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No shortcut to quality - CLA forces producer of medical cannabis to track every stage from seed to sale

Published:Sunday | December 23, 2018 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju/Gleaner Writer
The strain of marijuana produced by EPICAN and known as 'Purple Skunk'.
Tiffany Grandison (forefront) shows off her trimming skills as she harvests a plant and prepares it for the next step at the EPICAN farm in Guava Ridge , St Andrew, last week.

Every single cannabis plant cultivated by Environmentally Processing International Cannabis (EPICAN) is assigned a code number and tracked from seed to sale, with the Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA) maintaining strict monitoring oversight.

So for each harvesting cycle, members of staff of the CLA are on hand to collate the data relating to individual plants and to check the information encoded in each tag for verification against its databank.

Refusing to be photographed or even entertain questions about their duties during harvesting at the EPICAN farm in Guava Ridge, St Andrew, last week, CLA staffers went about the compound with an obviously well-coordinated, painstaking strategy, with very little room for error.

EPICAN staff members were equal to the task. Cutters worked with their colleagues to ensure that the harvest from each individual plant was separated, weighed, and recorded before being stored in the drying room - their home for sometimes up to two weeks.

Thereafter, the cannabis buds, the primary product, are separated from the stalk and leaves, from which oil will be extracted for further processing into therapeutic and medical products.

Processing takes place at the retail outlet in the Market Place off Constant Spring Road in St Andrew, where a range of offerings are displayed for purchase to adults, subject to medical advice as well as state approval.

According to Chief Executive Officer of EPICAN Karibe McKenzie, one is not likely to encounter potential customers on a casual stroll.

"These formulated products were submitted to the Ministry of Health, from which we needed further approval. We can sell the raw, dried cannabis. For us to sell anything, or for anyone to come into the store, they need a doctor's recommendation, not a prescription.

"So we have doctors on site who will do the consultation and give you the recommendation based on what the consultation reveals. They talk about your medical history and give you some advice as it relates to cannabis.

"This conversation with the doctor usually takes five to 10 minutes. We have to ensure that anyone we sell to is of age, in keeping with compliance measures, and that we have taken them through the verification process.

"This includes making sure that they have been briefed by a doctor with their recommendations on how to use cannabis and what not to mix with it. Just like anything else, you use it at your own discretion," McKenzie told The Gleaner.

With a range of therapeutic products derived from more than 25 strains of medicinal cannabis cultivated in its greenhouses on a one-acre property, the opening of the retail outlet six months ago was timed to ensure that EPICAN could build up its inventory in order to maintain throughout, once customers came calling.

The company has been tracking the strains for which customers are showing a preference, with the aim of ensuring that it never runs out of their cannabis of choice.

It's a responsibility EPICAN takes very seriously, according to its CEO.

"We've already made preparation to ensure that we keep those desired strains available for patients. Everyone that comes into the store they are patients, so we try to make sure that we have the preferred medicine available for them."