Tuesday, October 1, 2002 VANCOUVER -- There are many houses in British Columbia home to marijuana grow operations. Few of them offer media tours. But the people behind the Marijuana Factory, which officially opened yesterday on a quiet suburban Vancouver street, say they are doing nothing wrong growing marijuana and processing it into potent pot pellets. Up to 110 plants will be grown by three users licensed by Health Canada to possess and produce the drug for medical purposes. One of the licensees, Mark, has HIV. "The medications that I'm on pretty much annihilate the appetite," said Mark, who didn't want to give his last name. "And without some good nutrition the battle won't even begin to be fought." Ottawa amended federal drug laws last summer to allow a limited number of patients to obtain a special exemption that allows them to possess marijuana for their personal use. So far, 817 Canadians are licensed to possess marijuana; another 214 are licensed to produce marijuana for medical use and 17 have been designated growers for others. At the house, the drug is processed into highly potent pellets of concentrated THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana. These THC balls easily dissolve in oil or butter and can be used to make cookies, cakes or even tea. Mark and others at the Marijuana Factory say they'll look into donating any excess pot to agencies and physicians with patients who might benefit from medical marijuana. "We have some contacts with doctors from different agencies that have expressed interest in cannabis for their patients," said Michael Maniotis, director of the Merlin Project, which is organizing the Marijuana Factory. "What we've said to them is once we've completed the crop, whatever excess is available we'll find a way to make it available to them." But the amount that can be grown is determined by a doctor and specified in the licence, as is the location where the marijuana will be grown, according to a spokesperson for Health Canada. Up to three people can grow marijuana in one location, but that location must be specified in the licence, said Andrew Swift. "Their licence has to indicate where they are growing it or it is not entirely correct," Swift said. "Giving marijuana away that is intended for their own medical purposes is not permitted under the regulations, or any marijuana byproduct." Members of the Merlin Project would like to have seven such "factories" in the Vancouver area. Inside the house, bright hydroponic lights reflect off the silver metallic insulation taped over the walls to keep it warm. So far just two mother plants sit in an upstairs room and a few fledgling pot plants and some lettuce decorate a hydroponic system under a bright light in the basement. The system will produce high-grade pot efficiently and effectively, said Maniotis, who smokes pot to relieve arthritis pain and stress. Mark, who said he's used marijuana most of his life, said medical users need a reliable, affordable source. "Buying it off the street, you never know," he said. Neither is worried that police will show up on their front door. "They wouldn't have any justification for coming here," Maniotis said. Copyright Â© 2002, The London Free Press. All rights reserved.