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Token Bitters is scaling up and building international export opportunities

Token Naturals is a cannabis company located in the Edmonton Metropolitan Region, focused on extraction and derivative products 

When Keenan Pascal and Jamie Shtay decided to found Token Naturals, a cannabis company focused on extraction and derivative products, they never imagined that they would also become the Edmonton Region’s first local bitters company. They certainly didn’t expect to have a reach that extends beyond the region both nationally and internationally and into markets as far off as Japan. However, that is exactly what they did.   

Initially, the pair was focused on developing their patented extraction process with help from the vast array of talent available from the oil and gas industry that exists in the Edmonton region. Once this was complete, the Token Naturals team found themselves in a bit of a holding period as they moved through the process of licensing phases to sell legal cannabis products with Health Canada. 

A new concept is born 

Keenan and Jamie already had strong ties to the restaurant and bar community in the region and with another founder’s background in chemical engineering and molecular science, an idea was hatched to develop a line of bitters from locally sourced ingredients and the concept behind Token Bitters was born.  

“The process for extraction to produce bitters is essentially the same as the technology we developed for our cannabis extraction business,” said Token Naturals CEO, Keenan Pascal. “We thought this would be a good way to test out and practice our process.” 

What began as a pet project, immediately garnered a positive response within the local region and in just 4 years Token Bitters has resulted in a product that is sold nationally across Canada, exported to Japan, at the precipice of export to Mexico and Europe and has a view to further expansion in international markets. 

Extending the reach of the Edmonton Metropolitan Region 

Each of Token Bitters products is named after beloved Edmonton landmarks. Strathcona Orange is named after the beloved historic neighbourhood, and Whyte Lavender takes its name from the location of co-founder Pascal’s first bartending job. 

Exporting these products is also sharing the stories of this region across the globe.  

Despite the success found in their bitters line, the Token team has not lost sight of the vision for their cannabis extraction business. 

Banking on the Edmonton Metropolitan Region for success 

Co-founder and CEO of Token Naturals, Keenan Pascal is an enthusiastic advocate for the Edmonton Metropolitan Region and what it has to offer. 

“The Edmonton Metropolitan Region has everything we need to build success for our organization,” says Pascal. “Here, we have access to a skilled, young, and eager workforce with plentiful experience in agriculture, manufacturing, and processing. The provincial and municipal governments in the region have traditionally included some of the most proactive and pro-business attitudes. For us, this has been the perfect culmination of the forces required to lead an industry. It’s my opinion that this is the best city to live in and the best city to work in.” 

The idea behind Token Naturals began in Vancouver, but when it came time to decide where the new organization would choose to invest, the founders decided that the Edmonton Metropolitan Region had what they needed to find success. 

Currently, Token Naturals is a late-stage Licensed Producer applicant with Health Canada. The organization recently began construction of an extraction facility that will have the capacity to process 65,000 kg of cannabis flower each year into extracted and derivative products like oils and edibles. The facility is set to open in August 2020. The completion of the refinery facility will allow Token to move forward with their Licensed Producer application from Conditional Approval to a Standard Processor license. 

“We wouldn’t be about to round this corner if not for the supportive environment that exists in the Edmonton region as well as the forward-thinking policies of the provincial and municipal governing bodies,” says Pascal. 

Edmonton-based cannabis retailer set to grow with investment from global retailer

Couche-Tard makes strategic cannabis move with investment in Fire & Flower

Fire & Flower has announced a strategic investment by Alimentation Couche-Tard, a global retailer with more than 16,000 stores in 26 countries. (CBC)

An Edmonton-based cannabis retailer is planning to significantly accelerate its growth and expansion after entering into a deal with one of North America’s largest operators of convenience stores and gas bars.

Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. has agreed to make a strategic investment in Fire & Flower Holdings Corp. of Edmonton, which will use the funds to develop its Hifyre digital retail platform and expand its network of cannabis retail stores.

“This strategic investment by Couche-Tard, one of the world’s largest retailers, is transformative for Fire & Flower,” said  Trevor Fencott, Fire & Flower’s chief executive officer, in a media release posted on its website.

