Photo: Brendan Kergin
Mark Zienowicz standing inside the 7Green facility.
Tucked away on Mission Flats Road is a building some 10,000 square feet in size.
At first glance, it appears as though it's part of the Domtar facility.
In reality, it's 7Green, the first licensed cannabis production company in Kamloops.
The brains behind the operation are Polish twin brothers Mark and Derek Zienowicz.
The pair were notified that their production license had been approved a couple of months ago, on Aug. 30. Since then, they've been hard at work trying to get their budding business off the ground.
Mark and Derek knew they wanted to get into cannabis production, specifically in the medical marijuana field, about five years ago.
At the time, they were running an IT company, and "were looking for something to expand into."
"I heard through the grapevine that Canada is going to be decriminalizing cannabis," Derek tells KamloopsMatters during a tour of the grounds.[ReflectivePlant] With careful curation, the plants all grow to be a fairly uniform size and shape. (via Brendan Kergin)
The brothers, who graduated high school in Kamloops, started to look around the Tournament Capital for a location.
Kamloops was a leader when it came to these types of companies, they say, which made it easier to find space.
Once they nailed down the Mission Flats Road location (the license is tied to the location, not the people), they started working with Health Canada on their application to produce medical marijuana.
When they learned recreational weed would be legalized in 2018, Mark and Derek pivoted their business plan and decided to get into recreational cannabis production.
Overall, the process from start to end was "arduous and arbitrary," says Mark, with plenty of speed bumps along the way, many of which they didn't know about until they hit them.
"Health Canada has zero layers of communication when it comes to informing you of what you should do," he says. "We spent a lot of time trying to convince Health Canada that one of the quality assurance people we wanted to move forward with was actually qualified. Turned out, he wasn't."
After working for months to figure out why their new employee wouldn't be approved, they found another quality assurance person, who was then approved in a week.
However, the pair persevered and created what is now 7Green, a small cannabis producer licensed to grow, process and sell (indirectly) cannabis in Canada.
After waiting all that time to get their final license, Mark wasn't even around for the official notice. He was on a cruise in Belize with his wife's family. He got unofficial confirmation of the license while sitting in a bar in the middle of the jungle.
"And so we were sitting in this little wooden shack that has amazingly cold beer in the middle of nowhere," he says. "And I bought the drinks and I said, 'I've been waiting for this call for 4.5 years.'"
Their location in the 'smelly district' of Kamloops (next door to Dom and not far from the dump and wastewater treatment plant) is discreet, but houses around 7,000 plants when at capacity.
Bill Burke, the master grower, oversees the plants and 10 employees. Mark and Derek say they could have up to 50 employees, maybe more, if things go well.
However, it is an expensive process to hire someone. There are criminal background checks and hitting fees $ 1,800, so they want to be sure when choosing a new employee. That can be difficult, when some applying see it as a part time gig while they look for something better.
The building was expensive, too. The warehouse is no longer just a large empty structure.
On the outside, it has multiple layers of security. To get in, KamloopsMatters had to be buzzed into a gate to park in the parking lot, then buzzed into a gate to walk up to the building and then walked into the building. Throughout the facility, radio frequency ID cards are needed to get into any work area happens, and keypads are on a number of doors as well.
"(There are) 66,000 screws and 3,500 tubes of caulking," Derek says of the airtight walls in the building.
The property has its own transformer outside, one that is normally used for neighborhoods. That's to keep the high-powered lights on and the complex plumbing system humming. There are fans, dehumidifiers and more.
"We have the transformer out there, that's like a 600 kVA three-phase beast," Mark says. "That's just for the six rooms."
That power allows Burke to control the environment precisely. He can create day and night when he wants.
"Nature doesn't turn off lights or turn off heat and the ground cools slowly," Derek says. "So we have to actually mimic it."
Currently, the company has 15 strains in house, with 11 of them not yet on B.C. shelves. That's on purpose, to grow the number of options for sale in stores and create a niche for themselves. At the same time, all strains have similar growing habits, to keep things efficient and uniform.
The setup at 7Green is based around a long hallway.
On one side are the rooms where all the growing happens (we'll get to them in a second). On the right, there are a few different rooms.
Each bud starts life as a clone from a 'mother' plant. The mother plants are kept to produce new little stems and stalks; instead of growing each plant from a seed, 7Green starts with cuttings from the mother plants (called clones). The clones are placed in a substrate and a special concoction is used to induce roots to form.
The clones, once in the substrate, are kept on racks in what is essentially the first of three rooms they'll live in. They're there for 10 days to two weeks, roughly, and are protected by a dome.
From there they move to the room where the mother plants are kept. At this point, Mark describes them as teenagers. They live in this new room for two to four weeks, gaining strength and growing to about 18 inches.
Then they move across the hall to the grow rooms, where blazing yellow lights help everything get going. Once they begin to show buds, the growers choose one on each plant to cultivate and cut the rest off. Once the bud is matured, it's harvested and sent to the curing room for a few days.
After it's been cured, the bud moves to processing and packaging, and finally, shipping. There's only one door in the entire building that cannabis is allowed to go through.
The rest of the plant material, which does not contain THC, goes out the other end of the building via the ominously named "destruction room." The most prominent thing in that room is a wood chipper. You can guess what happens there.
The twins and Burke say they are still at least eight weeks away from their first harvest.
That means in early 2020 you'll be able to legally buy recreational cannabis grown in Kamloops, by locals.