More MS news articles for Aug 2001

Rock's pot plants

Old shaft turned into hydroponic lab in Manitoba

Aug. 3, 2001. 01:30 AM
John Cotter

FLIN FLON, Man. - Like a proud farmer admiring a bumper crop, Health Minister Allan Rock was all smiles yesterday as he went deep underground to tour Canada's only legal marijuana growing operation.

Dressed in blue coveralls and wearing a miner's helmet, Rock and his entourage boarded a vehicle that slowly snaked down through the dark silence of an old copper mine shaft to a bustling hydroponic lab carved out of the rock hundreds of metres below the surface.

There, under tight security and the blinding glare of powerful grow lights, a forest of vibrant green plants burst from containers, filling the chamber with a musky sweetness.

"So this is what they look like," Rock joked. "It's an incredible experience to see this operation.

"Let's open this mine and get the plants to patients as soon as we can."

During a brief ceremony employees unveiled a sign that named the operation the Rock Garden in his honour.

Within weeks technicians at the remote site, 650 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, will begin harvesting the bedrock buds for tests that will determine their potency and other chemical properties.

After some clinical trials, the marijuana will be made available as early as February to the terminally ill and people suffering from serious diseases who want to use it as a pain reliever - if they qualify.

Canada's new medicinal marijuana policy, which came into effect on Monday, allows people who have been granted an exemption from narcotics laws to possess pot and grow it or have someone grow it for them.

So far fewer than 300 people have been approved, with another 500 applications pending.

Critics claim the exemption policy is too restrictive, that the mine won't produce enough pot to meet demand and that the pot won't be strong enough to deaden the pain of people suffering from AIDS and multiple sclerosis.

Jim Wakeford, a Toronto man who faces criminal charges for giving marijuana to other AIDS patients, said the rules are so restrictive that many people who need it won't get it.

"They grind the exemptions out at an alarmingly slow pace that creates a right without remedy for hundreds of Canadians. It is nothing but propaganda."

People in Flin Flon don't quite know what to make of all the attention their community of 7,000 is getting, or of the hot-selling T-shirts that proclaim it as the marijuana growing capital of Canada.

Mayor Dennis Ballard said so far the marijuana mine has created only about a dozen jobs and most of the profits will flow out of the area. But he is convinced that could all change if the project is successful.