The company headquarters of Aphria in Neumünster is a futuristically high-tech building. Hermetically sealed off from the outside world and with a government licence, cannabis flowers cultivated here will be available for sale in German pharmacies starting in spring 2021. The subsidiary of Canadian company Aphria Inc. is one of three companies to receive approval for the first cannabis production facilities in Germany. In future, this will operate in a truly high-security wing in the commercial area South. After a record-breaking construction time, a bulletproof bunker was built at Isarstraße 17 with 24 centimetre thick reinforced concrete walls, security gates, motion sensors and around 400 cameras. Even in the toilet, a giant shredder immediately frustrates any smuggling operation.
Inside this concrete stronghold, the plants flourish thanks to highly innovative technology. "Here we produce three different types of cannabis with extremely high medicinal quality," explains General Manager Thorsten Kolisch. To ensure that the defined content of the specific active ingredients is maintained precisely, the plants are protected from all external influences. On the ground floor, with a total area of 6,000 m², they grow in eight growth chambers on germ-free rockwool supplied with an individual nutrient solution, at a temperature from 27 to 29 degrees Celcius, high humidity and a precisely controlled light-dark cycle. Employees are only allowed to enter the chambers in protective clothing through air locks. "Because we maintain the same plant cycle at staggered times in eight rooms, we are on the safe side if something doesn’t go according to plan," explains Thorsten Kolisch. Plants are harvested every three months in each chamber – four times as often as in nature. Then the plants are processed, dried and packaged under highly sterile conditions and stored in a specially secured vault. The building technology and automation are located on the upper level; all processes are controlled by computers.
Back in 2018, Aphria constructed a narcotic drug warehouse in the NORDGATE municipality of Bad Bramstedt that was also used to cultivate the first cutting. Kolisch also found its final location for cannabis production in the NORDGATE region: in Neumünster. "Due to the federal government’s extremely demanding time constraints, we needed a completely developed space. Easy accessibility was particularly important to us, both for logistics and for our 50 employees, some of whom come from Kiel or Hamburg." The choice for Neumünster was also made because Kolisch encountered a great deal of scepticism in many other regions. "We looked at around 30 municipalities across all of northern Germany. Many officials responded to us with concerns or almost in panic. Their attitude was "What would we be getting ourselves into?" The Neumünster business development office and Mayor Dr Olaf Tauras had no reservations and offered us their support immediately. It was a new experience for me to have all the responsible administrative employees actually sat down together at one table. The city understood that we could create entirely new jobs and careers with our technology. And they shared our vision of establishing cannabis as a natural, effective and recognised form of treatment that gives people a higher quality of life."
After an extended testing phase, the first 450 "proper" seedlings were delivered from Canada to Neumünster in December 2020. This was almost a historical moment for Thorsten Kolisch: "It feels great to accompany the entire process, from the initial idea at the desk all the way to the first officially licensed delivery of cannabis to the Federal Republic of Germany." The facility’s production capacity is up to four tonnes per year. A portion of earnings are allocated to research, which is pursued together with Kiel University, for example. "We would like to continue improving the possibilities of indoor cultivation," explains Thorsten Kolisch. "This facility would also be able to operate in the desert, or on the moon. It’s truly a flagship project for the entire Aphria Group. Everything we learn here can be passed on to our partners around the world!"