Cannabis breeding and genetics centre creates three new strains for Aurora Cannabis

Cannabis breeding and genetics centre creates three new strains for Aurora Cannabis

Photo Caption

Cannabis breeding and genetics centre creates three new strains for Aurora Cannabis


When Decafnation last reported on the Cannabis Innovation Centre in the spring of 2019, construction of the 32,200 square foot facility had just gotten underway and its ownership was in transition from Jon Page’s original Anandia Labs to the publicly-traded company Aurora Cannabis.

Since then, the pioneering breeding and genetics program at the centre, led by Greg Baute, PhD, got underway in February 2020 with a team of seven scientists and a dozen cultivation and operational personnel. Their early work has already culminated in the creation of three new cannabis cultivars that Aurora will release to consumers this month.

Aurora held a virtual media event this week to introduce the trio of unique cultivars — Stonefruit Sunset, Lemon Rocket and Driftwood Diesel — which have attracted widespread interest within the cannabis community. They are being marketed under the brand name, San Rafael.

They are the first of many new cultivars that Baute expects to breed on a regular basis.

The term ‘cultivar’ is short for cultivated variety and refers to a plant propagated for its desirable characteristics, such as THC or CBD content or aroma. They are commonly referred to as strains.

READ MORE: Vanier grad builds cannabis science hub in Comox

READ MORE: CIC Director Greg Baute hopes to redefine cannabis breeding

But the event also offered a first look inside the finished centre, now renamed Aurora Coast. A short video played at the media event showed Aurora Coast’s large expanse of cannabis plants stretched out across the 21,700 square foot greenhouse and illuminated by endless banks of LED lights and complex irrigation systems.

Aurora Coast exists in the Comox Valley because the breeding and genetics centre is the brainchild of G.P. Vanier grad Jon Page, PhD, who in 2009 became the first scientist in the world to sequence the 30,000 genes in the cannabis genome.

Jon and his twin brother Nick, who is now the general manager of the Aurora Coast facility, grew up on Headquarters Road and attended Tsolum Elementary and Vanier High School. Jon earned his PhD in Botany at UBC and in 2013 co-founded Anandia Labs in Vancouver as a cannabis testing and research laboratory.

But Page envisioned a larger facility for the pure science of discovering how the cannabis plant works, its breeding and genetics, and how to improve it as a commercial product. He had acquired the land near the Comox Airport and began building what he originally called the Anandia Cannabis Innovation Centre.

Then, in early 2019, Aurora Cannabis acquired Anandia for about $115 million in stock. Jon Page was initially Aurora’s chief scientist and now is a senior science advisor for the company founded in Edmonton.

READ MORE: Cannabis Innovation Centre construction underway












The word cultivar means a cultivated variety; thus, a cultivar is selected and cultivated by humans. Although some cultivars can occur in nature as plant mutations, most cultivars are developed by plant breeders and are called hybrids.

A first-generation hybrid occurs when a breeder selects two pure lines (plants that would produce identical offspring when self-pollinated) and cross-pollinates them to produce a new plant that combines desirable characteristics from both parents. One major thing to remember is if new plants are grown from the seeds of a cultivar, rarely, if ever, do the new plants develop true-to-seed. True-to-seed simply means the offspring is genetically the same as the parent. To cultivate a true-to-seed type offspring (a clone) from cultivars, one would have to be vegetatively grown, such as from cuttings, grafting, or tissue cultures.

— Yard and Garden



Enter your email address to subscribe to the Decafnation newsletter.

Comox Cannabis Innovation Centre  construction underway

Comox Cannabis Innovation Centre construction underway

Looking at the 21,000 square foot greenhouse site, with pre-fabricated walls on the left  /  George Le Masurier photo

Comox Cannabis Innovation Centre construction underway


There hasn’t been a lot of activity over the winter at the seven-acre Cannabis Innovation Centre construction site these days, but it’s about to get busy. Real busy.

