Skip to content

College could play part in local cannabis industry

When it comes to the new legalized marijuana operations within town limits, questions have swirled around its impact on the high school.
THIS WEEK: Spokesperson Toby Williams says it’s too early to say what role Olds College will play in the local marijuana industry.
THIS WEEK: Spokesperson Toby Williams says it’s too early to say what role Olds College will play in the local marijuana industry.

When it comes to the new legalized marijuana operations within town limits, questions have swirled around its impact on the high school. But just next door sits another educational institution that seems well poised to partner with this new horticultural industry.

It's too early to tell what role, if any, Olds College will play, said Toby Williams, who is the director of the college's Centre for Innovation. But it's not too early to start imagining what that involvement might be.

"We're in the very early stages of looking at this," said Williams. "We're exploring things, we're doing our due diligence. And this is an industry that we are watching."

Williams said there are two areas in particular that other academic institutions are considering when it comes to the legal cannabis industry.

The first is in training, not just for employees doing basic horticultural work – which of course is Olds College's specialty – but also for the businesses themselves.

"Potentially, a piece that is missing from most horticulture training is that good manufacturing practices piece," said Williams. "This is a tightly, tightly regulated industry and there's lots of quality control issues and process issues and efficiency issues that employees need to understand."

The second area in which Williams thinks the college could make a contribution is in applied research. She said there's still extensive work to do with regard to the medicinal components of cannabis: determining dosages and efficacy, studying varieties, agronomy, production, curing and extraction processes: the list goes on.

"I mean we only talk about THC and CBD," she said, "but there's at least 112 other cannibinoids that people don't know how they work, or how they work together, right?"

Williams said there's also room for the industry to be more energy efficient and more effective with the processes that they already use. She also said she thought there could be a good fit when it comes to developing testing standards across Canada.

"Tons of research opportunities," she said. "It's just that the regulations are in so much flux right now that it's hard to really know what's really needed."

One thing to understand is that, however the college may become involved, its students won't be. Just like with legal producers, educational institutions have to go through their own certification by Health Canada, in order to be licensed to conduct activities with cannabis.

"If the college wanted to do research," she said, "they'd have to go through all the same security and red tape as any other organization wanting to work with cannabis."

Currently only two institutions are licensed– the B.C. Institute of Technology, and Loyalist College in Ontario – along with one researcher at the University of Alberta. Williams can't say whether this kind of licensing is something the college might seek.

While it's specifically researchers who would be conducting any work with cannabis, Williams speculates that the new businesses will be targeting their graduates, who have good knowledge that can be applied to the growth of any plant.

"I am sure they are going to snap up our graduates," she said.

Williams said for now, they are continuing conversations, both with industry representatives – like Aurora Cannabis in Cremona, and Sundial Growers – as well as other academic researchers.

"The industry itself is growing like crazy," said Williams. "The industry is lining up like no industry has since tech."

But Williams said it's important to be careful for now, weighing both sides of the debate.

"We need to be in sync with where the community is at," she said. "We also need to be interested in what's happening with the industries and the economies in Alberta."

"It's just that cannabis has been illegal for a long time," she said. We're just taking baby steps."

Read more of the Albertan's coverage on the cannabis industry in Olds: http://bit.ly/OA-cannabis

"The industry itself is growing like crazy. The industry is lining up like no industry has since tech."TOBY WILLIAMSDIRECTOR OF INNOVATIONOLDS COLLEGE