Medical Marijuana Now Growing in Leamington

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Windsor Star/Doug Schmidt

Essex County’s very first commercial crop of medical marijuana is now being grown at a Leamington facility situated anonymously amidst the area’s more than 2,500 acres of greenhouses.

Not keen on divulging the exact location or size of the operation, John Cervini, one of the company’s principals, said the area’s first legal crop of cannabis, planted last week, should be ready for the market in about three months.

The company, Aphria, still doesn’t have the required Health Canada approval to sell its product commercially, but Cervini said a production licence has been granted, and all that remains in order to begin sales is completion of a secured “vault” for storage of the harvested crop.

There are at least three other local companies — one in Windsor — vying for Health Canada licenses to grow and sell medicinal marijuana commercially to approved patients.

As of Monday, the federal agency had only issued 12 commercial licenses — up from three in January — with more than 600 applications still awaiting processing.

March 31 was supposed to have been the last day that Canada’s 40,000 users of medical marijuana were allowed to grow their own pot, after which only licensed commercial facilities would be legal. Last week, the Federal Court imposed an injunction against the new government regulations, a ruling Ottawa announced Monday it was appealing.

The principals behind Aphria are Cervini and fellow long-time local greenhouse vegetable grower Cole Cacciavillani — who are both vice-presidents — and company president Jon-Paul Fuller, a management consultant with commercial banking background.

With “multi-millions” invested in the Leamington undertaking, Cervini admits to being nervous about the hundreds of potential commercial competitors across Canada who have applied for licences.

“Potentially, it could be a problem … (but) being first is always an advantage, and we also feel we have some of the best product,” he Cervini, a past board chairman of  Leamington District Memorial Hospital.

The first regulated medical marijuana was approved in 2001, and proponents believe the current number of users could grow 10-fold over the next several years. Advocates tout the benefits of cannabis in helping users cope with dozens of ailments, from chronic pain and epilepsy to glaucoma, arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

Among those seeking commercial licenses to grow medical marijuana locally: Medical Marihuana Patient Relief Inc., in Windsor, CEN Biotech in Lakeshore and Startup ECGreen in Tecumseh.

A number of dignitaries were present during January’s announcement by CEN Biotech, a subsidiary of Michigan-based Creative Edge Nutrition, that it planned to be operational by the summer. Located south of Highway 401 and the Essex OPP headquarters, currently construction visible from Manning Road includes a tall double-fence security perimeter.

Health Canada has stringent guidelines for potential commercial licensees, including criminal background checks on principals and employees, around-the-clock security and monitoring, as well as tracking movement of all product. A spokesman for the federal agency said it doesn’t comment on any applicant until it’s been listed on the department’s website but that pre-sales production licences can be authorized.

The marijuana grow operation by Aphria — Celtic for “agreeable” and chosen for its association with “freeing” from pain — will not look much different from most other greenhouses from the outside, said Cervini.

But “it will not be easy to get in.” Cameras and motion sensors will be part of the 24-hour monitoring system, and there is a barbed-wire perimeter. All clients will be served by courier service, with no on-site retail presence or cash exchanges.

Starting small with 22,000 square feet and about a dozen employees, Cervini said Aphria currently has a client list of zero, but marketing and outreach to patients and the medical community is about to get underway. A website — — and a social media presence has just started.

With the greenhouse growing expertise of its owners, “Aphria is positioned to become an industry leader in providing the highest quality medical marijuana to Canadians,” the company’s website states.