Marijuana is not going away and while all forms of government try and figure out what to do with it, public demand increases along with a yearning for a quality product.
People have used closets, basements, bunkers and other creative ways to grow the plant all in the name of recreation, medicine or profit.
While we debate marijuana prohibition, the federal government has allowed medicinal users to purchase their cannabis from federally endorsed growers across the country. One of those growers happens to be setting up a state-of-the-art greenhouse in the Fraser Valley.
I was invited to check out Tantalus Labs in Whonnock, which is a community in the backwoods of Maple Ridge, B.C. It’s not surprising or unusual to hear about grow operations setting up shop in the area. The Fraser Valley as a whole is considered one of the province’s largest “green belts.” Both the RCMP and BC Hydro have confirmed that there are around 800 illegal grow ops in Maple Ridge alone. In fact, Whonnock has the nickname “Hydro-Whonnick” for a reason.
After driving through a very picturesque community, I arrived at Tantalus Labs to find a small farm house, and behind it, a large-scale greenhouse operation under construction. Alex Close, who is the Tantalus marketing director, met up with me on site and gave me the guided tour.
Walking around, I saw firsthand how state-of-the-art the facility truly was. It’s currently situated on ALR (Agricultural Land Reserve) land. With many smaller hobby farms in the area, the property stood out, but by no means did it look out of place on land that is zoned for farming. The property is still under construction, but you get an idea of how the facility will look once the glass is installed. There is also a large rainwater harvesting system that will catch the rain and store it for watering purposes.
This highly specific cannabis-tailored high-tech greenhouse will use the sun to help grow a high-quality grade of marijuana that will be on par with, if not better than, most indoor hydro facilities. Various strains will be grown in different bays where temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide can be controlled in each individual grow area.
When a customer or patient orders from Tantalus online, they can pick their strain of choice and have it mailed to them via Canada Post. This is where Alex Close’s job kicks in because it’s not just about having a great facility that grows a high grade of cannabis. His job is to provide an experience when the consumer receives their product in the mail.
“When you think of buying things online, some brands knock it out of the park, but cannabis hasn’t really done that yet,” says Alex. “So when you get a shipment from us, the unboxing experience is similar to a Daft Punk record that you bought where there are layers and a story and there is this beautiful experience. This is cannabis; it shouldn’t be just bud in a zip lock bag anymore. Instead we are going to use a beautifully branded glass jar that will also have the full medical breakdown and information on the side.”
We walked into the farm house to find a pretty swanky office along with Tantalus’ Managing Director Dan Sutton, who was beaming because this man loves to chat about his baby.
“This is the first facility of its kind, and there is no one else doing this anywhere in North America,” Dan raves. “There have been some guys who have converted existing facilities, but those were forty-year-old tomato greenhouses, and they’re not specialized for what we are doing.”
So how does a guy go from, according to his website bio, developing innovative technologies for a diverse range of sectors, including telecommunications, to now growing pot?
“It was one of those things where an idea just keeps you up at night long enough and you have to start pursuing it,” Dan reminisces. “My background is in building innovative companies, and I first saw the opportunity when I noticed there were these legislative changes that were happening that were going to facilitate commercial-scale cultivation operations for cannabis in Canada.
My uncle happens to be a PhD Biologist so I sat down with him and asked, ‘if you were going to do this…what do you think?’ and he responded, ‘the first thing is 90% of the cannabis grown today is indoors and that’s ridiculous. Find me another agricultural crop that is true for.’
We looked into it and realized that the only reason that it’s actually grown indoors is because of stealth and because people have done it that way for so long. It took five PhDs, a chemical engineer, a total of fifteen engineers and agricultural operators two and a half years to design and redesign this facility but it was just one of those things where we couldn’t put it down.”
There were a great deal of people who wanted to find ways to cash in on the federal growing program. Some businessmen and former politicians went all in and applied for federal licensing.
Similar to the mining industry, some companies raised millions of dollars before they even had been approved, only to find out that they were not going to be selected. Some companies have found their applications sitting in a state of limbo not knowing if it will be approved or not. That’s a lot of risk when you’re dealing with other people’s money. While others have lost their shirts, Tantalus is about to have their vision approved.
“Our vision or what gets us up in the morning is that we believe that green houses are the future for cannabis. We believe that indoor cultivation for cannabis will either be obsolete or will represent a very small portion of the market in five years time. So it’s carrying that torch that drives us.
We want to prove that cannabis-tailored greenhouses can operate at as high of a quality assurance level than any indoor facility. They can operate at a far lower cost, and can operate at a far lower environmental impact. If we can show that here, our vision is to license this across North America. We can see the technology proliferate and we would be ready to collaborate with other groups.”
It’s a pretty impressive goal, and when you look around at the site it appears that things are being done the right way. A facility like this has to go through rigorous inspection by Health Canada but apparently that is not good enough for some Whonnock residents.
Currently some of the locals are unhappy that Tantalus has set up shop in their neighbourhood. There is no doubt that one of the biggest reasons is the fact that it’s marijuana being grown out in the open but some of the most contentious issues seem to be odour and well water.
The residents rely on an aquifer that is deemed highly vulnerable. Citizens are concerned their wells will run dry. It’s something that Tantalus is very aware of. Nobody likes to be a bad neighbour, and Dan believes that they have alleviated all concerns regarding well water and the sweet smell of ganja.
“We have worked with a third-party engineer to do a hydrology study on the well on our site, and it has qualified categorically that the uses planned for this facility will not have any impact on the aquifer itself or on neighbouring wells. We voluntarily did our homework before we built this.
As for the smell, we are obligated by Health Canada to have no detectable odour come out of our facility. Our odour filtration technology is new and really interesting, and we have been working on it for a really long time. Without saying too much, it employs a lot of the natural technology that you would find in a greenhouse to create a very passive filtration strategy and it has passed Heath Canada’s standards and so we’re really excited about it.”
People will protest and fear monger, because let’s be honest: although we have come a long way with having cannabis more socially accepted, there is still a lot of misinformation and propaganda floating around.
Recently, Federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose visited Vancouver and commented on the city’s dispensaries. In doing so, she claimed that marijuana could not be considered medicine. That comment put Ambrose in a lot of hot water with some Canadians, however, surprisingly, Dan agrees with the Health Minister.
“Minister Ambrose was absolutely right. There has been no medical studies, no clinical trials, no double blind studies have ever come out and proven that cannabis is effective for any disease or affliction. That’s the point, we want to see this plant benefit from those clinical trials, and benefit from standardized research and the only way you can do it is with facilities like these and standardized agricultural output.
There is a huge amount of anecdotal evidence that cannabis is highly effective at treating a wide variety of diseases and afflictions. We now need to take that anecdotal evidence and quantify it, and the only way to do that is through good science.
Health Canada has a political obligation and are also operating in the interest of protecting the general public and minimizing risk. We completely respect that position. The only way that we find the best way to minimize risk and to protect is through the benefit of technology and quantified studies.”
If you are a patient and are looking for some great cannabis strains that will help with your ailments, go and check out the Tantalus website and keep tabs on what they are doing. We will keep you updated on the progress of this very exciting venture.
You can follow their progress and get educated on the movement by reading their populace.