EDMONTON — Canada’s growing medical marijuana industry is taking root in Alberta.
Health Canada has granted a licence to Aurora Cannabis Inc. to produce medical pot in Mountain View County north of Calgary.
Aurora spokesman Marc Levy said the plants are to be grown at a $10.5-million, secure high-tech facility that can produce up to 8,000 kilograms of marijuana a year.
“We are super excited. We are big believers that this is a revolutionary industry,” Levy said Friday.
“I think it is going to be beneficial for a lot of people in Canada from a medical perspective.”
Levy said Aurora is the first medical marijuana company to obtain a federal licence in Alberta.
The facility, which is about the size of a Canadian football field, has already been built on rural land near the village of Cremona and is to begin production immediately, he said.
The first harvest is expected in about three months.
Levy said Vancouver-based Aurora chose the location because it can use free, clean mountain water and benefit from Alberta’s low tax and utility rates.
The company plans to grow about two dozen different strains of marijuana of varying strength for people with different medical needs.
Sean Upton, a Health Canada spokesman, said licence applications are rigorously reviewed, including security measures at proposed sites.
“The key personnel are then subject to a security clearance … co-ordinated by RCMP,” Upton wrote in an email Friday.
“This can involve a comprehensive analysis of police records, fieldwork and co-ordination with other law enforcement agencies to identify whether an applicant poses a risk to the integrity of the control of the production and distribution of cannabis.”
Health Canada notes that marijuana is not an approved drug and the government does not endorse its use, but the courts have required reasonable access to a legal source when authorized by a physician.
The department’s website shows Ottawa has approved 26 licences for companies to cultivate medical marijuana.
Most are in Ontario and British Columbia, where the majority of the estimated 40,000 people who are authorized to obtain medical pot live.
About 15,000 people have signed up so far to get their supply from approved commercial growers.
Health Canada said 881 licensed producer applications have been refused or withdrawn. Another 320 applications are under consideration.
Aurora has been given the green light to cultivate the pot, but won’t be able to sell it to eligible people until the first crop is reviewed by federal inspectors, who will check its potency and whether it is safe.
Levy said the facility will need about 100 workers and hopes to hire some agriculture students from nearby Olds College.
He said the company is so far licensed to produce 5,500 kilograms a year, but expects to step up production to meet growing demand.
“We plan to be the best medical marijuana company in Canada,” Levy said. “We want to be providing the best service, the best product at the best price points.”