About two years ago, Chris Snellen was diagnosed with cancer of the tonsils as a result of the human papillomavirus.
When he broached the subject of a referral to the Canabo Medical Clinic in Churchill Square, his medical team balked at the idea.
“They said, ‘If you do everything we say, we have a scientific number of 80 per cent odds that you’re going to come out of this cancer-free. If you take marijuana during or before, then we don’t know what that’s going to do to your odds,’” Snellen says.
“They’re used to saying there’s studies and blind studies and if you prescribe so many milligrams of this ingredient, that has this effect on this symptom, but it’s all scientific. With marijuana, it’s all anecdotal. There’s no doubt it does something, but it needs to be quantified and researched.”
Snellen is cancer-free these days and now his company, CEPG (controlled environment plant growth) Consulting and Design Inc., is aiming to get into the marijuana business, having signed a letter of intent to partner with Vancouver-based Future Farm Technologies Inc., which has a previously inked joint venture with Israel-based global agro-biotechnology firm Rahan Meristem Ltd. to start a cannabis and hemp breeding program.
Under the deal, CEPG will apply for a licence from Health Canada to conduct research and development, using Rahan’s technology in tandem with CEPG’s plant growth systems, to produce elite new strains of marijuana containing cannabinoids that are safe and effective treatment for head injuries, chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, nausea, weight loss, glaucoma and more.
“Due to regulations and mismanagement of genetic material, the background and the biochemical constitution of existing clones (mainly hybrids) do not permit proper classification and use for breeding,” reads a project summary from Future Farms. “Over 130 cannabinoids and terpenes have been identified, but the pharmaceutical properties are obscure.”
There’s no mention of producing recreational cannabis products.
The work would be carried out at CEPG’s existing facility on East White Hills Road in St. John’s — which includes an underground growing facility in a water tank used by the Americans during their stay at Fort Pepperell. It would also involve the construction of an additional 6,000-square-foot add-on to house in-vitro and tissue culture labs.
Snellen estimates the facility will employ between six and eight people, and the search is already on to find someone with a PhD to run the lab.
Unlike the majority of the 102 firms already licensed by Health Canada to produce and sell medical cannabis, the CEPG-Future Farm-Rahan joint venture won’t produce fully flowered plants containing THC and cannabinoids.
“We won’t sell any product, there’s no bud on site, no valuable product from the street perspective,” explains Snellen.
So, while they’ll be a licensed producer on paper, they will in fact be selling to other licensed producers who want to grow specific strains in large quantities.
“Scientists that are looking for a particular cannabinoid, Rahan would create a plant for them that is much stronger in that cannabinoid and has a much higher concentration so you have to run fewer plants through the system to get your extractions done,” says Snellen, noting that Rahan’s method is entirely GMO free.
“The (intellectual property) should be quite valuable because you’ll have a strain that nobody else on the planet has that you can patent.”
Rahan has quite a bit of experience in the field, breeding specific strains of bananas, avocado rootstocks, sweet potatoes, cacao, Stevia and other crops.
Snellen will be one of six speakers at The Year of Legalization: Challenges and Opportunities in the Cannabis Industry, a half-day conference hosted by the Memorial University faculty of business administration and the office of public engagement Tuesday in the RBC Atrium on campus.
Snellen will speak on commercial cultivation, exploring what is involved in medium-scale cultivation systems from design to output.
The list of speakers includes Lindsay Robles from Health Canada, who will speak on Canada’s public health approach to the legalization and regulation of cannabis; Dr. Paul Seaborn, assistant professor at the University of Denver; Canophy Growth’s Dana Clendenning, director of government and stakeholder relations for Atlantic Canada; and Dr. Alia Norman from the Canabo Medical Clinic.