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Company Growing Marijuana Underground

Gazette Writer
December, 2000

WHITE PINE — While locals won’t be seeing any direct economic result, officials at SubTerra Inc. in White Pine say an unusual $5.75 million contract recently awarded to their parent company is good news for the underground agriculture operation located within the former White Pine Copper Range mine.

After competitive bidding, Prairie Plant Systems Inc. of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, was awarded a five-year contract to provide Health Canada with a reliable source of affordable, quality, standardized marijuana for medicinal and research needs.

SubTerra controller Mark Pierpont said publicity generated by the Canadian operation is proving the value of underground agriculture. “It’s a national contract and proves you can meet production requirements,” Pierpont said. “It gives us exposure to the marketplace.” He said the contract is one of the largest ever awarded to any underground agriculture group.

Prairie Plant Systems pioneered techniques of underground agriculture, and owns 60 percent of SubTerra. Company President Brent Zettl said growing plants underground provides the controlled environment necessary for research and medical usage. “This contract is important to SubTerra’s underground growth chamber, because it demonstrates the need for biosecurity while producing medical compounds in plants,” Zettl said. “SubTerra’s growth chamber offers biosecurity some plants may require while producing compounds for medical research.”

The company will set up and operate a marijuana-growing, processing, fabrication, and storage establishment. The marijuana will be grown in an abandoned mine in Flin Flon, Manitoba, in chambers similar to the one used in White Pine. The project will include lab testing, quality control, and distribution.

Zettl said the SubTerra site hasn’t been considered for marijuana production. “Permits for an operation of this nature in the United States are as yet unavailable. If the permitting process ever allowed for such production, SubTerra could provide an ideal location for those projects,” he said.

Pierpont said SubTerra is currently using its 2,000 square foot White Pine growth chamber to grow 1,000 tobacco plants for a smaller Health Canada contract. Health Canada will use the plants, which have been genetically altered to produce cancer-fighting compounds, for bone marrow cancer research.

Pierpont said SubTerra is prepared to expand its operation to 20,000 square feet when market demand increases. “We’ll expand tomorrow if we find somebody to grow in the chambers,” Pierpont said, adding underground growing was currently profitable only for more expensive plants, mostly those used for medical purposes.

Dorothy Bussiere, Ontonagon County Economic Development Corporation administrative secretary, congratulated Prairie Plant Systems on the deal. “This contract proves their capacity to produce on a commercial scale in an underground growth chamber,” Bussiere said.