The prefabricated greenhouses have arrived from the Netherlands that will span over 21,000 square feet, along with a crew of Dutch workers. After a few days of safety training, the workers will begin installation.

Walls are already going up for the 10,500 square foot office building and laboratories, which was also prefabricated. Employees of Island Timber Frames, of Cumberland, are helping in this specialized type of construction.

The office building components arrived in packages, with each piece individually marked with a code for where it fits into the complex erection process. The parts were packaged to be taken out and installed in a specific order.

Heidi Nesbitt, the lead architect on the project from the Vancouver firm Local Practice, told Decafnation on site today that there is a digital database with the code for each individual piece and all its particular specifications.

Some of the large beams have ends pre-cut at multiple angles that will only fit in a single location.

Nesbitt and Project Coordinator Nick Page toured the site Tuesday morning. Page is the twin brother of Dr. Jon Page, who founded Anandia Labs and was the first scientist to sequence the cannabis genome. The Page brothers were born and raised in the Comox Valley.

Due in part to the unique requirements for preventing cross-contamination among the seven isolated sections of the greenhouse, there is a complex web of electrical, water and other utilities weaving through foundation.

Page and Nesbitt joked they hoped it all is accurately positioned.

At the same time as the building construction, other crews are creating an infiltration gallery and detention pond to control rainwater falling on the property.

Page said the piece of the property used for the infiltration gallery was given to the Town of Comox, but the CIC will pay for its ongoing maintenance.

The current $20 million project is the first phase of construction on the site. Future phases will expand both the greenhouses and the labs.

The new 31,500 square-foot phase-one facility in Comox will do all of Anandia’s breeding and genetics, and provide feed stocks for more medical strains of cannabis exclusively for Aurora.

The centre will focus on disease resistance and preventing mould, powdery mildew and other diseases and pathogens common in commercial cannabis cultivation.




Enter your email address to subscribe to the Decafnation newsletter.

CIC Director Greg Baute hopes to redefine cannabis breeding

CIC Director Greg Baute hopes to redefine cannabis breeding

Turning wooden bowls on his lathe is one of Cannabis Innovation Centre Director Greg Baute’s many hobbies /  George Le Masurier photo

CIC Director Greg Baute hopes to redefine cannabis breeding


“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”
– Albert Einstein


Greg Baute, the director of breeding and genetics at the pioneering Cannabis Innovation Centre in Comox, is a scientist. And that means, if you can imagine, every day he will clone plants, phenotype them, explore terpenes, take DNA samples, conduct controlled pollinations and pour over pages of data compiled by a team of bioinformaticians.

Even if you don’t know what that means, you probably envision research scientists as people who eat, sleep and breathe graphs and charts of their collected data, upon which they will apply cold logic and reason. And even a short conversation with Baute, 33, will tell you this is partly true.

He can take you quickly and so deeply down a rabbit hole of information about plant architecture, genetics, sunflowers, or even wood turning on his shop lathe, that before you realize you have no idea what he’s talking about, you had believed it all made perfect sense to you, even though it did not.

Baute points out the traits of a wild sunflower from his birds eye maple desk, still under construction

But to fully understand Baute, you need to know that there’s another, equally powerful side to his scientific mind: his imagination. He’s dreaming about what’s possible beyond existing knowledge.

And that’s what pulled the Ontario native from a good job in California back to Canada to head up the world’s first cannabis breeding and genetics laboratory.

“In the 1960s, P. Leclecq was the first person to cross wild sunflowers, and he changed the sunflower growing business forever,” says Baute, looking up excitedly from an article on his laptop that he’s using to explain genomic selection.

“He produced 30 percent higher yields … it’s something that won’t ever happen again!”

Baute says cannabis is at that same level of opportunity today. And, because of legalization, Canada is the hotbed of cannabis science.

“Somebody in the next five to 10 years will make a similar discovery and define how cannabis is bred forever,” he said. “It happens only once. And it’s just too much fun not to try.”

