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The life cycle of a cannabis plant, from seed to store

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Armina Ligaya, The Canadian Press


Published Wednesday, December 26, 2018 10:07AM EST

TORONTO — Licensed cannabis producers are ramping up production to address shortages that have plagued the pot market since legalization in October, but the time required to grow the average marijuana plant means consumers likely have a few more weeks to wait.

Cannabis lives up to its nickname and grows like a weed, but the plant needs as many as 18 weeks to progress from seed to harvest before it even moves on to processing and packaging.

Licensed producer CannTrust walked The Canadian Press through their cultivation and processing facilities to get a close look at the process. Here are the various life stages of the cannabis plant: from seed to plant to processing and packaging.

1) Seed/Cutting

Most commercial cannabis growers skip the seed stage and grow new plants from cuttings of established ones, as seeds take longer and are prone to genetic variation, which can affect product quality.

Cuttings are taken from so-called “mother plants” grown for the purpose of genetic cloning. The moniker stems from the fact that they must be female — male plants produce pollen and seeds but female plants produce the coveted cannabinoid-filled flower.

“Every plant in the greenhouse is a female plant,” said Michael Camplin, general manager of CannTrust’s Niagara-area cultivation facility. “There are no males allowed in this facility.”

Growing a new plant from cuttings produces genetically identical plants, allowing producers to generate cannabis from a certain strain with particular characteristics, he said.

“It’s called a mother plant because it’s producing basically children,” Camplin said. “It’s producing young plants that will have the same characteristics as the mother.”

2) Seedling

Small cuttings are taken from the mother plants and planted into a moist starter cube in a low light and high humidity environment.

“They’re literally babied along,” Camplin said.

After two weeks, the roots start to sprout through the starter cube and the seedling is transplanted to a larger cube. After an additional two weeks of growth, the young cannabis plant is moved to a slightly larger base.

3) Vegetative state

Once beyond the seedling stage, the plant enters the vegetative state and is encouraged to grow up and out. This is done by controlling the amount of light the plant receives.

If the plant receives 18 hours of daylight or more in a given day, it will continue to grow without producing any flower, Camplin said.

4) Flowering

Getting the plant to produce flowers involves convincing it that autumn is approaching, which means cutting back on the light cycle.

“Marijuana plants are very light sensitive, and they are triggered to go into flower when the day length shortens in nature, as the summer starts to turn into fall,” he said. “The days get shorter, and the plant knows that it’s time to reproduce.”

Mimicking the change in seasons by shortening the daylight period to 12 hours will prompt the plant to flower and produced the desired bud.

The time needed for a plant to flower depends on the strain, but it can range from as little as seven weeks to as much as 10 weeks, Camplin said.

5) Harvesting

Once the flowering plant has reached the desired stage, it is time to harvest. The plant’s flower or bud is coated in tiny, glistening hair-like glands called trichomes that contain the active ingredients in the plant called cannabinoids. The best-known cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol, known as THC and CBD. Trichomes also contain terpenes, the fragrant oils which produce a unique taste and smell.

The plants are cut and cannabis buds are mechanically separated from the stems and leaves, before being inspected and then trimmed by hand, Camplin said.

6) Drying

The fresh cannabis flower is then dried on racks for up to two weeks. The buds are then stored in loosely closed plastic bags in large bins, which help to control the humidity, for two weeks.

“That equalizes the moisture level, and every day they’re opened and stirred — or burped as they say in the drying room — and closed back up,” Camplin said.

Keeping them in the closed bins also help the buds retain the terpenes, he said.

Once the drying is complete, the bud is graded by size. Larger buds are usually preferred for dried flower sales while smaller buds are often earmarked for oil, he said.

7) Testing and processing

At this stage, the cannabis is tested for quality before it is cleared for the manufacturing process, said Chris Lucky, CannTrust’s vice-president of supply chain and manufacturing. On average, it takes 10 to 11 days to get the lab results back.

Once the buds pass the appropriate tests, the pot is then either packaged for sale or put through an extraction process to produce cannabis oil.

8) Extraction

The buds chosen to produce oils are put through an industrial-sized grinder and then baked. Similar to when cannabis is smoked, the heating process activates the ingredients within the bud that provide the medicinal effects, Anna Jakobsmeier, CannTrust’s director of extraction and refinement, said.

“We’re manipulating it to now provide the medicine,” she said.

The baked cannabis is then placed into an extraction machine that uses heated and pressurized carbon dioxide to separate the cannabinoids from the plant.

“You’re removing the cannabinoids, as well as some other components of the plant, but you’re leaving behind the actual dried product,” she said.

The resulting liquid containing the cannabinoids is mixed with a carrier oil, such as a type of coconut oil known as Medium Chain Triglycerides or MCT oil. The oil is then bottled or put into capsules and packaged for sale.

9) Packaging and Labelling

The finished products are packaged and labelled as per Health Canada’s guidelines, which include strict limits on the use of colours, graphics and logos.

Products destined for Canada’s adult use market receive an excise stamp, which indicate that the product was produced legally and that applicable duties were paid. Each product must have a stamp corresponding to the province or territory where it will be sold.

Complications with the stamp were blamed by many pot producers for causing a bottleneck in the supply chain, contributing to the shortage. Problems cited by producers included a delay in receiving the stamps, as well as the need for glue to affix the stamps, which slowed down the process.

Cannabis is a brand new industry, and companies are learning and refining the processes as they go, and incorporating automation to speed up the process where possible, Lucky said.

“Everybody is learning the processes… There’s a lot of things we have done as an organization, and industry across the board, in terms of how we can automate.”