“The retail cannabis platform we developed marries a best-in-class in-store experience with our proprietary Hifyre digital infrastructure and this is a huge vote of confidence in the platform.

Trevor Fencott, president and CEO of Fire & Flower, says the agreement will be “transformative” for his company. (Fire & Flower)

The companies say Couche-Tard’s initial investment would initially give it rights to 9.9 per cent of Fire & Flower’s equity, with the potential to increase its stake to 50.1 per cent in return for a total of about $380 million in growth capital.

Fire & Flower currently operates or licenses 23 cannabis retail stores in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario and a wholesale distribution division in Saskatchewan.

Alimentation Couche-Tard is one of North America’s largest operators of convenience stores and gas bars, primarily under the Circle K global brand and under the Couche-Tard banner in its home province of Quebec.

Fencott cites the opportunities created by Couche-Tard’s international operations, which includes major markets in the U.S., Mexico and Europe.

Couche-Tard chief executive Brian Hannasch says the investment will enable the Laval-based retail chain to accelerate its move into the cannabis sector.

“Couche-Tard is excited to make this strategic investment in one of the fastest growing cannabis ‘pure-play’ retailers,” Hannasch said in a statement.

“This investment in Fire & Flower, with a path to a controlling stake, will enable us to leverage their leadership, network and advanced digital platform to accelerate our journey in this new and flourishing sector.”

The companies say an indirect subsidiary of Couche-Tard will initially buy about $26 million of convertible debt securities that can be converted to 24.3 million common shares at a price of $1.07 each, representing 9.9 per cent of equity.

At the same time, Couche-Tard will receive three series of warrants allowing it to purchase more shares. It will also get the right to top up its investment to maintain its ownership percentage.

Fire & Flower’s stock is currently listed on the TSX Venture Exchange but it has received conditional approval to list its shares on the Toronto Stock Exchange concurrent with the transaction.

Fire & Flower’s stock price jumped 20 per cent to a two-month high at $1.37 a share following the announcement, while Couche-Tard stock was essentially flat at $80.73 in early trading Wednesday.

Aurora Cannabis and UFC® Launch Clinical Research on Use of Hemp-Derived CBD Products by MMA Athletes

New studies to advance the science on CBD use and athlete health and wellness and to drive product development under new U.S. sports performance brand, ROAR Sports

LAS VEGAS, July 24, 2019 /CNW/ – Aurora Cannabis Inc. (“Aurora” or the “Company”) (NYSE: ACB) (TSX: ACB), the Canadian company that’s defining the future of cannabis worldwide, and UFC, the world’s premier mixed martial arts organization, are proud to announce the launch of a joint clinical research program that will produce multiple studies under the terms of their recently announced partnership.

The research will examine the use of hemp-derived CBD as an effective treatment for pain, inflammation, wound-healing, and recovery on MMA athletes.

The ground-breaking research partnership is aimed at understanding key health and recovery needs of elite athletes in such a highly physical and competitive sport as mixed martial arts. Research data will then be used to drive the development of science-backed, hemp-derived CBD topicals that will be safe and reliable. These new products will help combat the rapidly growing market of untested CBD treatments currently being used by high-performance and non-professional athletes.

Aurora Cannabis Inc. (CNW Group/Aurora Cannabis Inc.)

Once research is complete, any resulting product will come to life in the U.S. under the new high-performance sports brand ROAR Sports, a portfolio of high-quality, hemp-derived CBD topical treatments scientifically formulated with elite athletes in mind. Through analysis of athlete needs and scientific data, ROAR Sports will challenge the status quo, seek to alleviate the stresses of competition, and earn designation as the “Official CBD product of UFC.”

The multi-phase clinical study at the UFC Performance Institute® in Las Vegas will be led by Dr. Jason Dyck, Chair of Aurora’s Global Scientific Oversight Committee; Dr. Kelly Narine, Aurora’s Vice President Global Research and Medical Affairs; and the team of sports performance experts at the UFC Performance Institute, led by Dr. Duncan French, UFC Vice President of Performance. Using active UFC athletes on a strictly voluntary basis, the study will help establish peer-reviewed, publishable research in this area. Products will be developed in full compliance with U.S. federal law and with UFC’s anti-doping program, which adheres to WADA and USADA regulations.