A family of farmers

Greg Baute was born into a family of farmers. His great-grandfather started the family farm in an area of southern Ontario where most of Canada’s F1 seed corn is grown. His grandfather also farmed. Then, in 1985, his parents started an independent hybrid seed corn company, called Maizex Seed Inc.

Maizex Seeds initially produced hybrid corn for food grade corn and Canadian food processors, and also for the US wholesale market. Later, it developed hybrids for the Canadian market and entering products into provincial trials.

Baute recalls spending his summers detasseling corn in the family fields. It was an annual rite of passage for most Tilbury High School students, who were bussed to the fields to remove the immature pollen-producing tassels from the tops of the corn plants, and stomping them into the ground. It’s a form of pollination control, so the plants could be cross-bred to create hybrids.

He also remembers walking his parents’ fields and comparing plants with the hybrids they produced, a curiosity that inadvertently, he says, led to his passion to understand the process that causes it.

Baute earned a Biology degree from the University of Guelph, doing a thesis on how carrot flowers are developed for seed production. He studied molecular evolution, specifically hybrid rice, for his masters degree at the University of British Columbia.

During his work on the domestication and improvement of sunflower, which earned him a doctorate degree at UBC, Baute developed several hybrid sunflower lines now used in production around the world.

Before being lured to Comox, Baute worked as a trait geneticist, studying the “important and complex traits” in tomato.

“Where we are with cannabis today is where we were 100 years ago with tomatoes,” he said.

New Valley resident

Baute and his wife, Kasia, purchased a rural, two-acre property, just eight kilometres from the site of the future Cannabis Innovation Centre (CIC) near the Comox Airport. An easy commute for an avid cyclist.

If the CIC had been located in Vancouver, Baute says he might not have taken the job. But the opportunity for a more rural lifestyle sealed the deal, and the couple have found the community welcoming.

Baute and Kasia share an office in their new rural Comox home

“There’s a lot of pride in the Valley … there are good restaurants, and the brewery scene is quite good,” he said.

While the CIC laboratory and greenhouse are being constructed, Baute has set up a temporary office in his home. He built his desktop out of bird’s eye maple from a fallen tree, working in a shipping container temporarily converted into a makeshift wood shop.

He has built some of their household furniture, but Baute’s real woodworking passion is turning bowls on a lathe. There’s room for a full woodworking shop in a new garage currently under construction.

He’s also a runner and picks up his electric guitar a few times every week.

The couple have been landscaping around their new home, including a garlic bed, raised vegetable beds and preparing the site where Baute hopes to plant about 400 sunflower plants this spring.

Baute and Kasia met while both were pursuing undergraduate degrees at the University of Guelph. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in toxicology and a Master of Arts degree in medical genetics at UBC.

While Baute was working in California, Kasia did community service work at a bird sanctuary, hospice and at a community outreach shelter. She is currently working on a master’s degree in counselling, which is online through Yorkville University.

Typical day at the lab

When it’s finished early this summer, the Cannabis Innovation Centre will have a 21,000 square foot greenhouse broken down into seven isolated breeding zones, and a 10,000 square foot laboratory.

The facility was conceived and planned by Jonathan Page, PhD, whose Anandia Labs was bought out by Aurora Cannabis, of Edmonton, in August. Page was the first scientist to sequence the cannabis genome. He and his twin brother, Nick, grew up in the Comox Valley.

The CIC laboratory building is being pre-manufactured in BC with parts from Europe. The greenhouse is being prefabricated in the Netherlands — “the epicentre of greenhouse technology” — and should arrive on site sometime in February.

Baute takes a DNA sample from a sunflower plant at UBC while completing his PhD degree

When the CIC opens, Baute and his staff will be cloning plants and germinating seed, and finalizing the number of plants of each genotype they will grow, and how they will be arranged in the greenhouse. Throughout the grow cycles, they will collect data on growth habit, plant architecture and disease resistance.

