.
“My inspiration is Google, their head offices,” she enthused. “It’s going to be a really cool place to work—it’s not going to be stodgy work at all.
“We’re going to have the music blasting and you’re never going to see a cooler employee lunchroom in your life.”
Besides employment, Ferguson also plans to support the community by hosting events and making donations.
“I hope everyone sees it as positive,” she said. “We’re going to do our best to make it really profitable.
“We know that if we maximize the output, then we can maximize the benefits for the community.
“If you’ve got deep pockets, the best thing you can do is share,” Ferguson reasoned.
“Charity work is very important to me and that is something that is going to become a fixture for the company, for sure.”
An estimated 500,000 Canadians currently use cannabis for medical purposes.
Conditions that may benefit from medical cannabis include Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and severe arthritis, among others.
To be eligible for Health Canada’s Marijuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR), you will need to provide medical documentation confirming your diagnosis by a health-care practitioner.
Ferguson said she’s already made a connection with some of the area pharmacies and will have a partnership with them.
“So some of our medicine will be staying local and will be available in pharmacies in the area,” she noted.
But they also will be shipping their product to physicians in B.C., where she initially had made connections.
Though there are reports Health Canada is struggling to process the applications for licences, with almost 300 still waiting approval, the couple hopes they’ll be up and running this fall.
“We’re in our final stages of our application with Health Canada,” Ferguson said. “I would like to see that process completed in the next two-three weeks.
“Ideally, it’s not an unreasonable goal to think we could have our full licence in place and be in production by September.
“I hope people are excited because we’re approaching this from a really professional perspective,” Ferguson stressed.
“This isn’t going away. Medical cannabis is going to become a huge multi-billion-dollar industry in Canada.”
In fact, Health Canada estimates medical marijuana sales will hit $1.3 billion annually by 2024, with some 450,000 registered users.
“I just want people to see the benefits for them,” Ferguson reiterated. “We’re not the people who are here to get rich, sell it in a year, and move out.
“We want to make a home here, we want to be a really good neighbours, and we want to bring a lot of measurable good to the community.”
In order to limit the number of visitors to the property, Ferguson asks that anyone with questions or concerns call them at 483-1451.