“Our partnership with UFC is about committing to the science that will educate and advocate,” said Aurora CEO Terry Booth. “We are going to work together to change the way people think, to change the industry, and to launch the first hemp-derived CBD products that are backed by scientific research. The brand-building and product development are all part of our move into the U.S., and in collaboration with UFC, and we intend to play a major role in that market.”

“We know anecdotally that professional athletes across sports disciplines are turning to hemp-derived CBD treatments to assist with physical recovery, with varying degrees of success,” added Jason Dyck, Chair of Aurora’s Global Scientific Oversight Committee. “The work we do in partnership with UFC will create an evidence-based, science-backed pipeline of consistent, and ‘clean’ hemp-derived CBD topicals that the high-performance athletes of UFC can rely on to treat the pain, inflammation, injury and other conditions associated with competing at such a high level.”

“Collaborating with Aurora is the best way to educate ourselves and our fighters about the impact of CBD on MMA athletes and our sport,” said Dr. Duncan French, UFC’s Vice President of Performance. “We want to apply science and see where it leads us.  Ideally, these studies will give us the clarity we need to determine n the effectiveness of hemp-derived CBD on athlete health and injury recovery.”  

“Although CBD is allowed under USADA and WADA regulations, we want to be the leaders on educating UFC athletes on CBD use,” said Jeff Novitzky, UFC Senior Vice President of Athlete Health & Performance.  “Athlete safety is a top priority for UFC, and we will collaborate with Aurora to ensure that any new products are third-party tested for all WADA-prohibited substances to make certain they meet WADA standards.” 

About UFC®

UFC®, is the world’s premier mixed martial arts organization and the largest Pay-Per-View event provider in the world. UFC boasts more than 300 million fans worldwide, including 70 million social media followers across all its digital platforms, and its programming is broadcast in over 170 countries and territories to one billion TV households worldwide in 40 different languages. UFC produces more than 40 live events annually and consistently sells out some of the world’s most prestigious arenas. Since 2001, UFC has been proudly headquartered in Las Vegas, supported by a network of employees around the world. UFC’s current roster of athletes features more than 590 men and women representing over 60 countries. UFC FIGHT PASS®, the world’s leading digital subscription service for combat sports, delivers exclusive live events, thousands of fights on-demand, and original content to fans around the world. UFC was acquired in 2016 by global sports, entertainment, and fashion leader Endeavor, along with strategic investors Silver Lake Partners and KKR, in what is among the largest transactions in sports history. For more information, visit UFC.com and follow UFC at Facebook.com/UFC, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram: @UFC.

About Aurora                    

Headquartered in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada with funded capacity in excess of 625,000 kg per annum and sales and operations in 24 countries across five continents, Aurora is one of the world’s largest and leading cannabis companies. Aurora is vertically integrated and horizontally diversified across every key segment of the value chain, from facility engineering and design to cannabis breeding and genetics research, cannabis and hemp production, derivatives, high value-add product development, home cultivation, wholesale and retail distribution.

Highly differentiated from its peers, Aurora has established a uniquely advanced, consistent and efficient production strategy, based on purpose-built facilities that integrate leading-edge technologies across all processes, defined by extensive automation and customization, resulting in the massive scale production of high-quality product at low cost. Intended to be replicable and scalable globally, our production facilities are designed to produce cannabis of significant scale, with high quality, industry-leading yields, and low per gram production costs. Each of Aurora’s facilities is built to meet EU GMP standards. EU GMP certification has been granted to Aurora’s first production facility in Mountain View County, the Aurora River facility in Bradford, Ontario, and its wholly owned European medical cannabis distributor Aurora Deutschland.