“The process of recombination is totally random,” he said. “Like shuffling a deck of cards.”

The CIC will grow plants to seedlings, then take a leaf punch to test its DNA. They will throw out the ones they don’t want, and grow up the others.

“Sequencing one gene is less expensive than growing all plants to maturity,” he says.

For the nursery work (where they will produce seeds), staff will treat plants and bag them for controlled pollinations.

Harvest is the biggest job, especially at the CIC where each plant will be individually phenotyped as it is harvested. They will measure things like total biomass, total flower weight, how consistent the flower size is, the shape and color of the flowers and so on.

All along the way, Baute will gather information from each experiment that can feed into and influence the others. For example, he might find that upon harvest a plant has an exceptionally high yield, so he might use stored pollen from it to do more crosses.

“For me, this means a lot of coordinating projects and information between team members and working with them to make decisions,” he said. “The experiments will also influence, and be influenced by, all the other research that is happening across Aurora, which translates to me being on the phone for a good chunk of time each day.”

All the flowers grown in the CIC greenhouse will be destroyed after their value for research has expired.

Baute is in the process of assembling a team of scientists to work on site, and bioinformaticians who will mostly work remotely from locations around North America.

No transgenic plants at the CIC

Baute is careful to note that the Comox cannabis laboratory will be doing only marker-assisted selection, not making transgenic plants, which are commonly but inaccurately referred to as genetically modified organisms (GMO).

“GMO is an unfortunate term. What most people mean by GMO is transgenic,” he said. “Transgenic is an organism that contains genetic material into which DNA from an unrelated organism has been artificially introduced — it leaps over species barriers. It creates changes that pollination could not do.”

BT Corn, for example, has been modified with the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) bacterium found in soils that naturally produce a protein that selectively kills a few specific insect species.

But the CIC’s work will do recombination staying within the primary gene pool of cannabis to select for disease or pest resistance.

“Something that’s only achievable through plant sex,” he said.

Baute says that with cannabis there’s no need to engage in transgenics because there hasn’t yet been any scientific breeding. It would be years before there are such diminishing returns from breeding that other technologies would be considered.

“There are still gains in breeding tomatoes,” he said, noting that plant has undergone 100 years of scientific enquiry.

What’s next

Baute is anxious to get his laboratory and breeding program up and running, and so are other scientists who are now delving into the cannabis plant. As with every other scientific discovery in the history of humankind, it’s important who gets there first.

All other crops in the world have had game-changing breakthroughs, similar to the sunflower example cited by Baute.

“The reason it hasn’t happened yet for cannabis is not because science has neglected the plant. It’s been illegal,” he said.







Decafnation asked Jonathan Page, PhD, Chief Scientist for Aurora and the founder of Anandia Labs, a few questions about the Cannabis Innovation Centre and its Director, Greg Baute.


DECAF: What was it about Greg that convinced you to hire him for this important job?

Jonathan Page: A couple of things led me to hire Greg: he came highly recommended from colleagues I know well who all thought his set of skills in genomics and applied breeding were a perfect match for the Anandia job. One former supervisor of Greg’s told me he was a unique talent in Canada. This, and the fact that he visited Anandia and gave a great talk on his work with sunflowers, convinced me to hire him.

Decaf: What is the significance of Greg’s role as director of breeding and genetics?

Page: Greg’s R&D program and the Comox breeding facility itself will be world leading and one-of-a-kind. There is no other location in the US, EU, Australia or Israel that I know of that will have the facilities and know-how that we will have at Comox.

Decaf: What discoveries do you think the Cannabis Innovation Centre will make?

Page: I think there will be scientific discoveries made at Comox, and they will come from identifying the genetic basis for certain traits such as disease resistance and flowering time. These will revolutionize how cannabis is grown.

Decaf: What is your hope the CIC will ultimately achieve?

