College harvests its first pot crop
Once plants are tested they will all be destroyed
Niagara college’s cannabis program students harvested their first crop of marijuana plants Friday, although no one will be smoking the fruits of their labour.
Instead, the plants will ultimately be destroyed, after they’re sent off to a laboratory to be tested as part of several research studies the students are involved in that could hold a great deal of potential for Canada’s fledgling industry, said the college’s environmental and horticultural studies professor Derek Schulze.
For instance, Schulze said research focused on controlling the plant’s odour “is a big issue” in an industry that has faced complaints from neighbours of the greenhouses that produce the plants.
He said the students are working with an environmental company, hoping to find a way to diffuse the chemicals that create the skunky aroma associated with cannabis, without affecting the potency of the drug it produces.
“What we’re finding is that the molecules that are responsible for aroma are not psycho-active. Those are the terpenes. … They’re just aroma,” he said.
“I think there’s some really interesting stuff that will come out of that project, because odour is a big deal.”
The students have also been researching the effectiveness of fertilizer, as well as the impact altering lighting may have had on the plants.
“We do a lot of research here,” he said.
But despite the potential of the research the students are conducting, the program is currently running in converted shipping containers at the college’s Niagara-on-the-Lake campus.
“We’re applying for and likely building a research facility right beside this, and it’ll be better suited to actual experimentation,” Schulze said. “The goal of this facility was for education primarily, but at the college — at least in the greenhouse program — we’ve always done experimental projects with the students.”
He said laboratories at the college’s food and wine institute are also being re-purposed and certified to test the cannabis plants, to experiment and learn how to create safe extractions and food additive from the plant.
“The college is really in a great position to really make a big impact on the industry,” he said. “But the industry has to be prepared and interested in that, and that’s a big wildcard as far as I’m concerned.”
Despite showing a keen interest in the graduates the college program is set to produce, he said the industry — for the most part — has yet to show an interest in the research the college is conducting.
But for student Carson Otto, a graduate of Western University’s chemical engineering program who wrote his thesis on THC extraction, the opportunity to continue his research as one of the college’s first 24 cannabis program students “is awesome.”
“It’s almost revolutionary for a school to be doing research on cannabis. Five years ago, we wouldn’t have even thought that we’d be growing weed on campus,” he said. “I think there’s so much to be researched about cannabis, it’s exciting that we’re at the forefront of it.”
And although the college already sells the wine, beer and other products produced by the students, Schulze said the college can’t currently sell the cannabis the students grow.
“Not yet,” he said.
Although the Niagara College program began operating under a provisional research licence, Schulze said the college is working towards being permitted to sell the plants.
“Our ultimate goal, and it might take a few years of applications and amendments, is to get to something like a licenced dealer where we can grow and then can sell to someone else.”
Niagara College students Mason Wyatt, left, and Max Hicks, check out some of the cannabis during the first harvest at Niagara College Friday.
Niagara College students Mason Wyatt, left, and Max Hicks, check out some of the cannabis during the first harvest at Niagara College.