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Canadian tech diversity and inclusion in the spotlight

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Diversity and inclusion are hot-button issues, but for all the attention they get, there’s still work to be done in the tech sector, according to a recent Gartner blog.

Citing a range of challenges that include pay inequity, lack of diversity in corporate management, and difficulty recruiting diverse talent, the blog suggests three possible remedies for organizations trying to become more diverse and inclusive: having a long-term plan but focusing on one aspect that will make the most benefit, setting targets and making leadership accountable, and committing resources.

The call for such strategies finds support in a report from the Brookfield Institute revealing that Canada’s technology sector has a disappointing track record when it comes to inclusion and equity, with women “four times less likely to be employed in the sector than men, and earning on average $7,300 less than men in technology jobs.”

The findings are just as grim in a January 2020 report funded by Canada’s Future Skills Centre. According to this document, despite corporate commitments to diversity, “decades of initiatives designed to advance women in technology have scarcely had an effect: The proportion of women in engineering and computer science in Canada has changed little in 25 years.”

And women are not the only disadvantaged group, says the report. “The under-employment of skilled immigrants and under-representation of women and other groups in the ICT industry suggests that recruitment and retention policies and practices of the very firms complaining about this [skills] gap may be contributing to the problem.”

Until we do a better job of addressing inclusion and diversity, career opportunities will continue to be limited for women, internationally educated professionals, racialized minorities, First Nations, Inuit and Métis people. In addition to being a very human issue, this is also one that perpetuates the ICT skills gap by failing to tap into a supply of well-qualified labour.

On the bright side, there are technology companies and organizations across Canada that are truly determined to create opportunities for those who are under-represented in the digital talent pool. There is also an opportunity to recognize their efforts during Channel Innovation 2021: Adapting to the New Customer Experience, a 2.5-hour, virtual event on April 28, 2021.

A showcase for independent software vendors (ISVs) and Canadian channel innovators, the Channel Innovation 2021 celebration will take place on CIA-TV, a unique ITWC platform that allows the audience to take in the show, download related content and videos, and network in live breakout rooms. There are six award categories, including the C4 Award for Diversity and Inclusion. Nominating is simple. Whether a self- or third-party nomination, there are only two main questions to answer and an opportunity to include a supporting document or image.

Winning entries will be announced during the celebration and profiled in the Channel Daily News Magazine and in Direction Informatique, ITWC’s French-language publication devoted to the Quebec marketplace. They will also receive a digital badge for use on their websites and on social media to help gain industry-wide recognition and end-user exposure.

The media attention and recognition are reason enough to vie for this honour, and we always need things to celebrate during a global pandemic, but the real value in awards for diversity and inclusion is in setting an example for others to follow. The news is full of the ways we are falling down when it comes to equity in the IT sector. Let’s take some time to highlight the success stories and encourage other tech innovators to step up.

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Leading Canadian tech entrepreneur Saadia Muzaffar to give virtual keynote in Peterborough on March 9

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In celebration of International Women’s Day, one of Canada’s leading female tech entrepreneurs will be giving a virtual keynote for residents of Peterborough and the Kawarthas on Tuesday, March 9th at 7 p.m.

The Innovation Cluster is hosting Saadia Muzaffar as part of its ‘Electric City Talks’ series.

Muzaffar is a tech entrepreneur, author, and passionate advocate of responsible innovation, decent work for everyone, and prosperity of immigrant talent in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). She is the founder of TechGirls Canada, a hub for Canadian women in STEM, and co-founder of Tech Reset Canada, a group of business people, technologists, and other residents advocating for innovation that is focused on the public good.

In 2017, Muzaffar was featured in Canada 150 Women, a book about 150 of the most influential and groundbreaking women in Canada. Her work has been featured in CNNMoney, BBC World, Fortune Magazine, The Globe and Mail, VICE, CBC, TVO, and Chatelaine.

Muzaffar’s March 9th talk, entitled ‘Redefining Term Sheets: Success, Solidarity, & The Future We Want’, will inspire women to achieve success in all areas of life, including in business by providing strategies for obtaining funding.

“It is impossible to explain how women only get 2.2 per cent of funding for their ventures while we constitute a majority of the population, without acknowledging long-standing structural and systemic bias,” Muzaffar says, describing her talk. “Women know these odds in our bones because we feel them in too many boardrooms, banks, media advertisements, and venture competitions — yet women are the fastest-growing demographic in new businesses.”

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ARK’s Cathie Wood joins board of Canadian tech firm mimik

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ARK Invest’s Cathie Wood is joining the board of Canadian technology company mimik.

Vancouver-based mimik is an edge computing company that effectively turns devices like phones into private cloud servers. It has already teamed up with Amazon Web Services and IBM on edge computing – two of the bigger players in the space.

The AWS partnership gives software developers access to mimik’s cloud platform. Together, edge devices including smart phones, tablets, and Internet of Things (IoT) products can act as extensions of the AWS cloud. With the IBM partnership, mimik’s technology will be included in automation and digital transformation across manufacturing, retail, IoT and healthcare.

All of mimik’s business lines fit in with Wood’s broad ‘next generation internet’ thesis, one of her big five investment themes. The company itself is private and Wood is not an investor. 

However, as Citywire noted in January, Wood has hinted in interviews that ARK is exploring the launch of a private markets strategy. 

Wood joins a relatively high profile board at mimik. Other members include  Allen Salmasi, a pioneer in mobile technology who was previously with Qualcomm, and Ori Sasson, managing director of Primera Capital, who was an investor in VMWare and other technology companies.

‘I’ve always believed in backing founders who are at the forefront of innovation,’ Wood said in a statement on her decision to join mimik. ‘At mimik, [they] have built a foundation for the next generation of cloud computing.’ 

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