Page: I hope the CIC achieves three things: that it helps solve many of the challenges in cannabis production, and this makes it possible to grow cannabis with fewer inputs and concerns about contamination; that it furthers a scientific understanding of cannabis; and, that we create an environment in Comox that attracts scientists that are creative and innovative. In effect, we are not just building a cannabis lab but a think-tank for cannabis science.  





F1 hybrid seeds refers to the selective breeding of a plant by cross pollinating two different parent plants. In genetics, the term is an abbreviation for Filial 1 – literally “first children.” Crossing two genetically different plants produces a hybrid seed. This can happen naturally, and includes hybrids between species (for example, peppermint is a sterile F1 hybrid of watermint and spearmint). These F1 hybrids are usually created by means of controlled pollination, sometimes by hand-pollination. 

Phenotype — (from Greek, Modern phainein, meaning ‘to show’, and typos, meaning ‘type’) is the composite of an organism’s observable characteristics or traits, such as its morphology, development, biochemical or physiological properties, behavior, and products of behavior (such as a bird’s nest).

Terpenes — There’s something about the aroma of cannabis that soothes the mind and body. Terpenes are what you smell, and knowing what they are will deepen your appreciation of cannabis whether you’re a medical patient or recreational consumer. Secreted in the same glands that produce cannabinoids like THC and CBD, terpenes are aromatic oils that color cannabis varieties with distinctive flavors like citrus, berry, mint, and pine.

Detasseling corn is removing the immature pollen-producing bodies, the tassel, from the tops of corn (maize) plants and placing them on the ground. It is a form of pollination control, employed to cross-breed, or hybridize, two varieties of corn.

Recombination —  A process by which pieces of DNA are broken and recombined to produce new combinations of alleles. This recombination process creates genetic diversity at the level of genes that reflects differences in the DNA sequences of different organisms.  Thus, recombination is one of the important means to promote and increase genetic diversity between generations.

Sources — Wikipedia,,,,,    




Enter your email address to subscribe to the Decafnation newsletter.

Vanier grad Jonathan Page builds cannabis science hub in Comox

Vanier grad Jonathan Page builds cannabis science hub in Comox

Jon Page in his Vancouver headquarters of Anandia Labs — submitted photo

Vanier grad Jonathan Page builds cannabis science hub in Comox


These days, when he’s in a reflective mood, Jon Page looks up from the cannabis plants in his Vancouver laboratory, and wonders if he subconsciously saw it coming. “It” being the frenzied corporate rush to capitalize on Canada’s legalization of recreational cannabis that has made him wealthy.

He certainly didn’t see it coming as a young boy growing up with his twin brother, Nick, on Headquarters Road, where they dug around under logs for interesting plants to feed his as yet unrecognized drive for scientific discovery. And not even when he earned his PhD in botany at UBC in 1998.

Nor did he see it coming when he studied how chimpanzees use plants as medicine in Tanzania, or when he did post-doctoral studies of alkaloids in opium and cannabinoids in cannabis in Germany.

Page did not even see it in 2009 — consciously, at least — when he became the first scientist in the world to sequence the 30,000 genes in the cannabis genome.

He might have caught a glimpse of it when he and chemist John Coleman opened their own cannabis testing and research laboratory in 2013, called Anandia Labs, which grew under his leadership to a company valued at more than $60 million in just four years.

And it still wasn’t a clear vision in his mind when he picked Comox to construct the world’s first-ever facility focused solely on the breeding and genetics of cannabis.

But the cannabis gold-rush did come for him.

Three months ago, Edmonton-based producer Aurora Cannabis acquired Anandia for about $115 million in stock.

And yet, the excitement Page feels about legalization and his new role as Aurora’s chief science officer overseeing multiple cannabis labs around the world, is not rooted in monetary rewards. For him, legalization means he can finally pursue cannabis research without reproach or limitations.

What Aurora really acquired was Jonathan Page, PhD., Canada’s leading cannabis scientist.

