In the quiet countryside of southern Germany, Christoph Rossner is transforming a former nuclear bunker into what could be Europe’s largest medical marijuana grow-operation.
The 47-year-old entrepreneur says that because of Germany’s tight restrictions on growing, he looked for a site that would offer ample security. “This place is perfect for us,” Rossner said.
In the US, fortified shelters built to withstand catastrophic events from viral epidemic to nuclear war seem to be experiencing a wave of interest in general. Architects are turning abandoned 20th century bunkers into farms, nightclubs, and apartments, while some developers are building luxury underground shelters where the 1% can live out doomsday.
But Rossner has something else in mind for the Memmingen military base, where from 1956 to 2003, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) planned to launch nuclear weapons if the Cold War ever escalated. The bunker, empty since 2003, was never used for such purposes.
Rossner wants to retrofit the roughly 11,000-square-foot facility into a cannabis farm, where plants will grow to supply Germany’s medical marijuana market. The facility will also provide cannabis for researchers from the Technical University of Munich and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
In vaults the size of shipping containers, chemists will cut highly potent strains of marijuana to create genetic clones, which will be planted to produce more grows. The process ensures consistency from one harvest to the next. Also in the crypt, an industrial furnace once used to incinerate toxic materials will be used to burn any surplus pot — a requirement from the state.
The renovation is expected to cost between $1.8 million and $2.5 million.
Germany legalized medical marijuana in March 2017, creating Europe’s largest medical weed market. Doctors can prescribe the drug to people suffering from cancer, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, and other serious diseases. Insurance companies are supposed to cover the cost.
Between March and November of last year, the number of Germans receiving a prescription for medical marijuana increased tenfold to about 10,000 people, according to German news site The Local. But patients have been met with high prices and supply shortages. Germany imports its medical marijuana from well-established markets like Canada and the Netherlands.
If Rossner gets approval from the German government’s drug control office, his company, Bunker PPD, could start cultivating plants for medical marijuana patients by spring 2018.
Rossner comes to the legal marijuana industry from the illicit market. In the late ’90s, the budding entrepreneur set up an “illegal cannabis pharmacy,” where he grew and sold the drug to his client base, which included people suffering from cancer, Crohn’s disease, and arthritis. For his service, he wound up spending five months in prison and four months in therapy.
“It was not hard for me to go to jail, for all those people,” Rossner told Business Insider. “I know in my heart that I am on the right side.”