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Green gold rush in the Okanagan

There is still a long process before a medical marijuana production facility could be built at the Penticton Indian Band
The Penticton Indian Band is exploring the idea of partnering with Kaneh Bosm Biotechnology to build a medical marijuana production facility

Don’t expect to see medical marijuana being produced on the Penticton Indian Band anytime soon.

Though consultations with the PIB members are going well, according to Elaine Alec, she says there are still a lot of hurdles before that can happen.

Alec is on the advisory board for Kaneh Bosm Biotechnology, which wants to develop a joint venture that might see a three-acre medical marijuana production facility built on band lands.

It will be at least a two-year series of processes, said Alec, starting with gaining approval from the band’s members, as well as applying to the federal government for both the land use and the licence to produce.

Alec, who emphasizes she is not working for the band administration or the PIB Development Corporation, has been knocking on doors around her community since August to talk about the project.

Alec said the feedback she has been getting from band members has been good, as reported when the Western News broke this story on Oct. 16, though as word of the project spreads, more people are expressing concerns.

A majority of the people that I have talked to from the very beginning have been very supportive,” said Alec. “Now that it is kind of moving forward and people are starting to realize that this could be a reality, more people are starting to express concerns around the social issues or their misunderstanding between commercial recreational use and medicinal use.”

Drug and alcohol abuse has been a problem for the PIB in the past, and addictions awareness continues to be a major focus for the band’s health department.

I think there are a few people who are concerned about that, who aren’t completely educated about the differences,” said Alec. “For myself, I have seven years sobriety, I am in active recovery, I practice my sobriety. And I have talked to other people who are also recovering to see where they are at with it.”

The marijuana that would be grown in the proposed facility will be strains tailored to different levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) the psychoactive component of cannabis and cannaboids (CBD), another component that has anti-inflammatory and other medicinal benefits, rather than the street marijuana, which is typically bred to produce the highest level of THC possible.

I think once people really see the research and find out the history and become educated about medicinal marijuana and the different strains of it and how it is consumed and the differences between that and prescription drugs. A lot of people don’t understand than you get a bigger high off of taking Advil that you do from medicinal marijuana in some cases,” said Alec.

Depending on what ailment you are working on, there are many different strains, according to Michael Martinz, president of Kaneh Bosm Biotech. If you are working for a strain for epilepsy or cancer or pain management he explains, you manipulate the THC and the CBD, you manipulate those two levels depending on what you are growing it for.

If the joint venture is approved by the band, and obtains the needed government approvals, the production facility will be built in three phases, starting at about 24 jobs and three tons of production, building up to 60 jobs and seven tons of production.

Martinz said the land they are negotiating for at the band is ideal for his company’s first production location.

The Okanagan Valley is probably one of the best locations in Canada for green house production,” he said. Addressing the band members’ concerns, he said, is a matter of addressing the hypocrisy and the labelling that one drug is worse than the other, and the difference between what they will be producing and street drugs.

Alec said she knows people that have had to rely on street marijuana for pain relief for years. Medical marijuana, she said, offers a better solution.

That was the way they got into it and they became reliant on it because it was the only way they could manage pain. Now you can access something that doesn’t get you high and turn you into a stoner, someone that just sits home and smokes pot all day,” said Alec. “You can actually create something that will help somebody so they are not getting sick and they are not getting high. There is so many different ways you can take it now, in pill form, in lollipops, oils, lotions and without getting that high.”

The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkmaeen received notification from Health Canada about three applications from groups wishing to grow medical pot within its jurisdication; two in Okanagan Falls and one on the West Bench. In June, the board decided to take a hands-off approach to regulation of medical marijuana production and go forward with rules already in place to govern the use of agricultural land.

The Town of Osoyoos approved a zoning bylaw amendment in February that would allow companies to operate medical marijuana grow operation’s in the town’s industrial park.