A Mohawk-owned company is nearly ready to start growing and selling medical marijuana in Canada. Seven Leaf is retrofitting an old water bottling plant on Cornwall Island in Akwesasne. The multi-million dollar project hopes to employ 100 people. The company enters a booming and crowded market.
According to Health Canada, more than 200,000 Canadians are licensed to buy medical marijuana. The system started with a grow-your-own model in 2001. But Canada started licensing commercial growers in 2014. Today, there are 67 growers across Canada, half of them in Ontario.
A former police chief seizes the opportunity to grow marijuana “to ease a lot of pain”
Seeking to compete in the medical cannabis market is an unlikely trio – a pharmacist, a former Mohawk chief, and a 23-year veteran of the Akwesasne Mohawk police force.
Lewis Mitchell was police chief for 13 years, and during that time, he says he saw the criminal effects of illegal marijuana. “It creates a market for criminal organizations to take advantage of.”
But at the same time, Mitchell says he also witnessed firsthand the pain and suffering of friends and family due to disease and illness, from diabetes to cancer. Once medical cannabis became legal in Canada, Mitchell says they used the plant as an alternative to more addictive opioid drugs. “I’ve seen the benefits of the use of marijuana to ease a lot of pain.”
Mitchell owns a lacrosse stick manufacturing company. So with his partners Lorraine White, the former chief, and Michael “Gus” Pyke, a longtime pharmacist in Akwesasne, they decided they could manufacture weed as Seven Leaf.
Hurdles to clear to become a medical marijuana grower
Health Canada’s licensing process is rigorous. It’s taken Seven Leaf four years so far. The company expects to get final approvals in time to start plants in the spring. “We have a tracking system that’s approved by Health Canada,” says Mitchell, “so that plant is accounted for from the minute it sprouts to harvest.”
There’s already competition nearby. The company Tweed already grows and sells medical pot in Smith Falls, Ontario, south of Ottawa. And that’s not the only marijuana vendor in the North Country region. Across the border in New York, in a completely different market, a medical marijuana dispensary serving New York State clients is operating in Plattsburgh.
Seven Leaf president Lewis Mitchell says he knows Canada’s market is competitive, but it’s growing. He hopes the fact that Seven Leaf is owned by First Nations people will be a selling point, “but that’s not enough,” says Mitchell, “being identified as Mohawk-owned and operated and being First Nations. We still have to produce quality product.”
Canada is only granting licenses for medical cannabis now. But there’s something much bigger on the horizon. Canada is poised to legalize pot next year. The province of Ontario is rolling out a plan to open 150 recreational marijuana stores run by the liquor control board. It remains unclear who will grow that weed. But companies like Seven Leaf hope they’ll be in the best position to help stock the shelves.
Photo credit – seven leaf