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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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Trudeau Government Should Turn to Sustainable Floor Heating In Its New Deal

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A consortium has been chosen by Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) to manage the $1.1-billion overhaul of five heating and cooling plants in the National Capital Region. However, this decision has been met with a lot of disapproval by the country’s largest federal public service union.

Early June, the department announced that Innovate Energy has been awarded the 30-year contract “to design, retrofit, maintain and operate the plants,”winning the bid over a rival group that included SNC-Lavalin.

Minister of Environment, Catherine McKenna, said the federal government was “leading by example” in its bid to drastically reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions across the country. McKenna noted that by supporting this project, they’re utilizing heating and cooling infrastructure to promote a more environmentally friendly option.

“We’re very proud that our government is working with partners like Innovate Energy to modernize this critical infrastructure,” she said during the announcement at one of the facilities that will be upgraded, the Cliff Heating and Cooling Plant in downtown Ottawa.

The plants would be known as the district energy system and would heat 80 buildings in the area with steam. It is also expected to cool 67 of these buildings with chilled water through more than 14 kilometres of underground pipes.

Under the Energy Services Acquisition Program, PSPC will be tasked with modernizing the outdated technology in the plants to lower emissions and supportgrowth in the eco-friendly technology sector.

During the first stage of the overhaul, the system would be converted from steam to low temperature hot water and then switched from steam to electric chillers—with the estimated completion date being 2025. PSPC notes that the project will reduce current emissions by 63 per cent, the equivalent of removing 14,000 non-eco-friendly cars off the road.

Afterwards, the natural gas powering the plant will then be replaced by carbon-neutral fuel sources, which according to estimated will reduce emissions by a further 28 per cent. The renovation project is bound to save the government an estimated fee of more than $750 million in heating and cooling costs in the next 40 years.

Furthermore, the implementation of radiant floor heating in Ottawa by the federal government would be an additional step in driving its agenda for a more eco-friendly state.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Savers website, radiant floor heating has a lot of benefits and advantages over alternate heat systems and can cut heating costs by 25 to 50 per cent.

“It is more efficient than baseboard heating and usually more efficient than forced-air heating because no energy is lost through ducts,” the website states.

Radiant floor heating provides an equal amount of heat throughout a building, including areas that are difficult to heat, such as rooms with vaulted ceilings, garages or bathrooms. Consideringit warms people and objects directly—controlling the direct heat loss of the occupant—radiant floor heating provides comfort at lower thermostat settings.

“Radiators and other forms of ‘point’ heating circulate heat inefficiently and hence need to run for longer periods to obtain comfort levels,” reports the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNet).

Radiant heating is a clean and healthy option—a perfect choice for those with severe allergies—as it doesn’t rely on circulating air, meaning there are no potentially irritating particles blowing around the room. Additionally, it is more energy efficient, aesthetically pleasing with wall radiators or floor registers and virtually noiseless when in operation.

“They draw cold air across the floor and send warm air up to the ceiling, where it then falls, heating the room from the top down, creating drafts and circulating dust and allergens.”

It is important for the leadership in Ottawa to equally drive the adoption of radiant floor heating as doing this would lead to increased usage in residential buildings—and even government-owned buildings.

However, in October, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), a representative body of employees of the plants,began a campaign target at the government against their decision to use a public-private partnership (P3) for the retrofitting project, citing concerns about costs and safety.

According to the union, outside employees won’t be bound to the same health and safety standards of government workers and that typically P3 projects cost a lot more than traditional public financing deals.

The union demands that the government scraps the proposed project and meet PSAC members and experts to brainstorm on a new way forward that would ensure federal employees continue to operate and maintain the plants.

However, parliamentary secretary to public services and procurement minister, Steve MacKinnon said that the union officials have consulted him but that after conducting an analysis, the P3 option was still the best for the job.

“We didn’t have (to) sacrifice on safety or health — we didn’t have to sacrifice on job security,” he said.

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Steps to becoming a Data Scientist

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Data science has become one of the most in-demand career paths in this century, according to Business Insider. With the amount of information being circulated online, it has created a huge demand for storing, interpreting and implementing big data for different purposes—hence the need for a data scientist.

Today, there too much information flying around for regular people to process efficiently and use. Therefore, it has become the responsibility of data scientists to collect, organize and analyze this data. Doing this helps various people, organizations, enterprise businesses and governments to manage, store and interpret this data for different purposes.

Though data scientists come from different educational backgrounds, a majority of them need to have a technical educational background. To pursue a career in data science, computer-related majors, graduations and post graduations in maths and statistics are quite useful.