In addition to the Company’s rapid organic growth and strong execution on strategic M&A, which to date includes 15 wholly owned subsidiary companies – MedReleaf, CanvasRX, Peloton Pharmaceutical, Aurora Deutschland, H2 Biopharma, Urban Cultivator, BC Northern Lights, Larssen Greenhouses, CanniMed Therapeutics, Anandia, HotHouse Consulting, MED Colombia, Agropro, Borela, ICC Labs, Whistler, and Chemi Pharmaceutical – Aurora is distinguished by its reputation as a partner and employer of choice in the global cannabis sector, having invested in and established strategic partnerships with a range of leading innovators, including: Radient Technologies Inc. (TSXV: RTI), Hempco Food and Fiber Inc. (TSXV: HEMP), Cann Group Ltd. (ASX: CAN), Micron Waste Technologies Inc. (CSE: MWM), Choom Holdings Inc. (CSE: CHOO), Capcium Inc. (private), Evio Beauty Group (private), Wagner Dimas (private), CTT Pharmaceuticals (OTCC: CTTH), Alcanna Inc. (TSX: CLIQ), High Tide Inc. (CSE: HITI) and EnWave Corporation (TSXV: ENW).

Forward looking statements

This news release includes statements containing certain “forward-looking information” within the meaning of applicable securities law (“forward-looking statements”), including, but not limited to, statements with respect to the performance of the Company. Forward-looking statements are frequently characterized by words such as “plan”, “continue”, “expect”, “project”, “intend”, “believe”, “anticipate”, “estimate”, “may”, “will”, “potential”, “proposed” and other similar words, or statements that certain events or conditions “may” or “will” occur, and include, but are not limited to,  the successful completion of the  clinical research program and the development and commercialization of  hemp- derived CBD topical products . These statements are only predictions. Various assumptions were used in drawing the conclusions or making the projections contained in the forward-looking statements throughout this news release. Forward-looking statements are based on the opinions and estimates of management at the date the statements are made, and are subject to a variety of risks and uncertainties and other factors that could cause actual events or results to differ materially from those projected in the forward-looking statements. The Company is under no obligation, and expressly disclaims any intention or obligation, to update or revise any forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise, except as expressly required by applicable law.

Neither TSX, NYSE nor their applicable Regulation Services Providers (as that term is defined in the policies of the Toronto Stock Exchange and New York Stock Exchange) accept responsibility for the adequacy or accuracy of this release.

Aurora Cannabis gets licences for two outdoor growing facilities

Holding trays of newly introduced mother plants in the 32,00 square foot mother room at the Aurora Sky facility are: Tom Ruth, president and CEO, Edmonton International Airport, Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous, Shaye Anderson MLA for Leduc-Beaumont and Cam Battley, Chief Corporate Officer, Aurora Cannabis Enterprises Inc. on February 5, 2018 at the Edmonton International Airport. Photo by Shaughn Butts / Postmedia

Edmonton-based Aurora Cannabis has received a processing licence from Health Canada for its Aurora Air facility located near the Edmonton International Airport and two outdoor cultivation licences for sites in Quebec and British Columbia, the company announced Monday.

“Our team plans to use these areas to ensure we are able to consistently grow the high-quality cannabis Aurora has become known for around the world. We’re proud to be a Canadian company and this is a further commitment to research and job creation in Canada,” said Aurora CEO Terry Booth in a release.

Located near Aurora Sky, the company’s cannabis growing operation with a capacity of 100,000 kilograms per year, the Aurora Air facility will produce edible products, such as gummies and chocolates, set to hit the Canadian consumer market in December 2019.

The new outdoor sites will be Aurora Valley, a 207-acre operation in Westwold, B.C., and Aurora Eau, A 21,000 square-foot operation in Lachute, Quebec. The Quebec facility is the first approved outdoor grow operation for cannabis in Quebec and has already been planted.

Aurora said it chose the outdoor sites because they represent two different growing environments. The new sites in Quebec and British Columbia will be used for cultivation research to develop new technology, genetics and intellectual property. Aurora will also conduct research on cultivation techniques in varying climate conditions and will examine approaches to environmentally sustainable cannabis agriculture.

“For this season and next, our focus will be on researching cultivation methods and evaluating genetics in order to produce high THC and CBD cannabis in outdoor-grown plants, with the ultimate goal of extracting these components. The unique climates of each site also presents a great opportunity to determine which cultivars will perform best in different outdoor environments,” said Jonathan Page, chief science officer at Aurora.

