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Barrie entrepreneur goes from selling ice cream to cannabis concentrate

Keith Strachan on ground floor of $5M medical cannabis facility
2017-09-20 Keith Strachan MediPharm Labs
Keith Strachan stands in the John Street warehouse that is being transformed into a cannabis concentrate manufacturing facility. Strachan is one of five founders of MediPharm Labs in Barrie. Sue Sgambati/BarrieToday

Keith Strachan has always had a keen eye for business. 

At age 21, the Barrie entrepreneur and his brother owned a chip truck called Chips and Dips.

Next they opened Scoops and Cones, a popular ice cream hut at the waterfront. 

"I've been an entrepreneur through and through. My brother and I own Scoops and Cones Ice Cream and we're part of the team at Kenzington Burger Bar. We definitely have the entrepreneurial spirit."

Strachan's day job was purchasing after he graduated from the program at Fanshaw College and he's worked with all levels of government. 

He was doing freelance consulting writing government applications for cannabis producers when MediPharm Labs became his client for its application.

"I was drawn to their business model of just cannabis concentrates. I think there's a big niche there to be filled so I quickly became part of the team as one of the five founders," said Strachan, 32. 

All the founders are from Simcoe County, along with the majority of the 20 shareholders. The company is seeking more investors.

Renovations are underway at a John Street building to install state of the art rooms similar to a pharmaceutical plant and tight security measures including a large vault to store the finished product and much more. 

"Physical security measures as well as a lot of monitoring. There will be an onsite security guard, over 75 cameras and motion sensors throughout. Through the regulations, security is a huge concern," Strachan said.

The $5 million plant will process dry cannabis, not grow it.

The company will source the weed from various Canadian cultivators approved and licensed by Health Canada.

Through a series of steps, the dry cannabis is transformed into a liquid cannabis concentrate.

"Under our production now, we can process over 6,000 kilograms of dried cannabis on a monthly basis. As of right now that doesn't exist out there in the market.  It's just not available yet so we'll grow as the industry grows," said Strachan. 

The 23,000 square foot facility will employ about 15 people and is mostly automated with more skilled labour than large numbers.

The dried marijuana gets ground down and uses different 'recipes,' a 'super critical' CO2 vessel and a distillation process to make the cannabis concentrate. 

"It comes out almost like a crude oil. It would be kind of black, not ready for consumption. So it goes through a distillation process to remove all the waxes and fats, get it down to a more pure oil and then we formulate it using a formation machine before it goes into a tincture bottle with a dropper or in a capsule," explains Strachan. 

"With the tincture bottle, the patient can put a drop right under their tongue. It's a lot better for dosing. It's a little more accurate."

Strachan proudly points out that all the trades and building crews are local, keeping most of the renovation investment in Barrie. 

He's also proud to be revitalizing an area with old, dated industrial buildings. 

"We're the first to apply and receive a building permit for a medical cannabis facility in Barrie," he said. "We're taking a new industry and putting it in an old area which is a really good opportunity for Barrie."

MediPharm Labs is among probably about 400 other applicants awaiting licensing from Health Canada, mostly on the culitvation side but the company is getting its facility ready hoping the federal government prioritizes applications based on readiness.

Renovations will be done by Nov. 15. 

The company is obviously interested in the recreation side of the industry but is focussing on the medical market for now and will see what new marijuana legislation brings.  

And it will be very lucrative with initial projections of top line revenue at $25 million a year with profit yet to be determined. 

"There's just a lot of opportunity. We have so much room to grow. With the automation and tehcnology we can produce concentrates as much demand. We don't foresee demand being a problem. We see ourselves as a solution to the demand."

For Barrie's first cannabis concentrate manufacturer, it's satisfying to see the faciility becoming a reality as he stands inside with work crews. 

"It's kind of cool to see the walls being built after being in paperwork mode for so long."

But after eight years on the waterfront, there are no plans to sell Scoops and Cones.  

"It's hard to give up the ice cream business. It's so fun."










Sue Sgambati

About the Author: Sue Sgambati

Sue has had a 30-year career in journalism working for print, radio and TV. She is a proud member of the Barrie community.
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