Therefore, the steps to becoming a data scientist are quite straightforward.  After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in an IT related field—such as computer science, maths or physics—you can also further your education by obtaining a master’s degree in a data science or any other related field of study. With the necessary educational background, you can now search for a job and obtain the required experience in whichever filed you choose to invest your acquired skills.

Here are the necessary steps to be taken to become a data scientist.

Step 1: Obtain the necessary educational requirements

As earlier noted, different educational paths can still lead to a career in data science. However, it is impossible to begin a career in data science without obtaining a collegiate degree—as a four-year bachelor’s degree is really important. However, according to a report by Business Insider, over 73% of data scientist in existence today have a graduate degree and about 38% of them hold a Ph.D. Therefore, to rise above the crowd and get a high-end position in the field of data science, it is important to have a Master’s degree or a Ph.D.—and with various online data science masters program, obtaining one is quite easy.

Some institutions provide data science programs with courses that will equip students to analyze complex sets of data. These courses also involve a host of technical information about computers, statistics, data analysis techniques and many more. Completing these programs equips you with the necessary skills to function adequately as a data scientist.

Additionally, there are some technical—and computer-based degrees—that can aid you begin a career in data science. Some of them include studies in, Computer Science, Statistics, Social Science, Physics, Economics, Mathematics and Applied Math. These degrees will imbibe some important skills related to data science in you—namely, coding, experimenting, managing large amounts of data, solving quantitative problems and many others.

Step 2: Choose an area of specialization

There rarely exists an organization, agency or business today that doesn’t require the expertise of a data scientist. Hence, it is important that after acquiring the necessary education to start a career as a data scientist, you need to choose an area of specialization in the field you wish to work in.

Some of the specializations that exist in data science today include automotive, marketing, business, defence, sales, negotiation, insurance and many others.

Step 3: Kick start your career as a data scientist

After acquiring the necessary skills to become a data scientist, it is important to get a job in the filed and company of your choice where you can acquire some experience.

Many organizations offer valuable training to their data scientists and these pieces of training are typically centred around the specific internal systems and programs of an organization. Partaking in this training allows you learn some high-level analytical skills that were not taught during your various school programs—especially since data science is a constantly evolving field.

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Artificial intelligence pioneers win tech’s ‘Nobel Prize’

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Computers have become so smart during the past 20 years that people don’t think twice about chatting with digital assistants like Alexa and Siri or seeing their friends automatically tagged in Facebook pictures.

But making those quantum leaps from science fiction to reality required hard work from computer scientists like Yoshua Bengio, Geoffrey Hinton and Yann LeCun. The trio tapped into their own brainpower to make it possible for machines to learn like humans, a breakthrough now commonly known as “artificial intelligence,” or AI.

Their insights and persistence were rewarded Wednesday with the Turing Award, an honor that has become known as technology industry’s version of the Nobel Prize. It comes with a $1 million prize funded by Google, a company where AI has become part of its DNA.

The award marks the latest recognition of the instrumental role that artificial intelligence will likely play in redefining the relationship between humanity and technology in the decades ahead.

Artificial intelligence is now one of the fastest-growing areas in all of science and one of the most talked-about topics in society,” said Cherri Pancake, president of the Association for Computing Machinery, the group behind the Turing Award.

Although they have known each other for than 30 years, Bengio, Hinton and LeCun have mostly worked separately on technology known as neural networks. These are the electronic engines that power tasks such as facial and speech recognition, areas where computers have made enormous strides over the past decade. Such neural networks also are a critical component of robotic systems that are automating a wide range of other human activity, including driving.

Their belief in the power of neural networks was once mocked by their peers, Hinton said. No more. He now works at Google as a vice president and senior fellow while LeCun is chief AI scientist at Facebook. Bengio remains immersed in academia as a University of Montreal professor in addition to serving as scientific director at the Artificial Intelligence Institute in Quebec.

“For a long time, people thought what the three of us were doing was nonsense,” Hinton said in an interview with The Associated Press. “They thought we were very misguided and what we were doing was a very surprising thing for apparently intelligent people to waste their time on. My message to young researchers is, don’t be put off if everyone tells you what are doing is silly.” Now, some people are worried that the results of the researchers’ efforts might spiral out of control.

While the AI revolution is raising hopes that computers will make most people’s lives more convenient and enjoyable, it’s also stoking fears that humanity eventually will be living at the mercy of machines.

Bengio, Hinton and LeCun share some of those concerns especially the doomsday scenarios that envision AI technology developed into weapons systems that wipe out humanity.

But they are far more optimistic about the other prospects of AI empowering computers to deliver more accurate warnings about floods and earthquakes, for instance, or detecting health risks, such as cancer and heart attacks, far earlier than human doctors.

“One thing is very clear, the techniques that we developed can be used for an enormous amount of good affecting hundreds of millions of people,” Hinton said.

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