Mac grad finds his niche with medical marijuana

by Brenda Branswell

Every day after work, David Bernard-Perron, BSc(AgEnvSc)’12, MSc’15, heads out for a few laps “down the hill” on his mountain bike.

The hill in question is majestic Whistler Mountain, a short distance from his job as head agrologist at Whistler Medical Marijuana Corporation.

“So, grow weed during the day and go downhill biking in the evening. It’s a pretty good life,” Bernard-Perron chuckles.

With the federal government promising to introduce legislation next spring to legalize marijuana, Bernard-Perron says it’s an exciting time to be working in the industry.

“It’s such a hot topic. It’s the end of a prohibition – the last time that happened was the end of the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s,” he says over the phone from British Columbia, while mixing organic fertilizer.

Bernard-Perron describes cannabis as a “very interesting plant” because there are so many different parameters involved in growing it – yield, potency, aroma, aestheticism, and year-round productivity.

Some liken growing cannabis to brewing beer or making wine and Bernard-Perron believes there’s truth to that. “It’s very intricate.”

Licensed producers are required by Health Canada to test for microbial and chemical contaminants like mould, fungal contamination, or unauthorized pesticides.

Producers must adhere to pharmaceutical guidelines “so it’s really strict,” Bernard-Perron says, of Health Canada’s regulations.

Whistler Medical Marijuana Corporation describes itself as Canada’s first organic licensed producer – and it remains the only one with an entire product line that is 100 per cent certified organic.

Bernard-Perron developed the company’s organic growing program from scratch. They don’t use any insecticides and only organic fertilizer.

They employ an integrated pest management system and only use “biological controls”, he says, which includes introducing “beneficial insects” to keep pest insects in check.

The use of questionable pesticides in producing pot is one of the biggest problems with prohibition in the industry, says Bernard-Perron, which is why properly structured quality testing is needed.

“There’s some stuff that is not even registered for food crop that is used routinely in the black market stuff, or even in the grey area where there’s no testing required for pesticides. I’m not saying that everybody is using that, but if they do, they’re very unlikely to get caught. So quality control, I’d say the testing for pesticides, it’s the most important thing that needs to happen in the upcoming legalization or for the end user’s safety.”

At any given time, Whistler Medical has about 4,000 plants on the go and 10 to 14 strains available. The company produces about 600 kilograms of medical marijuana annually, and ships to 2,200 registered patients. It also has many types of cannabis oil, which is just another delivery method, he explains, and is ingested orally. The company just started building a facility that will be 10 times the size of its current warehouse.

While pursuing his undergraduate and master’s degrees at Macdonald Campus, Bernard-Perron did a tiny bit of work with industrial hemp for a friend’s research project. His own focus was on organic cranberry – “Vaccinium macrocarpon, if you want to get technical” – production during his masters.

He became smitten with the west coast on his first trip in 2006 to Squamish, B.C., just south of Whistler, where he now lives.

“I was amazed by how beautiful it was and kept coming every year.”

He moved to the area after completing his master’s degree, landing a job with Whistler Medical, which was then expanding.

“I was at the right place at the right time I guess.”

The Whistler area has no shortage of activities to offer for an outdoor enthusiast like Bernard-Perron. “It’s one giant playground and it’s amazing,” he says. “The problem is to choose what you want to do. Do you want to kite-surf, rock climb, bike, skydive, base jump, white river kayak, hike – name it.”

published in August, 2017

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