In an article in BC Business magazine earlier this year, molecular geneticist Tim Hughes, a professor at the University of Toronto and Page’s co-researcher in the cannabis genome sequencing project, called Page “the man in Canada when it comes to cannabis.”

Early years in the Comox Valley

Jon and Nick Page were born in Victoria in 1969, but grew up on a large Headquarters Road property with their parents, Dave and Linda. They attended Tsolum Elementary, where Jon and a friend won an award for a science project.

Both brothers had an academic focus at Courtenay Junior and G.P. Vanier, from which they graduated in 1987. They always received top grades, and always made the honour role. Jon recorded one of the province’s top mark in Biology 12.

Jonathan Page, PhD

It was his parents’ interest in farming and growing plants that fueled Jon’s youthful exploration of the natural world, and it has stayed with him.

“We studied plants in an unfocused sort of way as kids,” Page told Decafnation. “We’d peel the bark off trees, turn over logs for mushrooms.”

One possible trigger for this interest came in the 1980s, when the Pages were 10-year-olds, and the Comox Valley had unexpectedly become the Canadian epicentre of the magic mushroom phenomena. The Headquarters Road and Tsolum River area was at the heart of the action.

“Long-hairs from Montreal and other places were camped in vans alongside most of the back roads,” Page said. “They snuck onto farmers’ fields to pick them (mushrooms). It got quite nasty.”

But the scene piqued Jon’s curiosity about why plants in their backyard were so important to people from all over the country. Since then, he’s been interested in plants used by people for a purpose, and the cultural and chemical stories behind them.

A serious focus on cannabis

After high school, Page earned a BSc degree in plant biology. As a 21-year-old undergrad, he was awarded a grant to study plant use by chimpanzees in Tanzania, and the resulting paper he published put him on the science world’s radar.

By the time Page completed a PhD in botany in 1998 at UBC, his papers had been published in several academic journals. And that helped him get a five-year National Sciences and Engineering Research Council grant to do post-doctoral studies in Germany on alkaloids in cannabis and opium.

Page returned to Canada in 2003 to run his own lab at the National Research Council’s Plant Biotechnology Institute in Saskatoon, where he worked on cannabinoid biochemistry and discovered several of the enzymes involved in producing cannabinoids like THC. The Page Lab published several seminal papers on this subject between 2008 and 2012.

Sequencing cannabis DNA

The big idea to sequence the cannabis genome came via email from a molecular biology professor at the University of Toronto that he did not yet know. Tim Hughes, who now holds the John W. Billes Chair of Medical Research, had the idea and was directed to Page as the person who could do it.

Page at his Vancouver Anandia Labs

But finding a legal place to obtain cannabis DNA proved difficult in 2009. At the NRC, Page was only allowed to study hemp. And the Saskatchewan Prairie Plant Systems, a source of plants for science, wouldn’t give him access.

Finally, a friend in Vancouver, who worked with an authorized medical marijuana patient, donated leaves from a popular strain called purple (or pink) kush, a plant known to have THC levels in the 16 percent to 18 percent range.

The sequencing took weeks and the computer analysis of that data took months, followed by more time to write the research paper, which their team published in 2011. Page had already established his reputation as a leading cannabis scientist at the NRC, but the success of the genome sequencing project put him out in front of cannabis science in Canada.

By 2013, Page had tired of the work at NRC and was frustrated with general cutbacks in research funding by the Stephen Harper government, and its refusal to support cannabis research in particular.

So Page quit the NRC, took an adjunct professor position at UBC, and teamed up with chemist John Coleman to co-found Anandia Labs in November of 2013.

“Thanks to the Harper Conservatives, I took the leap into business,” he said.

Page says Anandia — the name comes a cannabinoid called anandamide, a Sanskrit word that means “bliss” — on two pillars:

Testing — In the heady days of medical marijuana, Health Canada required producers to conduct quality assurance tests for potency, pesticide residues, toxins, moulds and other microbiological contaminants that could pose health risks for consumers.

