October 11, 2013

Former Canadian chocolate factory turning to marijuana

Canada’s health department will no longer allow people to grow medicinal pot in their homes but instead will have companies supply the drug.

By Greg Quinn
Bloomberg News

OTTAWA — An abandoned factory once owned by Hershey Co. in Canada may soon be making products that offer a bigger buzz than a chocolate kiss: marijuana, under license by the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

click image to enlarge

Bloomberg News/Allan Ziolkowski/Tweed An abandoned factory once owned by Hershey Co. in Canada may soon be producing pot.

Bruce Linton, chairman of Tweed Inc. – one of 185 companies seeking a permit to start producing pot next year – said finding a location was one of his biggest obstacles because landlords shun even sanctioned drug production.

“Five years ago your parents would have disowned you if you thought about doing this,” said Linton, 47. “It’s like saying ‘poop’ when you are 9 or something. Marijuana is like that for adults because it’s a taboo.”

Canada’s health department in June said it would end a system allowing people to grow medicinal pot in their homes and instead have companies supply the drug. The image of pot factories represents a shift for Harper, who says he never smoked marijuana and who has campaigned on being tough on crime.

The licensing of output is a “tightening up versus loosening up” of drug laws because it separates “the legitimate from the illicit use,” said Mark Mander, chairman of a drug panel for the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and head of police in Kentville, Nova Scotia.

Home-grown pot has led to “unintended consequences” that hurt public safety and led to people abusing the system, Health Canada said in June when it published rules. The new system regulates marijuana like other narcotics, according to a background paper that says commercial producers must meet strict requirements to be licensed.

Medical doctors object to the new system, saying there are no standardized dosages or rules to make marijuana safe to prescribe like other drugs.

“We have to make absolutely sure we aren’t creating a nation of addicts,” said Canadian Medical Association President Louis Hugo Francescutti. “Very few physicians are prepared.”

Many Canadians are deciding marijuana is good medicine, with more than 30,000 people now having medical licenses. Sales may be worth $1.25 billion by 2024, Health Canada estimates, with prices set in the open market reaching $8.50 a gram.

Public debate about marijuana also widened when Harper’s rival, Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau in August said he smoked the drug as a parliamentarian. The party’s chief financial officer Chuck Rifici is also Tweed’s chief executive officer.

Tweed’s sales could reach $97 million dollars a year with prices for its planned 20 varieties ranging from $6.30 to $14.50, Linton said. The company signed an agreement to buy the factory in Smiths Falls, Ontario with a Dec. 2 closing date, and may spend about $1.9 million in renovations, he said. Tweed will seek partners to use the 300,000 square feet of leftover space, which includes equipment left behind that could churn out popsicles and dairy products, he said.

The idea of cultivating drugs in an old chocolate factory echoes the popular television show “Breaking Bad,” whose main character, New Mexico teacher Walter White, cooks methamphetamine to pay for cancer treatments with the help of a criminal who runs a chain of fast-food restaurants.

Smiths Falls Mayor Dennis Staples said he’s heard only two complaints about the project and the city council is “totally supportive” of it. Tweed will bring employment to the city of 9,000 people about 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of Ottawa, which lost 1,700 jobs in recent years – including those at the old Hershey plant.

The mayor has a personal connection to the issue: His brother used medical marijuana as he battled colon cancer. “It made his last days on this Earth much more bearable,” Staples said.

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