Health Canada opened the door to outdoor cultivation in June 2018, after a previous restriction to indoor growing to prevent theft and ensure quality control. Aurora will join companies that have since been licensed to grow cannabis outdoors including 48North Cannabis Corp. operations in Ontario, and Canopy Growth Corp.’s site in Saskatchewan.

Can cannabis cure what ails you? Alberta pot producer teams up with Harvard to find out

An Edmonton company is teaming up with Harvard University in hopes of proving the purported healing powers of cannabis.

Atlas Biotechnologies announced Tuesday that it is a founding partner of Harvard’s new International Phytomedicines and Medical Cannabis Institute, where clinical trials will be done to test the efficacy of various cannabis formulations for treating specific ailments.

Atlas, which owns Atlas Growers Ltd. and has a licensed production facility west of Edmonton, will provide up to $3 million over three years in product and research grants for the university in Cambridge, Mass., to use in trials on patients with chronic pain and neurological conditions.

“Everybody thinks it can cure everything. But the problem is you don’t have the scientific evidence for all of this yet,” said Wil Ngwa, director of Harvard Global Health Catalyst and a professor in radiation oncology at Harvard Medical School.

Ngwa said he is particularly excited about the potential effectiveness of cannabis in managing the side-effects of cancer treatment.

He believes all licensed producers should follow the lead of Atlas and put money into funding scientific research.

“If you are a grower and you’re not doing this, you’re going to be left behind. Because you have to do this,” Ngwa said. “Really, it is time. You cannot keep just using something blindly. You want to have that evidence.”

Use of medical cannabis is growing rapidly around the world, with patients claiming it helps with anxiety, chronic pain, seizures, side-effects from cancer treatments, and other conditions.

But with little hard scientific evidence to back their claims, the medical community remains skeptical, and many doctors won’t prescribe it.

Atlas president and CEO Sheldon Croome said during a tour of the company’s 38,000-square-foot Lac Ste. Anne facility Tuesday that he wants to create the world’s “most trusted” cannabis products, and doing so means proving they do exactly what they are designed to do.

“Those trials will either prove that our formulation works, or that it doesn’t,” Croome said.

“I think this is a truly massive relationship for us. It’s groundbreaking.”

Croome acknowledged that the process will be timely and expensive, but is confident the results will open new markets for Atlas around the world in the multibillion-dollar industry.

The lack of hard science on cannabis means producers are currently not allowed to advertise that their products can treat specific ailments.

“It’s going to take a few years to really prove the efficacy, I think, to the standard that doctors and pharmacists want to see. Which is ultimately what we’re trying to do,” Croome said.

“But we do believe that within a year we’ll have some really good efficacy data we can use that will push the envelope.”

Atlas got its initial sales licence from Health Canada in December to obtain, sell and distribute cannabis products, but the company chose to use that licence to sell exclusively to medical patients rather than enter the recreational market.

The company expects to produce 5,500 kilograms of dried cannabis annually at its Lac Ste. Anne facility, though its primary focus is on refining the plant in-house into pure, isolated cannabinoid concentrates and specialized medical formulations after its own polling found 80 per cent of customers are moving from smoking dried flowers to using extracts.

Croome said it’s not just doctors, but also potential patients who are waiting for the hard science before they trust medical cannabis.

“There’s a lot of people that don’t want to take something unless they know 100 per cent what it’s going to do,” he said.

This is not the first time Atlas has partnered with a post-secondary institution. In September, the company announced the Cannabis Waste Project partnership with the University of Alberta, which aims to develop strategies for converting cannabis waste into electricity on site and explore responsible water management practices in cannabis production.

Atlas plans to roll out its Lac Ste. Anne facility in three phases, with the potential to eventually exceed a million square feet. The company is also working on expanding into Europe, Croome said.

Q and A: Cannabis industry leaders to descend on Edmonton for conference

Cannabis seedlings in an Aurora Cannabis facility. RYAN REMIORZ / THE CANADIAN PRESS

On Wednesday, cannabis industry leaders will be descending on the Renaissance Edmonton Airport Hotel for the second WE Cann Conference to share insights into the cannabis industry right now and future growth opportunities.

