SOUTHERN ALBERTA: A made-in-southern-Alberta plan is underway for Canada's first ever commercial poppy crops. API Labs, a private company that's been working on the project for close to five years, just got the go-ahead from the County of Lethbridge, which voted to write a letter of support for the project.
"It's an opportunity for Canada to become self-sufficient instead of being in a situation where if there are crop shortages or failures in other countries we're held at bay because of that. This way we're controlling our own destiny," said Glen Metzler, who speaks for API Labs.
Metzler got his first license connected to the project, which would involve thebaine poppies rather than morphine poppies, earlier this year. The permit is for a trial research endeavour at the University of Lethbridge, where scientists will take a closer look at thebaine poppy strains and try to produce their own "made-in-Alberta" version.
It's the distinction between thebaine poppies and morphine poppies that seems to be what makes Metzler most optimistic about the project's future. Thebaine is a Schedule 1 controlled substance under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, but it requires a complex processing system to turn it into a controlled narcotic.
Need for thebaine-derived medications appears to be growing. According to Metzler's research, global consumption of thebaine-based medications increased 26 times between 1989 and 2009. Canada is the second largest importer of codeine in the world, with its annual sales of medication derived from poppies valued at $565 million for one year ending September 1, 2009.
At the same time, Health Canada has yet to give the go-ahead for actual field trials as it's still studying the risks and threats of cultivating the substance on home soil. The results of that assessment are expected at the end of February. If that second license does come through, trials in the County of Lethbridge could start as early as this spring. The earliest API Labs would hope to set up a commercial poppy processing plant and farm in western Canada would be in 10 years.