Secret Australian marijuana facility exposes location after turning sky pink


A mysterious pink glow illuminated the sky above the Australian town of Mildura on Wednesday evening, leaving residents wondering if they were witnessing an alien invasion, misplaced northern lights or some sort of solar flare.

Local resident Tammy Szumowski and her family thought the world might be coming to an end. “I was just like ‘what the hell is that?’ It is very bizarre, this huge pink light in the sky,” she said. “I’m trying not to freak out because I’ve got my girls in the car.”

Others looked for an explanation.

“I was driving home and it was dark, and I noticed a very unusual, quite large pink glow,” said Anne Webster, a lawmaker who represents the area in Australia’s Parliament. “I thought that is very strange. My first thought was there has to be a logical reason for this.”

In fact, the glow emanated from a medical cannabis facility on the outskirts of Mildura that inadvertently revealed its previously undisclosed location while testing out LED lights, which reflected off the cloudy night sky to create an eerie, supernatural scene that spooked and delighted the town of 56,000 residents.

As the facility’s security guard investigated the source of the hot pink light, he realized it was attracting attention around Mildura, which is about 340 miles northwest of Melbourne.

“He went out on the evening and noticed a glow and he noticed a few vehicles pulling up to see where it was coming from,” Peter Crock, chief executive of Cann Group, the cannabis research and production company behind the facility, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

The company normally uses blackout curtains to hide the red-spectrum LED lights used to encourage plant growth. But on Wednesday the curtains were left open for a time, sending a Bat-Signal that was visible for miles around the facility, located in the southeastern state of Victoria.

In 2016, Australia legalized the cultivation, research and manufacturing of medical marijuana. Today, some 70,000 Australians turn to medical marijuana for relief, bringing in estimated revenue of $160 million in 2021, according to Fresh Leaf Analytics, a cannabis market research company. Australians use medical marijuana primarily for pain, anxiety and sleep problems, according to a 2022 study published in the journal Frontiers of Pharmacology.

Prescriptions have spiked in the past two years, which the study attributed partly to the “mental health burden” of Australia’s coronavirus containment restrictions. The country imposed one of the world’s strictest lockdowns before vaccinating 95 percent of its adult population.

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Cann Group was the first company licensed by Australia to conduct cannabis research. It received a $1.4 million grant from the Victoria state government, part of which was used to develop a commercial medical cannabis facility in a location that was undisclosed until this week’s illumination incident. The Mildura facility, which was built on the site of a former juice factory, harvested its first batch earlier this month.

Mildura is known as a major grape producer, supplying wineries across the region. But its venture into cannabis production is new.

“It is providing jobs, and this is only the tip of the iceberg because it has quite a future for growth,” said Webster, the lawmaker, who has toured the Cann facility.

“We’ve resumed normal transmission but it definitely caught everyone’s attention in the meantime,” Crock, the Cann chief executive, said of Wednesday’s incident. “Any publicity is good publicity.”

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