New Brunswick’s Research and Productivity Council (RPC) is a research and technology organization whose core mission is to leverage science and technology to the benefit of industry. RPC support falls into two categories: analytical services and market-led research driven by industry needs.

The organization has been working with the hemp industry since the late 1990s and added medical cannabis to its portfolio in 2014. The Province of New Brunswick sees medical cannabis as an economic opportunity due to significantly increased demand in recent years. An established Crown Corporation since 1962, RPC is at a major growth stage in its evolution due partially to its increased work within the cannabis sector.

ONB spoke to Eric Cook, CEO and Executive Director, to learn more.

ONB: What can you tell us about RPC’s work in the medical cannabis sector right now?

Eric Cook RPC New Brunswick CannabisCook: RPC has extensive analytical chemistry capability thanks to decades of work in sectors like environmental science, food and beverage production, and hemp. Since the late 90s, we have been licensed by Health Canada to work with industrial hemp and to possess cannabis. As of 2014, under MMPR (Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations), RPC has been licensed to perform analysis of cannabis for levels of cannabinol, delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, and cannabidiol. Testing also typically includes heavy metals, moulds, pesticides, bacteria, and aflatoxins.

We were early into market and that sector has really taken off. RPC now provides analytical services to about half of all licensed medical cannabis producers in Canada. Many licensed producers were not overly familiar with analytical chemistry so our experts did quite a bit of work to explain it all, showing clients what to look for. That level of client interaction in the early going helped establish good customer relationships. We have an excellent reputation in that sector now, and a great relationship with Health Canada.

Is RPC involved in any spinoff technologies or products with regards to cannabis? 

While medical cannabis analysis is the major focus of our work, we have been investigating other related areas. For example, we have been involved with a national effort organized via Innoventures Canada looking into drug impairment technology. We’ve participated in brainstorming workshops on that subject, so while we’re not working on any technology yet we’re keeping our eyes on that opportunity.

We’ve also had clients look to us for assistance in developing resin-based products and oils. Most recently we’ve had inquiries associated with research and development on products aimed at helping patients consume cannabis.

We also see future growth coming from our automation services. Companies will be motivated to drive production costs down via automation of things like harvesting and cultivation, so that’s an opportunity for spinoff industry here in New Brunswick.

What would cannabis legalization mean for RPC and New Brunswick? 

Legalization would be huge for us, no question. Recreational cannabis, like medical, would bring with it analysis requirements, so demand for the work being done in New Brunswick would certainly increase. Again, as more licensed producers enter the industry those areas I mentioned like automation and impairment detection will be in high demand as well.

It seems that New Brunswick is well positioned to be national leaders in this sector.

Absolutely, and we were really pleased to see cannabis included in New Brunswick’s Economic Growth Plan. I think it’s very forward-thinking of the province. There are many components to that sector beyond production; there’s the sale of it, distribution, engineering support, and all sorts of potential value-added spinoffs. Companies will need security for their production as well so security products will see increased demand because of this industry.

I would compare this to the aquaculture sector. RPC was well positioned 30 years ago when the aquaculture industry was new to New Brunswick. We’re very strong in that sector now, to the point where we support clients beyond the province, both nationally and internationally. It’s not often a brand new industry arises as an opportunity like this, typically you get some evolution of an existing industry. This really is a new industry and we are fortunate to be in on the ground floor.

Finally, what’s the relationship like between RPC and ONB?

It’s been terrific. ONB has brought industry clients in to tour RPC’s facility on multiple occasions. This is really win-win as it introduces us to potential new clients, and assists ONB’s investment attraction efforts by demonstrating the expertise and support the province can offer the industry. I believe that gives us a real competitive advantage.

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Written by Jason Boies