Growing underground [in closed copper mine]: Canadian medicinal marijuana producer trys to put down U.S. roots – by Tom Blackwell (National Post – April 28, 2012)

 The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.

The sprawling copper mine that stretches deep below White Pine once employed thousands of people, helping make the remote Michigan town a thriving outpost of the state’s northern hinterland.
Prices for the metal started to plummet, however, forcing the facility to shut down in 1996 and leaving White Pine a virtual ghost town. Suburban bungalows that once housed copper miners and their families now sell to vacationers for as little as $10,000.
Now a Canadian company is promoting an unorthodox form of salvation for the area, floating a plan to grow marijuana inside the cavernous mine to serve the state’s legion of 180,000 licensed pot users. Like a similar subterranean operation that Prairie Plant Systems (PPS) owns in Manitoba, the Michigan site would offer security from theft, natural climate control and little chance of contamination, its supporters argue.

Legislation expected to be introduced in both Michigan state chambers in the next week or two would set the stage for such industrial-scale production, outlining a series of standards that medical marijuana producers must meet. Michigan approved personal use of cannabis as a health product in 2008, but its somewhat chaotic implementation has undermined patient and public safety, said Brent Zettl, CEO of Prairie Plant.
“They’ve got wide-open, unbridled access there. It’s about as convenient to find cannabis there as it is to pick up a bottle of pop and a bag of chips,” he said “I’m just saying, ‘Here’s a system that works. If you want to try it, it could be helpful. If you want us to step up, we will.’ ”
Mr. Zettl’s company bought the abandoned Michigan mine in 2003 and already uses it to grow plants that have been genetically altered to produce medicines. In Canada, the core of its $7.6-million in revenue comes from selling marijuana grown at a mothballed mine in Flin Flon, Man., to the government.

But PPS is struggling against conflicting currents in U.S. society: the newfound and growing acceptance of pot as therapy in states like Michigan, versus the fierce anti-drug mentality of the U.S. federal government. Even the marijuana mine’s proponents concede the plan will remain, well, a pipe dream without approval from Washington.
In the meantime, the prospect of the mine being filled with emerald rows of pot plants is understandably enticing to those who have stuck it out in White Pine, located about 450 kilometres west of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
Mr. Zettl said a marijuana green light could quickly bring the facility’s workforce to as many as 300 people, much fewer than the 3,000 who worked for the copper operation, but a major step for the community, nonetheless.
Tammy Tuttle worked for the mine until it closed, then got a job at the local gas station. As White Pine’s population evaporated and schools shuttered, the gas station itself closed. Now she commutes 80 km to work in another town.

For the rest of this article, please go to the National Post website: