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Nov 12 13 3:52 PM

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Corporatizing Cannabis Production in Michigan


 Nov 11 2013 Published by Michael Komorn under Komorn Law Blog


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 Michigan republicans are fighting to get marijuana reclassified as a schedule 2 drug and distributed by pharmacies. A special committee has already passed a bill for a Senate vote. It outlines a new system for distributing medical cannabis to run parallel to the current one. This new process could not be implemented unless the federal government reclassified marijuana, but that possibility is beginning to look conceivable. Behind the push to centralize marijuana production is Prairie Plant Systems (PPS), a Canadian based horticulture company. If the bill is passed and implemented, it is possible that PPS would become the exclusive provider of pharmaceutical grade cannabis in Michigan.Medical Marijuana At Your Local PharmacyHealth Canada, the agency in charge of overseeing Canada’s Medical Marijuana Program, has given the first licenses to produce cannabis under the new regulations which will take effect in April 2014 to Prairie Plant Systems (PPS). PPS has been heavily criticized in the past for its production of cannabis that is contaminated with heavy metals, irradiated, and whose quality is best described as awful. PPS and its subsidiary, CanniMed Ltd., will be the sole provider of cannabis to the country’s projected 58,000 Medical Marijuana Patients in 2014. As of April 2104, individuals will no longer be permitted to grow either for themselves or for other patients, and will be forced to obtain their medicine by mail-order from state approved lessees, of which PPS and CanniMed Ltd are the only two at this time.Brent Zettl is the CEO of PPS, which has provided medical cannabis to Health Canada for the past 13 years. In a recent press release, Zettl said, ”Patient safety is our primary focus, which means that patients and their healthcare professionals can trust our consistent and reliable product every time. We have a quality control process with 281 points of control, ensuring that there is no variability, giving patient’s confidence in dose consistency.” These are nice words, but PPS’s track record tells a very different tale.Prairie Plant Systems was founded in 1988 and is a privately-held plant biotechnology company that develops “Prairie hardy fruit trees and seed potatoes” as well as plant-based pharmaceuticals. In 2001, it signed a $5.7 million cultivation contract with the Canadian government, the first and only such contract ever signed between the government and a private company with the sole purpose of cultivating cannabis for distribution to the public. This is where things begin to get a bit shady.Instead of growing outdoors or in the vastness of the Canadian landscape, PPS started a joint venture with the Hudson Bay Mining & Smelting Company to cultivate cannabis in a Flin Flon, Manitoba mine over a thousand feet below the ground. It doesn’t take an expert to recognize the potential hazards to health that growing a plant for consumption in an old mine might present.After securing the contract with the government and the mining company, PPS set to work on growing cannabis. Despite the company’s claim that it was growing top-quality cannabis that had a THC content of at least 10%, Health Canada repeatedly delayed the distribution of the finished product.When that finished product began arriving at patients’ doors, the news got worse for PPS. Patients were complaining that the cannabis was “weak” and “disgusting,” and that the finished product was little more than a ground-up mix of buds, leaves, and stems.Two years later, Canadians for Safe Access (CSA) acquired samples of PPS’s cannabis and started testing. The findings were shocking. The group published an open letter which detailed their findings. In the letter, CSA states that, ”upon initial physical examination, it became apparent that claims by PPS and Health Canada that the PPS cannabis was 10% THC seemed overly optimistic.” “The product was of very fine grind with visible stalk and stems peppered throughout and very little detectable trichome development. When put under flame, it produced a dark smoke with an unpleasant taste and odor. The cannabis burned very poorly and left a thick black residual ash, immediately suggesting inadequate nutrient flushing. This was later confirmed by an examination of tests conducted by Norwest labs for PPS, which show unusually high levels of phosphorous, calcium, and magnesium all of which are ‘flowering’ fertilizers used at the end of growth cycle, and are typically to blame for the poor combustion and acrid