The one-day conference co-hosted by The Cannalysts and Grant Thornton LLP features keynotes, panel discussions and networking opportunities with leaders from a variety of industries including agricultural, scientific, retail, and manufacturing.

Ian McDonald, a local industry expert from Grant Thornton LLP, discussed the upcoming conference and the future of the cannabis industry as the province continues to lead in growth and opportunity. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What are some of the talks expected to take place at the conference?

We’ve got three panels that will have industry experts on them. There are going to be a science panel talking about what’s going to be coming up in terms of cannabis hemp products, a retail panel and that’s close to all of us because of the issues associated with retail, and we also have an operational excellence panel talking about the challenges preparing for the new product platforms.

Q: What does hosting this conference in Edmonton mean for the province? 

It will validate what Alberta is doing because I think we will have industry leaders here who will be really impressed with the quality of Alberta-based businesses. The export potential is huge. I’ve heard of export arrangements with a number of European countries by Alberta-based business in the cannabis industry. 

Q: How would you describe Alberta’s cannabis industry?

It’s really exciting. In Alberta, we’ve hit hard times with our oil and gas industry being battered. This is a brand new opportunity and a brand new industry where Canada has the opportunity to be a world leader and Alberta is probably the province right out there in front because of our entrepreneurial spirit and we are people who like to get involved in business and create opportunity.

Q: Where do you see the most growth in the industry?

I see the most opportunity coming up when we have the second wave of legalization in the fall. We have clients who are preparing for it and studying for it. Right now, I think it might be in the ancillary industries. When you think of cannabis, you almost automatically think of the growing part of it, but I think a lot of the opportunity involves being part of the supply chain that’s supplying into the industry, whether it’s product or services.

Q: How can Alberta continue to lead? 

I think Albertans’ willingness to invest will keep us out front. We’re willing to try things, and I think we can stay out in front if we continue to invest, be innovative and open.

Originally posted on Edmonton Journal

Local business creates new credit service for cannabis purchasers

GreenGreen founder and CEO Kam Nemec poses for a photo at the E-Hub tech incubator at the University of Alberta, in Edmonton Tuesday November 20, 2018. GreenGreen is a new credit service for cannabis purchasers. Photo by David Bloom DAVID BLOOM / POSTMEDIA

Edmonton start-up GreenGreen has created a new app that will help users purchase cannabis on credit.

“Basically we are an app-based credit card,” says GreenGreen founder and CEO Kam Nemec. “We let you buy things you want in-store and then pay for it at the end of the month, just like Amex, Visa, MasterCard. And In this specific industry we’re targeting cannabis. So we let you put cannabis on a tab and pay (for) it at the end of the month instead of paying Visa or Master Card.”

Nemec says GreenGreen not only offers its users purchase privacy, but in the case of U.S. users it provides a service that traditional credit cards are unable to.

“In the United States you can’t pay for cannabis with a credit card, period,” says Nemec. “And in Canada it opens up a lot of privacy issues because all of your information is stored in the United States on U.S. servers. And the privacy commissioner has warned that Canadians who purchase cannabis legally in Canada could be barred from traveling to the United States because their Visa information would state that they purchased cannabis in Canada.”

GreenGreen can be found at greengreen.io

‘The next canola’: Alberta hemp farmers see bright future in wake of Cannabis Act

Danny Fieldberg in his hemp fields near Medicine Hat. Photo credit Invest Medicine Hat.

Alberta hemp farmers are betting that cannabis legalization will be a windfall for their industry, with some going so far as to draw comparisons between the distinctive jagged-leafed plant and one of Canada’s biggest agricultural success stories.

“This will be the next canola,” said Danny Fieldberg, who grows industrial hemp on his certified organic farm outside of Medicine Hat. “Once it gets going, there will be no stopping it.”

Like canola — which was selectively bred by a team of researchers in the 1970s and has grown to become a billion-dollar industry for Canada — industrial hemp is primarily grown in the three Prairie Provinces. Also like canola, hemp can be used to produce a cooking oil, as well as edible seeds, protein powders and more.

