Mark Gobuty is hoping his pot premonition is about to pay off.
He is waiting for word from Health Canada, hoping that his company, Peace Naturals Project Inc., will be among the first in the country to be licensed to grow marijuana commercially for medical use.
For 22 months he has been growing medical cannabis on his farm. But he has also been complying with rules being scrapped by the federal Conservative government that prevent each grower from providing the drug to more than two people.
With the new licence, Peace Naturals will be able to supply about 1,000 clients and hopes to add 1,500 customers with every new greenhouse it builds. Mr. Gobuty expects to employ more than 150 people within a couple of years.
“I see us leading in the new cannabis,” he said. “I believe there are a few hundred thousand customers or potential customers. Our aspiration is to be a market leader.”
For seven years, Mr. Gobuty and his wife, Ann Barnes, have grown industrial hemp and “functional” foods like chia and goji berries on their farm.
About 2 1/2 years ago, his mother fell ill with a blood disease. As she was recovering, Mr. Gobuty went through her medicine cabinet and was “gobsmacked” to see the number and types of drugs she was using. He thought she could replace many of them with pot.
Friends who had been involved in the medical marijuana program for a number of years suggested his farm would be a perfect place to grow enough of the drug to supply his mother’s needs. Between Mr. Gobuty and his wife, they could legally produce enough for four people.
Which is not a client base that will sustain a profitable business. “But I was getting itchy,” Mr. Gobuty said. “I felt something was coming.”
So he started modifying his farm to grow weed on a large scale – at considerable expense.
At one point, he almost gave up because the costs were so immense and there was no money coming in. But at Ms. Barnes’ insistence, they kept going.
Then the government rewrote the rules, opening the door to mass production and unlimited clientele for those who had the right facilities – companies like Peace Naturals that had everything in place. A bank was even willing to provide the financing.
“If you didn’t know better, you would think we knew something, that we had a crystal ball,” Mr. Gobuty said. But it was just a belief in the medical value of the product for an aging society that propelled him, he said.
Mr. Gobuty’s lawyer, Alan Young, is a professor of law at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto who has fought the criminalization of marijuana for 15 years. Although some medical pot users complain that they will now have to purchase what they had been growing in their basements for free, Mr. Young supports the changes.
The old program was not working at many levels including patient access, he said. The Conservatives came up with a plan “that more or less removes the government from the equation,” he said. “In theory and conceptually, the government is moving in the right direction.”