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Mark Zekulin Talks Tweed’s New Cannabis Breeding Facility and Legalization in Canada

Big things are happening north of the border.

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As the federal government continues to halt America’s progression towards cannabis legalization, our neighbors north of the border seem to be heading in the right direction at a rapid pace. Thanks to Canada’s recently appointed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who announced that new legislation to legalize and regulate cannabis would be coming by 4/20 of next year, the country now has a clear path towards a government-supported, open, and competitive cannabis marketplace. While the process is still underway, many of Canada’s well-established cannabis companies are preparing for the country’s recreational market to blossom.  

One of these companies is Tweed, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Canopy Growth Corporation that has become one of Canada’s largest and most popular medical cannabis brands. Known for being an innovative force in cannabis production, Tweed doesn’t just focus on selling cannabis, it also sparks an intimate conversation between its customers and its product. This past month, Tweed officially opened its new state-of-the-art breeding facility, which it will use to collaborate with the best minds in the industry and create its own proprietary cannabis strains.

The new breeding facility will enable Tweed’s team to develop its own strain genetics, which will provide the company with more control over the end product, and will also give them a fulfilling story to tell to their customers. Working with top-notch breeders like the Amsterdam-based seed company DNA Genetics, Tweed has already begun sifting through male and female plants to find their most desirable traits, and with them the company will breed proprietary plants and monitor them from seed to strain. Tweed is looking to roll out its first line of proprietary strains in 2018, and plans to give patients first access sometime in 2017.

MERRY JANE spoke with Tweed president Mark Zekulin about the company’s new breeding facility, the importance of collaboration, and how impending legalization will reshape the cannabis industry Canada.

MERRY JANE: What is the purpose of Tweed’s new breeding facility?
Mark Zekulin:
The way cannabis is being done in Canada is unlike anywhere else, but still, the way we were doing it was by growing someone else’s product. We’re taking somebody else’s seed, phenotyping it—and don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of work that goes into that. But what we wanted to do was create our own thing and make sure that our brand still stands for the best product, the best innovation. We want to work with the best in the world. That’s why we’ve partnered with the likes of DNA Genetics and others. You can’t do breeding unless you dedicate the energy and money towards a breeding facility like we have.

What’s the advantage of breeding your own proprietary strain?
It’s totally about upping our game. Right now, we and everybody else are bound by what people have created. You’re growing it out and there’s a lot that goes into growing the best product. But this breeding facility takes us to the next level. When you can create exactly what you want to bring forward to the patient or the customer, that’s what it’s all about for us. It’s an opportunity to not just to do it ourselves, but to work with the best in the world, too, to introduce Canadians to DNA Genetics, which has been doing its thing for a long time, but not within this legal system where they could take those seeds, those products, and be involved with the entire process.

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Why does Tweed look at breeding as more of an art rather than a science?
In many ways we look at this as a way to bring art and science together. I mean, it’s definitely an art. You don’t have to have scientific tables in front of you to pick the best father and mother, you can base that on smell and texture. That’s an art. But this is actually an opportunity to move this to the next level, because there’s a science to it too. There’s all types of things you can measure, from THC to terpene profiles. We can test and actually see what the terpene profile is. This is a chance to have the art plus the science. I’m not sure anybody has done that in this way before.

Has Tweed finished developing its own strain yet?
We’ve just finished the first DNA-certified strain, and that’s a big deal to us. We started working with DNA Genetics about a year ago, and this was just a relationship that evolved from a mutual respect and excitement for what was possible. They’ve been coming to the site and working with us, we’ve been discussing the different strains and the phenotyping. We finally arrived at a point a year later where we finally developed our own Lemon Skunk strain. These were our genetics, grown to our standards, and the end product meets that. This is representative of what we can get out onto the market. Everybody’s really excited to get to that level of volume, and start adding more of those true DNA-variety strains to our store.

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What is the process that goes into breeding your own strain genetics?
What I can say is that it’s quite a process. You want to grow out your original seed and you want to see which are the best mother and father—that’s a big selection process. Then you actually have to go forward and cross them, grow out a bunch of results, and compare those. It’s a long process, but each one of those steps comes with interesting checkpoints, and we’re excited to tell that story on each level. When we finally do come out with that final strain that we’re super proud of, you can look back and literally see the entire history, from the first seed to the end product showing up at your doorstep.

How are you preparing for impending legalization in Canada?
The government has said it’ll look at rules next year, and we’ll see whether we see actual legalization or not. But we’re proud of what we do, we’re proud in the medical context. We can take it from the medical to the recreational, and always put forth the best product. You want to have the right medicinal aspects, but even as medicine, people want the best smell, the best taste, and the best feel. We proudly put a lot in that already, and we look forward to being able to share our craft and show what we do with a broader audience. This is what the breeding facility is a part of, to make sure that we are putting the best foot forward with our own products that we’ve created, and there’s a story about that.

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Are there any more Tweed collaborations planned for the future?
We’re partnering with different grows to drive research forward and driving clinical trials forward to get more information from patients. On the lighter side, the artist-in-residency program, we’re teaming up with filmmaker Ezra Soiferman, who has such a skill in the arts and is fascinated with cannabis and hemp. We’ve never done it before but we figured, look, let’s get a guy who is going to drive forward an arts agenda with a cannabis mindset. It’s a lot of fun and will hopefully keep the conversation on cannabis going and develop all of the various strengths of advocation.

We’re also working together with Snoop Dogg and we’re excited for that, but that one is still in the wait-and-see category. It’s an understatement to say that he’s a connoisseur in cannabis. In the same way that we brought forward product that DNA and we are mutually familiar with, we’re hopeful to get to that same point with Snoop. Needless to say, there’s more to come.

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