But unlike canola, hemp is a regulated crop and until now any Canadian farmer interested in growing it has been required to undergo a criminal records check. The plant is a member of the cannabis family, and though it contains virtually no THC (the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) it does contain CBD, a non-intoxicating cannabinoid that was — until recently — illegal without a medical prescription.

In fact, for years farmers with licenses to grow industrial hemp have been banned from harvesting any part of the crop except the seeds and stems. The leaves, flowers and buds (the parts of the plant that contain CBD) had to be left in the fields.

That changed in August, when the federal government changed its regulations in advance of the new Cannabis Act. Now, hemp farmers are permitted to harvest the “whole plant” and sell it to licensed marijuana producers for the purpose of CBD extraction and sale.

The opportunity has growers like Fieldberg excited. Prior to legalization, he and his brother and father had already started a business called Altiva Inc., focusing on growing the market for hemp-based “superfoods.” While they are still involved in the food side, they now see a whole new line of business opening up.

Hemp plants in Vegreville on Aug. 9, 2017. Photo by David Bloom DAVID BLOOM / POSTMEDIA

“Now that cannabis is legal, we’ve been working with the CBD side. Because that is the immediate income generation that investors will put large capital investment into,” Fieldberg said. “Our intention is to have Alberta be the hub for hemp production in the world.”

Alberta is already the second largest producer of hemp in Canada, after Saskatchewan. In 2017, there were 45,000 acres of hemp grown in the province, out of a total 138,000 acres Canada-wide. According to Health Canada, 325 producers had licenses to grow industrial hemp in Alberta last year.

Ted Haney, executive director of the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance, said that figure is sure to grow. Since legalization, his office has received many calls from farmers with no previous history growing hemp who are interested in CBD’s market potential. The substance is often touted for its perceived medical benefits in treating everything from chronic pain to anxiety and cancer, but analysts also predict a coming boom in demand for CBD-infused consumer products — everything from cosmetics to beverages to health foods.

Haney said there is still a lot of regulatory work to be done before that happens. But, already, growers are signing contracts with some of the marijuana industry’s biggest players. Canopy Growth Corp., for example — the first cannabis company in North America to be publicly traded — made a major investment in a hemp processing facility near Yorkton, Sask., earlier this year.

“We are hearing reports that even in this year of experimentation, some producers have been able to generate a similar income from sale of chaff (flowers, leaves and buds) that they have from seed,” Haney said.

A hemp plant n Vegreville on Aug. 9, 2017. Photo by David Bloom DAVID BLOOM / POSTMEDIA

The industry believes the CBD opportunity represents up to $100 million in additional revenue for hemp growers, based on the number of current acres in production. But farmers face a number of hurdles in getting to that figure. For example, while hemp is a relatively easy crop to grow, it is challenging to harvest.

“You have to put the stalk through, and it’s like running baler twine through your combine,” Fieldberg said.

In addition, most crops contain only one to two per cent CBD, so seed breeding programs aimed at raising that level will be necessary if farmers are to get the most bang for their buck.

Finally, there is the question of processing capacity. Currently, farmers looking to sell their harvest for the purpose of CBD extraction need to ensure they have an advance contract lined up with one of the major cannabis companies — however, industry boosters are already trying to attract more processing facilities to Alberta.

For example, the city of Medicine Hat — where construction is underway on the Aurora Sun cannabis production facility, which is expected to become the city’s largest private employer when it opens in 2019 — is trying to entice investors to set up an industrial hemp processing facility in the region.

“We’re saying to the industry that Medicine Hat is an ideal location for hemp processing, given the crop production that happens all around us,” said Jon Sookocheff, director of business development at Invest Medicine Hat.

Sookocheff said there are still many unknowns around the production of hemp specifically for CBD, making it a “high-risk, high-reward” type of investment. But he said the growth in consumer demand is likely to be exponential.

“It’s still a niche crop, and it has all the ups and downs that go along with being a niche crop,” he said. “But there is a tremendous opportunity around hemp, I think everyone in the agriculture community realizes that. It’s just a matter of time.”

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