In Our Words: Bring back Flin Flon's original cash crop - pot

Not that long ago, Flin Flon was listed as a possibility for a new cannabis retail outlet. When the provincial government listed several communities, we were on the list. It could be possible to buy pot in Flin Flon without having to order it online, drive for hours or get it from that sketchy guy down the street.

That’s not a bad idea, but I don’t think we’re thinking big enough. I don’t think Flin Flon should be content to be just another town with a pot shop - there’s opportunity to do a lot more than that.

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If you’ve lived here for a while, there’s a good chance you can remember the days of Prairie Plant Systems operating what Flin Flonners just called the “pot farm” - from 2001 to 2009, the company operated a medicinal marijuana grow operation at Trout Lake Mine, growing a majority of Canada’s medical marijuana crop tucked away in an otherwise-unused corner of the mine. HBM&S and Prairie Plant Systems had already worked together for more than a decade, growing fruits and vegetables using hydroponic equipment underground. At the time, it was Canada’s biggest legal grow op. People here sold shirts calling Flin Flon the “Marijuana Capital of Canada”.

That ended when Prairie Plant Systems and HBM&S couldn’t come to terms on extending the rental agreement for the facility in June 2009, around the time HBM&S was planning to shut down the Trout Lake mine. At the time, the head of Prairie Plant Systems spoke to business leaders and municipal figures to try to force HBM&S’s hand into extending the lease. City council passed motions to help keep Prairie Plant Systems in town. In public appearances, it was clear the company wanted to stay in Flin Flon. No dice.

It’s been almost 10 years since the “pot farm” shut down shop. Since then, the Canadian cannabis industry has changed a great deal. It’s gone legit. The market has exploded, with people being able to simply walk into a store and buy their favourite strains like someone walking into a vendor and walking out with a case of beer.

The company that operated the grow-up no longer exists. That company morphed into CanniMed, which was bought last year by Aurora Cannabis for more than a billion dollars worth of cash and stock. They currently run three large-scale growing facilities in Canada - two in Alberta and one in Quebec - and plan to build a massive growing complex in Denmark, almost a million square feet in size. The Flin Flon grow op, by contrast, was a measly 12,000 square feet total.

I know it’s been very easy to sound almost like Chicken Little regarding Hudbay recently. There have been times when it has seemed like the sky is falling. Government officials haven’t exactly allayed those fears in a big way. Still, Chicken Little or not, having another industry in Flin Flon is not a bad idea. What’s so bad about finding a shock absorber for the boom-and-bust cycle of northern mining, with keeping a town going even if mining jobs leave? Every town needs a fail-safe. I feel like cannabis cultivation could be that fail safe for Flin Flon.

It’s time to take cannabis cultivation in Flin Flon legit, taking it from the secret plant in the shed, basement or backyard to warehouses, massive hydroponic facilities. It’s time to earn the title of “Marijuana Capital of Canada” from other places hoping to swagger jack us.

It’s not like there’s not enough space to build something like that here. There are mine sites around where another grow op could be set up. Granted, Trout Lake is out of the question, but what about other locales? What about the former Reed mine? I know the plan is to knock it all down and leave no trace – why not keep the shaft open and grow more than just pine trees?

There were reasons why growing bud underground proved to be a good move - underground grow ops don’t have issues with insects, for example, and the temperature and moisture can be closely monitored and controlled. Security is less of a problem, since after all, what can be less accessible for curious onlookers than a room hundreds of metres underground? Cannabis plants respond well being grown underground - they grow up to four times faster underground. Remember how I mocked how comparatively small the Flin Flon grow op was earlier? That yielded a solid 150 to 200 kilograms of pot each year. A seven gram container of the Super Lemon Haze strain will set you back more than a hundred bucks at a sanctioned marijuana retailer in Manitoba. There are millions to potentially be made here.

Am I oversimplifying things? Of course I am. I know there are a lot of hurdles to jump and a few long rolls of red tape that need to be cut in order to make that happen, but it is not impossible or improbable. Demand for cannabis is as high as it’s ever been, and now, smokers don’t have to worry about hiding their habit at risk of prosecution.

Bringing back cannabis cultivation would be a good commercial move for Flin Flon. Imagine people from across Canada buying our extra-special Smelter Smoke Haze. It could bring in millions, if it’s done right - and we’d get our throne back as Canada’s leader in the sticky icky.

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