taste of inferior quality black-market cannabis.”Some patients refused to accept the low quality, with 30% of those who ordered the cannabis between 2003 and 2004 physically returning the product to Health Canada. The tests also showed that the cannabis had THC levels of only 3%-5%, well below the company’s claims of 10%.Marijuana MiningThis wasn’t the worst of PPS’s problems. PPS was about to find out why growing cannabis in an old Zinc and Copper mine might not be the ideal spot to set up shop. ”As a result of over 80 years of mining and smelting,” the CSA wrote, “a number of official Conservation Canada, Natural Resources Canada and Environment Canada reports suggest that Flin Flon and the surrounding region is one of the most environmentally contaminated areas in North America.”Furthermore, according to a MiningWatch Canada report released in 2001, “the sheer size of the contaminated area in Flin Flon makes it impossible to remediate. In particular, there is a large volume of tailings that blow in the wind, and the metal content (copper, cadmium and lead) makes it difficult for vegetation to establish. Community concerns have historically not been adequately addressed, and much information, including that collected by Health Canada (e. g., toxic metal levels in blueberries) has not been made available to the residents of Flin Flon…”Canadians for Safe Access had the PPS marijuana tested for heavy metals by a lab certified by the EPA and CAEAL certified in 2003. The results of the tests showed that the marijuana had high levels of both lead and arsenic.
CSA then ordered copies of every heavy metal test conducted by PPS and Health Canada, and while these test results showed lower levels of lead and arsenic, they revealed elevated levels of manganese and phosphorous in the PPS marijuana which could be a health concern when inhaled into the lungs.When CSA confronted Health Canada with their findings, Health Canada called the tests, “totally unsatisfactory.” One Health Canada spokesperson, Jirina Vlk, said the government’s tests of the PPS marijuana showed similar levels of heavy metal content to that of Canadian tobacco, and that these levels were “well within allowable limits.” When she was pressed to reveal what those levels were, she admitted that there are currently no legal limits to heavy metal content in either cannabis or tobacco in Canada.Other Impurities and Gamma RadiationIf a mixture of stems, leaves, buds, arsenic, lead, phosphorous, and manganese wasn’t bad enough, the same tests that showed high levels of heavy metals in PPS marijuana showed high levels of biological impurities prior to gamma radiation. Aerobic bacteria was found in concentrations more than 1000 times than that of organic cannabis which had undergone the same tests. The tests also showed extremely high levels of molds, including penicillium and aspergillus, which the CSA stated, “HIV/AIDS, Hep-C, and cancer sufferers may be particularly vulnerable to.”The solution that PPS came up with to kill all the hazardous bacteria was to nuke it with gamma radiation. Health Canada’s website, “The product has been irradiated by gamma irradiation to reduce to undetectable levels, potentially harmful bacteria and microbial load which may cause spoilage of product. The lowest dose required is utilized for the irradiation process (i.e. 10 kilogray – standard level for herbs and spices), ensuring that the chemical characteristics of the marihuana product are not altered.” CSA noted that the effects of smoking gamma radiation treated cannabis have never been studied or documented, and that relying on using gamma radiation to decontaminate the product shows a lack of care or reliability in the production, processing, and/or handling process. CSA further noted that One of the bi-products of gamma irradiation is the production of Unique Radiolytic Products, which are a new class of chemicals resulting from irradiations that are not otherwise found in nature. Of significance in the gamma irradiation of whole plant cannabis is the potential production of cyclobutanones, which are toxic, carcinogenic chemicals that form when fats are subjected to gamma irradiation, and which have been directly linked to the development of colon cancer in rats. In addition, gamma irradiation has been shown to destroy terpenes like myrcene and linalool, which have known therapeutic properties and are found in high concentrations in some strains of whole-plant cannabis.”Will PPS Marijuana be the Only Marijuana available to Patients?Currently, Prairie Plant Systems and its subsidiary CanniMed are the sole companies licensed to provide medical marijuana to Canadian patients when the new ordinance takes effect in 2014.

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