Breeding and genetics — The pure science of discovering how a plant works in order to create improvements, such as resistance to disease and growth properties, and could generate revenue from intellectual property rights.

Comox Innovation Centre

“Where we are with cannabis today is where we were 100 years ago with tomatoes,” says Greg Baute, who, like Page, earned his PhD at UBC and will run the Comox facility as the director of breeding and genetics. “In 1918, we knew more about corn than we do about cannabis today.

“But, until now, there has been no breeding effort at the scale Jon Page has started.”

Plant Director of Breeding and Genetics Greg Baute, left, and Anandia Project Coordinator Nick Page, right, on site at the Comox Innovation Centre at Military Row and Knight Road

Baute said the facility will employ about 15 PhD- or MSc-level employees, about two-thirds of which will work on genetics and the other third on the operations and horticulture side.

The new 31,500 square-foot phase-one facility in Comox will do all of Anandia’s breeding and genetics, and provide feed stocks for more medical strains of cannabis exclusively for Aurora, but the science will ultimately benefit the whole industry.

The $20 million first phase includes a 21,000 square-foot greenhouse and a 10,500 square-foot office situated on seven acres on Military Road, near the Knight Road roundabout. Future phases will expand both the greenhouses and the labs.

For strict sanitary and disease control, there will be no public access and no public tours of the facility. Employees entering the greenhouses will have to strip down in change rooms and wear only approved uniforms to prevent introducing diseases or bugs into a tightly controlled environment.

Baute said the centre will focus on disease resistance and preventing mould, powdery mildew and other diseases and pathogens common in commercial cultivation.

The building’s plans reveal a complex network of seven independently controlled zones, each fitted with its own air scrubbers to filter out pollen and contaminants. The system is designed with ion and carbon filters to remove odour, and to not spread mildew outside the facility.

“It’s a threat,” Boute said. “Because the greenhouse provides the ideal environment for them to grow.”

Brother Nick says cannabis is an evolving new industry that, until recently, was focused on the production side.

“The science side of cannabis was missing,” Nick Page told Decafnation. “The goal of the Innovation Centre is to be a hub for cannabis science.”

Nick is the project coordinator for Anandia’s Comox facility. He is coordinating the planning, design, technical details and construction of the Comox facility. He has a masters degree in plant ecology, and works as an environmental biologist in Victoria, focused on urban ecology and integrating urban projects into ecological landscapes.

The centre will also focus on plant architecture; the size and shape of plants. It’s an unlikely, but critical area of interest.

Modern greenhouses used by licensed producers such as Aurora in Edmonton and Medicine Hat and Montreal span up to 1.5 million square feet, and use robotics to space plants as they grow larger, and move them from grow areas to processing sites. Robots maximize every square inch of grow space.

Why Comox?

Jon Page could have built his new breeding and genetics centre anywhere. In fact, he first considered the Delta and Richmond areas of the lower mainland. But when he discovered both municipalities would require zoning changes and public hearings to allow cannabis facilities, he looked elsewhere.

“Getting a development permit for warehouse space in the Lower Mainland where people are more suspicious of cannabis businesses would take way too long in the furious race to market that exists in the cannabis world,” he said.

Nick Page and Greg Baute go over building plans with their construction foreman from Heatherbrae Builders, of Nanaimo

Through Comox Valley realtor Jamie Edwards — a friend of people Page knew from growing up here — he discovered the Town of Comox had already zoned land for cannabis uses.

“Whoever in the town decided to include cannabis in the airport industrial area zoning as acceptable uses was thinking way ahead of the potential of this industry,” Nick Page said. “It was the key to bringing us here.”

Jon Page says Comox wasn’t a goal destination, just because he grew up here. But the zoning, an airport with direct flights to Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton, the quality of life and affordable housing all factored into the decision.

Page said the ski hill, the mountain biking in Cumberland and other amenities will help Anandia Labs recruit the highly educated 20- and 30-year-olds he needs for the Comox Innovation Centre. And they are all well-paid jobs.

