The success that the Tweed factory in Smiths Falls has enjoyed in its short history so far is sure to be eclipsed by the explosive growth that is expected to follow the legalization of marijuana in Canada.
Although marijuana has been illegal in Canada since 1923, when it was prohibited without much debate, attitudes have evolved over the past decade. Today the federal government is moving to legalize marijuana for recreational use.
That move, company president Mark Zekulin told the Hometown News Jan. 10, will have a “massive impact.”
As the 2016 annual report from Canopy Growth, Tweed’s parent company, states: “With medical marijuana already legal in Canada and producers like Tweed and Bedrocan Canada having production and distribution experience in the medical sphere, there has never been a greater opportunity for growth in the cannabis space.”
The report notes that a recent poll conducted by the Globe and Mail showed that 68 per cent of Canadians “now consider recreational legalization to be a sensible approach.”
Since Tweed commenced operations in the vacant factory complex formerly occupied by Hershey Canada, Smiths Falls has been home to the largest indoor marijuana growing facility in the world. Cyril Cooper, manager of economic development for the town of Smiths Falls, said legalization of marijuana for recreation would see the town flooded with media, investors, and new residents wanting to move to the community.
“Once it’s legalized, we’ll be inundated,” said Cooper.
Tweed expects that production will be expanded with plenty of room for growth within the existing facility. Although edible marijuana products are not currently legal in Canada, legalization would open the door to the development and marketing of a variety of new products.
On Jan. 10, Tweed hosted a group of visitors from the local business, arts and cultural community. Company Director of Communications Jordan Sinclair told the group that Tweed is the only publicly traded company that has ever been headquartered in Smiths Falls.
Tweed currently has 168,000 square feet of growing space, using about 30 per cent of the total space available within the old Hershey complex. New construction is still under way throughout the plant. The company is hiring new staff every month, and recently surpassed the 200-employee milestone.
“There are new faces every time you walk through the halls,” said Sinclair.
According to Sinclair, Tweed has already seen encouraging signs through the growth of the market for medical marijuana. “When we started this business, less than one per cent of doctors issued prescriptions for cannabis,” he said. “Now it’s 10 per cent, so we’re moving the needle.”
The company has seen 40 per cent growth from one quarter to the next for two years, according to Sinclair. New records are being set constantly for the number of shipments going out in a day.
As required by the company’s licence to operate a growing facility, security at the Tweed plant is very tight and set up in multiple layers each requiring authorization to access.
As well, employees working with marijuana plants wear special shoes and clothing including masks, gloves and hairnets to minimize the threat of disease to the plants. “A clean growing environment is the best way to start,” said Sinclair.
The Tweed operation includes separate rooms for growing marijuana, a room for extracting oil from plants, and a final “trim room” where dry buds are trimmed in preparation for shipment to medical marijuana customers.
Tweed grows cannabis sativa and cannabis indica plants, and a variety of hybrids of both. Cuttings from mature plants are used for propagation.
Finished product ready for shipment is stored in a steel vault with a combination lock. The combination is frequently changed.
No oil extractor specifically for marijuana is available anywhere in the world, so Tweed’s extractor was custom made by a company that normally manufactures equipment for extracting caffeine from coffee beans.
Sinclair said marijuana is a product that has been in existence for a long time, but the industry is still in the process of learning about it. The manufacturers feel that their product is a good alternative to highly-addictive opioids. “It doesn’t cure anything,” said Sinclair. “It’s a symptom management tool. There is a business case for saying this is cheaper than other medicines.”
The company is currently working on a new product: cannabis capsules. Capsules will aid physicians in prescribing medical marijuana, since doctors “don’t know how to prescribe something you smoke,” said Sinclair. The product is expected to launch in the first week of February.
Sinclair said Tweed originally approached many communities in deciding where to locate its plant, but found Smiths Falls the most welcoming. “Dennis Staples, the former mayor, is a friend of Tweed, big time,” said Sinclair.
Photo by Chris Must: Marijuana plants are grown under carefully controlled conditions in a sterile environment.