Bill Chaaban says marijuana has never been his thing, but the 42-year-old has big plans to add grade-A medicinal cannabis to the repertoire of products his Madison Heights-based firm hopes to soon produce.
After joining Creative Edge Nutrition Inc. in early 2012, Chaaban helped transform the company into a nutritional supplement vendor. Within that year, Chaaban, now the company’s chief executive officer, began canvassing North America to make an entrance into the medical marijuana market.
By last summer, as he put it, Chaaban’s company zeroed in on an opportunity to enter the market: Canada was in the process of revamping its medical marijuana program, with plans to ban individuals from growing their own medicinal pot and to allow only big-time facilities to cultivate the product.
(It bears mentioning that patients who grow their own pot can continue, at least for now: As the Toronto Star reports, last month, a federal judge granted an injunction on the ban, allowing anyone who has a license to keep growing until a constitutional challenge to the country’s new system is heard.)
So, Chaaban assembled a team of lawyers and began lobbying the Canadian government to receive a license to grow on a large scale.
The group purchased more than 10 acres in Essex County, near Windsor, with the intention to construct a 58,000-square-foot addition to a facility the company already owns. If all goes according to plan, Chaaban’s group will produce 1.3 million pounds of medicinal marijuana annually.
That’s a serious amount of pot for a guy who claims to have never smoked any in his life.
But he has his reasons.
By producing marijuana in a clean, sterile environment, Chaaban says the company will be able to offer patients across the world “the medicine they so desperately need.”
As Chaaban puts it, the company would sell directly to patients — no dispensaries required. Now that the law has gone into effect, Health Canada, essentially the Canadian version of the United States Food and Drug Administration, has begun signing off on massive medical marijuana growers such as Chaaban.
Under those new changes, the company has the potential to rake in eye-popping revenue — roughly $5 billion a year, that is, if they manage to sell every last ounce produced in a year.
That shouldn’t be a problem, according to Chaaban. The CEO of Creative Edge says there’s tens of thousands of patients across 29 countries the company can export to. And, by Health Canada’s estimates, there are nearly 38,000 patients who would require a supplier in Canada alone.
Dr. Sam Alawieh, vice president of Creative Edge and Chaaban’s right-hand man, says the company will initially produce 25 strains of pot, with hopes to eventually double that number.
“It’s exciting, but we also have to be responsible,” Alawieh says.
Chaaban echoes that sentiment. He says it’s best to grow and sell product that’s produced in a clean, controlled environment.
“I’m a true believer [that] you shouldn’t sell marijuana in a party store,” he says.
CEN Biotech Inc., the Canadian subsidiary of Creative Edge, received its required municipal clearance, but hasn’t been given the green light from Health Canada just yet. Across Canada, seven producers have received a license to begin production, according to the health department’s website. Still, Chaaban says he hopes to have the $12 million facility up and running by late May. The company is putting the final touches on its indoor facility, and soon will go through final government inspections.
Initially, Chaaban expects to staff about 50 employees, but he could see the company hiring as many as 1,000 more if the operation takes off and hits full capacity.
The company’s effort has garnered global attention too. Chaaban says he’s been contacted by media outlets ranging from The New York Times to the largest newspapers in Brazil. “It’s been crazy,” he says.
Although Michigan legalized medical marijuana in 2008, Chaaban doesn’t have plans to enter the state’s market, mostly due to the uncertainty surrounding the ambiguous legislation. (Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. recently told The Grand Rapids Press the state’s medical marijuana legislation was a “mess” and said he was “so sick of medical marijuana cases.”)
For now, Chabaan and Alawieh are busy preparing to go live with their operation. The pair, of course, speaks highly of marijuana and notes that their initiative targets only patients who seek to reap the medicinal benefits that pot offers patients with everything from chronic back pain to multiple sclerosis, and various other ailments.
“You’re not talking about people getting stoned on Saturday night,” Chaaban says. “You’re talking about people with epilepsy.”