Centre Director Baute said he might not have accepted the position if it had been located in Vancouver.

“People don’t want to move to Vancouver anymore because the housing is expensive and the commutes are long,” Baute said.

And there was an additional positive factor in Page’s decision to pick Comox.

“More than a hometown connection, the Comox Valley is just more of a cannabis-friendly community,” Page said.

What’s next

Canada was the first country to authorize the medical use of marijuana, back in 2001. And Page was the first scientist to sequence the cannabis genome in 2011.

But despite these cutting-edge milestones, Canadian scientists were not allowed to stray far from narrowly-focused studies and enquiries than reflected current social norms. Canada is leading a lot of the medical science in cannabis, and Aurora’s labs will study that.

“Medical usage is not just stoners getting access to pot.” he said. “There are real benefits in neuropathic pain without the addictive properties of opiates, and help for anxiety, sleeplessness, MS and chronic pain.”

Legalization has changed that. It has bolted Canada to the forefront of cannabis research. It has given scientists like Page the freedom to probe the questions that its illegal status has raised but could not answer.

Did Page anticipate that would happen, or that the cannabis industry would explode at such a fast rate?

“Not consciously, but I must have seen it, or known it was important work,” he said. “I’m just a lab guy who saw an opportunity.”









CANNABIS — A member of the Cannabaceae family. Science is uncertain whether there are two species — cannabis sativa and cannabis indica — or three — adding cannabis ruderalis — or whether there’s only one: cannabis sativa. Indigenous to Central Asia.

CBD — A cannabinoid, like THC, but one that blocks or neutralizes the psychoactive effects of THC. This occurs when the CBD levels match or exceed THC levels in the plant. Being studied for therapeutic uses.

FLOWERS — The female cannabis plant produces flowers, which scientists need to research and develop. If a male plant pollinates the female plants, it will produce seeds, not flowers. So keeping male plants and pollen out of the facility is a top priority Except in breeding, where scientists rub the flower with pollen from a male plant to grow seedlings with unique characteristics.

GOLD RUSH — There are more than 60 publicly traded cannabis companies in Canada, and nearly 100 licensed cannabis producers — nearly a quarter of them in BC. They are all anxious to dominate the market. But while the focus four years ago was on cultivation, growing and production, it’s about retail and consumers today. And the focus is already shifting again toward being first to market with edible cannabis products. And the future focus will be on micro cultivation licenses to draw today’s lingering illicit growers into the legal system.

GROWING — The Cannabis Act allows adults to grow up to four plants per household. You may not sell the cannabis you grow at home.

HEMP — Jon Page discovered the single genetic switch that differentiates hemp, which has no THC, from cannabis, which does. Hemp plants are of the same species as cannabis, but while he was working at the NRC in Saskatoon he discovered hemp lacks a single gene that produces an enzyme that produces THC.

POPULAR — Before Oct. 17, 2018, cannabis was arguably the most popular illegal drug in Canada, and probably remains so around the world.

PREVIOUSLY LEGAL — Cannabis used to be legal and quite common. Before the early 1900s, cannabis was used in many medicinal tinctures. It wasn’t even listed on labels. The Opium Act of 1908 made cannabis illegal in Canada. It was effectively banned in the US buy the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937.

TERPENES — The chemical found in the trichomes of the cannabis plant, and which give cannabis its unique odour.

THC — A cannabinoid unique to cannabis plants that producess a psychoactive reaction. Technical name is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. It is found in the plant’s trichomes, tiny hairs on the flower and leaves of the plant. It is thought to be the plant’s defense against things that come to eat it. The plant’s seeds are key to its survival as a species, to propagate itself. The seeds are rich in fat and protein and are sought after, but the sticky, resinous THC is not palatable, and deters predators.

TRAVELING — It is illegal to take cannabis across the Canadian border, whether leaving or coming into the country.