News / Edmonton

Edmonton's first licensed grow-op looking to post-secondary institutions

'I think we have a lot of highly skilled labour coming from the U of A and NAIT,' says GrenEx Pharms CEO John Simon

GrenEx Pharms CEO John Simon shows off a pot of clay pellets where cannabis will be grown.

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Kevin Maimann / Metro Edmonton

GrenEx Pharms CEO John Simon shows off a pot of clay pellets where cannabis will be grown.

The CEO of Edmonton’s first licensed marijuana grow-op says the industry could be a boon for the city’s post-secondary students.

“I think we have a lot of highly skilled labour coming from the U of A and NAIT, so I think there’s a great opportunity to tap into that here in Edmonton,” said John Simon, whose GrenEx Pharms marijuana cultivation facility got its licence from Health Canada at the end of September.

“Anybody coming out of the chem tech or biological programs from NAIT, people coming out of the sciences or pharmacy at the University of Alberta, there’s going to be opportunities in this industry beyond just cultivation.”

He said those jobs could come in the form of product development and formulation development as the industry moves away from smoking to edibles, vaporizers and controlled-release dispersion technologies.

GrenEx has 10,000 square feet of growing space in an inconspicuous warehouse building along a busy south Edmonton street that still bears the sign of its its former tenant, Acro Foam and Plastics.

Simon and his team had the building for two years before their licence was approved, and have spent more than $3 million fixing it up to grow and cultivate pharmaceutical grade cannabis.

Meeting federal security regulations has eaten a major chunk of the expenses.

“We have to have cameras everywhere cannabis is present, and 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and we have to store that data for two years,” Simon said.

“Our facility has motion detectors, glass break detectors, seismic detectors, infrared detectors. We are more secure than a casino or a bank.”

The next step will be ordering the actual seeds, which will trigger another Health Canada inspection.

But Simon is confident the start-up expenses will be worthwhile.

Under current laws, GrenEx could only sell medical marijuana through its website to registered users.

But when recreational legalization kicks in next summer, GrenEx is poised to be one of the first to jump into the market.

Simon said he hopes the Alberta government hands the reins to the private sector, rather than the public.

“We’re entrepreneurs. We put our blood, sweat and tears into this. So to us, it just makes sense to have entrepreneurs deal with the retail portion of this as well,” Simon said.

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