Doug Schmidt • Windsor Star
Jun 28, 2018 • June 28, 2018
Beware of pot that is grown outdoors, warns one of Canada’s dominant suppliers of greenhouse-grown marijuana.
“People need to be careful of the quality, who grows it and how they grow it,” said Jakob Ripshtein, chief commercial officer with Leamington’s Aphria Inc.
Canada ends its decades-old ban on recreational marijuana use on Oct. 17. The federal government is opening the door for a new generation of “micro-processors” to grow pot on small plots of up to 200 square metres, and it’s also permitting outdoor crops of marijuana. The aim is to have more players to compete in the sector currently dominated by large corporations and to permit a cheaper source of marijuana, making the new market more competitive.
“It’s great,” said Jon Liedtke, co-owner of downtown Windsor’s Higher Limits cannabis lounge. “Canada has the opportunity here to continue to be a leader.”
But Aphria’s Ripshtein wonders what might happen to the quality of that outdoor crop when it’s growing next to other farm crops that are treated with pesticides or other chemicals. Canada’s medical marijuana industry is only a few years old, and Health Canada has had it under tight watch since Day 1, with growers like Aphria required to invest huge amounts for indoor facilities and quality control.
“If there’s a field of tomatoes beside it and you spray them, some of (the chemical spray) will migrate, you can’t protect it,” said Ripshtein. “In a greenhouse, you can really measure it and contain it — it’s much more controlled.”
Growers of outdoor pot will still require licensing and be made to follow strict rules for keeping their drug crops secure from theft, but those looking to get started won’t have to make the types of multimillion-dollar startup investments that Aphria made, as did nearly 100 other licensed producers approved so far. Outdoor growing might be cheaper, but Ripshtein said that’s for a six-month season compared to year-round indoor operations.
“I can’t see that happening around here,” Essex cash-crop farmer Lyle Hall said of outdoor marijuana crops locally. With the security, regulatory and other upfront costs, Hall said he doubts there would be much interest among his peers to switch from corn, wheat and soybeans to potentially more lucrative marijuana.
“For a small niche market it might work,” said Hall, who doesn’t like the idea of “putting a big fence around your field.”
A lot of questions remain over how the Canadian marketplace for recreational marijuana will develop, but Ripshtein said “there isn’t any doubt about it — there will be more hiring for Aphria.”
Windsor will host one of 40 initial Ontario retail outlets in the fall, and Aphria is currently “part of the conversation” as a potential supplier to the Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation, the province’s publicly controlled monopoly.
“We obviously want to be on the shelf,” said Ripshtein. Ontario’s new Progressive Conservative government gets sworn in on Friday and premier-designate Doug Ford has already mused on the possibility of private sector retail involvement similar to what’s being considered in other provinces.
“We’ll be a great partner to whatever they set up,” said Ripshtein. He wouldn’t say how much marijuana his company is preparing to have ready when recreational pot becomes legal Oct. 17, but “no doubt, we’ll be ready.”
In Ontario, there will also be an online sales portal for pot consumers aged 19 and over. Adults will also be allowed to grow up to four of their own plants at home, but none of that pot can be sold commercially.