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Portage on verge of pot plant

Firm would produce medical marijuana

A bud of legal marijuana. If approved, the Medical Manitoba Green Inc. factory in Portage would be a Manitoba first.

ROBERT F. BUKATY / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

A bud of legal marijuana. If approved, the Medical Manitoba Green Inc. factory in Portage would be a Manitoba first.

Manitoba's first private medical-marijuana production plant has moved a step closer to opening in Portage la Prairie.

The company, called Medical Manitoba Green Inc., plans to transform a former sewing factory in Portage into its cannabis production base. It expects to employ 10 people to start.

"They're going to do it anyway, so it might as well be in Portage and we can get the economic benefits," Portage Mayor Earl Porter said.

The company has received provisional approval from Health Canada, and Portage council has approved first reading for a conditional-use permit. Second and third readings are expected to pass next week, Porter said.

The company has gone through several phases of Health Canada approval. The final phase now is to build a physical facility.

Ottawa announced changes last year that require medical marijuana be produced like any other pharmaceutical. For example, medical-cannabis facilities will be required to have high security systems.

The changes take effect April 1. They will eliminate the current regime under which hundreds of small, licensed growers are scattered across the country and grow cannabis in their homes.

Health Canada has licensed only six companies so far, and those are mainly large companies with big investment dollars backing them. At least one is listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

By comparison, the upstart company of partners from Winnipeg is a team of growers banding together, said Hersh Binder, Medical Manitoba Green spokesman.

Binder is not a medical-marijuana grower but his two partners, Aliza Amihude and Joseph Fullmer, are licensed growers under the old regulations. The three are backed by a team of other growers. Binder said his colleagues have extensive experience and can produce 15 to 20 different strains of marijuana.

While the company doesn't have all its investors lined up yet, Binder said there is a lot of interest. Retrofitting the former sewing factory will take well over $1 million. The transition could take four to six months.

New security measures require licensed cannabis production be locked down tight. That will include cameras and key-card access only. Regulations also include no odour or pollen leave the building. Neither will there be foot traffic. Products will be shipped by Canada Post or courier.

"It's like any medical facility. It has to be done right," said Binder. Once built, Medical Manitoba Green will have to pass a final physical inspection by Health Canada.

"It's really exciting to be part of a new industry, and part of an industry that's helping people," said Binder, who has a background organizing non-profit groups.

There are about 500 medical-marijuana users in Manitoba, she said.

 

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

 

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