More MS news articles for Sep 2001

First Legally Sanctioned 'Medicinal' Marijuana Crops

Friday August 31 11:59 AM EST
By Kim Heinrich Gray

CALGARY Aug. 31 (Reuters) - Their temperatures are warm and stable. They are secure and difficult to access. And they provide a pest- and insect-free environment.

This is the argument that recently won two Prairie-based companies a controversial contract with the federal government -- vacant mines are the perfect environment in which to grow the world's first legally sanctioned "medicinal" marijuana crops.

"Let's just say I hear, 'Oh, I get it, a joint venture' a lot these days," said Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Co. spokesperson Wayne Fraser from his Flin Flon office, 750 kilometers (465 miles) north of Winnipeg.

But Fraser insists that his company is taking its latest venture seriously -- an opportunity that presented itself after Canada's landmark July 30 decision to make marijuana legal on "compassionate grounds" for the seriously ill.

Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Co., in collaboration with Prairie Plant Systems Inc., plans to deliver an estimated 185 kilograms (410 pounds) of marijuana to the federal government for distribution by late October. More than 1,500 marijuana plants are growing in an underground chamber at an abandoned zinc and copper mine near Flin Flon.

"Most people in the mining industry are looking at us with either envy or interest right now," said Fraser. "When you've gone to all the work of creating a hole in the ground, it seems a shame not to use that space."

His company has been mining copper and zinc for 70 years. Over this period, it has extracted more than 50 million cubic meters (1.7 billion cubic feet) of rock -- leaving many large, vacant holes that would quite happily house paying tenants.

Considering the future of what some might consider an unlikely marriage, Fraser added: "If this drug has possibilities in the use of pain relief, our involvement could be seen as an excellent contribution to medicine. Our parent corporation is Anglo American. They have mines in Africa. Think of the number of people in Africa who suffer from AIDS."

Brent Zettl, president and chief executive of Prairie Plant Systems, said he is convinced that abandoned mines hold enormous potential for the burgeoning bio-pharmaceutical market.

"More than 99 per cent of the species that we grow exceed growth rates of what we can do in a conventional greenhouse. Why? Partly because we're able to have such tight control on the plant's environment, and partly because carbon dioxide levels are roughly double of what is above ground," said Zettl.

"They are designing plants now that produce proteins that are used for treatments of cancers and Alzheimer's and multiple sclerosis. Genetically altered plants can't be grown in the outdoors. That's another bonus. The isolation of mines also offers genetic containment."

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