This week I drove four hours to a large cannabis operation to do research on growing weed for my next book DEEP INTO THE WEEDS. All I can say is that legal weed is big business in Canada.
When we arrived at their visitors’ centre, we were greeted by one of a number of staff who are paid to talk up the company. Such is the state of the uber-competitive Canadian cannabis market. Someone took out coats and brought us to their cafe where we were served lattes.
I found out the company also owns a chain of upscale cafes in Toronto. And the coffee was quite good. Once we had our coffee, we were led into a little theatre to watch a short video on the history of cannabis and to learn what a wonderful therapeutic product that cannabis has been. Throughout our visit, no one ever talked about cannabis in terms of getting stoned. Like the alcohol industry, cannabis is a lifestyle choice with many benefits.
When the film was completed, we were taken on an individualized tour by our guide, Andrew. This place does not have you wait in the lobby with others for an hourly tour. Each person is taken around as they walk in.
Although most of this huge facility is inaccessible, they did set up a few rooms connected to the visitors’ centre to allow guests to view some of the production. Our first stop was the Mother Room.
The plants in this room are called Mothers because they are used for cloning purposes only. Plants are rarely grown from seeds. Cuttings are taken from Mother plants and grown to produce new plants. Unlike the other rooms, there is lots of space between rows to allow staff to reach plants for cuttings.
The next stage is referred to as propagation. Cuttings are placed in nutrient-rich medium to stimulate root and stalk growth. They are kept in what amounts to incubators to maintain high humidity. They receive 20 – 22 hours of lighting. This stage takes from two to four weeks.
We moved on to the Vegetation Room. Once the clones have grown to a certain height, they are placed in plastic pots and moved into a room for the final two growth stages. Indoor growing, particularly greenhouses provides ideal conditions and is much more sustainable than outdoor growing. Weather and pests are no longer a factor, but you can still make use of the sun because a greenhouse is a completely controlled environment. Water and nutrients are fed through drip lines so there is minimal water wasted. No insecticides or pesticides are used, instead certain micro-organisms are introduced, which attack pests that may appear. The plants receive about sixteen to eighteen hours of lighting. Adjusting the lighting spectrum can mimic sunlight during the different seasons. Plants are really packed into the room.
When the plants reach a certain height, they are encouraged to flower. Adjustments are made to the room to convert it to a Flowering Room. Flowering is triggered by reducing the lighting to twelve hours per day. It is important to keep flowers growing up to get full flowering, so lower branches and excess flower heads are trimmed to focus growth on main four heads. A lattice is used to spread out the branches. Flowering takes about seven to ten weeks. Nutrients are cut off in the last two weeks to flush the plants of chemicals.
We were unable to view the drying or trimming processes. I know that when the flowers reach their maximum size, the are cut off. The rest of the plants are destroyed. The buds are trimmed and dried before packaging or processing.
There were no samples at the end of the tour nor do they sell cannabis to the public. Although cannabis is legal, Ontario only has online sales until April at which time retail stores will begin to open. But they had a fancy gift shop where they sold t-shirts, hats and high-end drug paraphernalia. Not stuff you would typically see in a head shop.