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Green fields ahead for Kapuskasing cannabis grower

CannAssist Canada expects growing domestic and international demand for its product
Kapuskasing welcome sign

A fledgling medical cannabis company with plans to build its first commercial growing operation in Kapuskasing in 2018 is forecasting swift growth over the next few years.

At a Dec. 28 press conference video streamed over the municipality’s Facebook page, CannAssist Canada laid out its strategy for a 45,000-square-foot operation. It's the first stage of an anticipated much larger cultivation and oil extraction facility.

The company signed a memorandum of understanding with the Town of Kapuskasing, the culmination of a four-year relationship-building process.

The deal gives the northeastern Ontario forestry mill town of 9,500 a five per cent equity stake in the project, which Kapuskasing Mayor Al Spacek said will be a “significant” revenue generator for the community, not to mention provide up to 60 jobs.

The privately-held company is not disclosing the price of the facility which will be built at the municipal airport. Production numbers were not mentioned.

No contractor has been selected but the construction of the main building and grow houses will be complete sometime next fall.

CannAssist passed an important milestone on Nov. 20 when it received a Letter to Proceed from Health Canada, which is a confirmation of readiness to the company that their application has met all the federal requirements.

Once the facility is built, Health Canada conducts a final inspection before issuing a licence to begin cultivation and sales.

The company sees its immediate future on the pharmaceutical side in reaching out to seniors and those in long-term care through social media and clinicians.

CannAssist CEO Janice Britton, a registered nurse who’s worked in acute care, said she has first-hand knowledge of the benefits of medicinal marijuana for those with debilitating conditions and terminal illnesses.

“The current supply is nowhere near enough to meet the market demand for medical marijuana,” said Britton, “and that’s not considering the recreational market.”

With a physician’s authorization, patients will be able to order online from a federally-licensed producer like CannAssist and have it shipped directly to them.

The company isn’t ruling out catering to recreational users when that market segment becomes legal next July.

“We firmly believe, and our research has clearly shown, that the demand for this product is going to far exceed the supply that’s out there,” said chief operating officer Mark Pearlman, “whether that’s in the recreational side or whether that’s in the medicinal side.”

With that mind, CannAssist is already talking about expansion to enlarge the facility to 250,000 square feet within eight to 10 months of the start of production, with an eye on shipping to international markets by 2019-2020.

The company revealed they are looking to partner with European companies to export Kapuskasing product and are currently in talks with a potential German distributor.

Apparently, there’s massive demand for medical marijuana in Europe with only a few licensed producers in operation.

In describing the facility, Britton said grow rooms will make up the majority of the space of the highly secure facility.

The latest technology in energy cost-saving devices will be employed, including innovative lighting to optimize plant growth.

There will be around-the-clock surveillance both inside and outside the building which will be built to Level-9 security standards, the same as used in banks.

It will be a two-shift (16-hour-a-day) Monday-to-Friday operation with some weekend production.

Job openings will be posted on the company’s website in the new year and there’s talk of an upcoming local job fair.

The company will be scouting for a master grower and will be looking to fill positions in security, production, infection prevention and control, quality assurance, shipping and receiving, office and call centre staff.

Pearlman emphasized most of the facility’s management will be recruited and trained from within the community.

He added the company would like to use the airport to fly out the product but that depends on Health Canada regulations for shipment.

Pearlman explained this burgeoning industry has evolved from dispensing dry leaf to oil extraction which can be encapsulated for a more exact dosage.

Currently, Health Canada does not recognize cannabis as a medication but is supportive of the ongoing research and development work.

Britton couldn’t say if they will eventually be producing edible pills since federal regulations haven’t been formalized.

“If that does become legal in the new recreational framework that would definitely be something we would look at.”

What strains will be produced in Kapuskasing hasn’t been finalized but the company is in talks with Israeli producers.

As a private company, Pearlman said they’re feeling the pressure from CannAssist’s original investors to go public.

But he prefers to build a sound base first in developing Kapuskasing as a demonstrated low-cost producer with a business model that can be replicated elsewhere before they launch an IPO.

“We want to be able to fine-tune that and drive the revenue model so that eventually if and when we do go public that (it’s) based on business fundamentals.”

Mayor Spacek complimented the company for being “very forthcoming, very forthright” and transparent in its business strategy.

“I think it’s very indicative of how they’ve operated from day one.”

He also praised the community for being an accepting and willing host following a series of town hall meetings.