It’s been three days since licenced medical and recreational cannabis producer Zenabis received health Canada approval to start cultivation at its newest facility in Stellarton, and they already have plants growing – 3,325 to be exact.
None of the people touring the facility were permitted inside. A call from the growers told the tour guides that it wasn’t a good time.
“Our plants are top priority,” May Nazair told the 30-person group made up of politicians, community leaders, and guests. Nazair is in charge of licensing with Zenabis, and she has been the project lead on the Stellarton location.
Before taking the tour everyone there had to first suit-up into disposable onesies that looked and felt like the way Bounce sheets do before being tossed into a clothes dryer—without the smell.
“We try as much as possible to operate in a pharmaceutical mode as much as possible,” Nazair told the group before proceeding into the controlled area.
“It’s a weed, and weeds are very hearty. But if you want top quality then you need stable conditions,” added Curt Gunn. Gunn is from Antigonish, but now he lives in Cumberland county with his family. Now that he’s Director of Facility Operations with Zenabis he says he’s looking forward to moving his family to Pictou.
There are currently three growers on staff with Zenabis, and including Gunn, twenty employees moving around the 255,000 square-foot facility at 114 Acadia Avenue.
“There are about 20 people here now, but we’ll be growing rapidly,” said Zenabis co-founder and CEO Andrew Grieve.
The company plans to employ 200 at the Stellarton facility by the end of 2019 according to Grieve and Nazair.
Right now, their licence is only for cultivation, but they expect to expand production as the facility gets licenced for more products.
“We have to convert the remainder of the facility and that will be for a mix of processing, manufacturing and cultivation,” said Grieve in an interview. “Right now, we have cultivation, but there are a lot of other things we can do.”
Indeed. Currently the Stellarton facility is only using one-third of its potential space making it the largest indoor cannabis production facility in Canada.
A service hallway stretching from one end to the next gives some sense of its size. Walking east down one of these halls there’s a door to the left with a sign saying, “oil production”. Currently empty, but like the growing rooms, ready for when it’s needed.
Zenabis medical cannabis products along with their recreational line of products, Namaste, are expected to begin production as soon as the green light comes from Ottawa in October 2019
“That’s when we’d actually be able to start manufacturing product here and taking cannabis that we’ve cultivated, going for the extraction process and putting that in our other products.”
For many of the people taking part in Monday’s tour, all of that means jobs.
Between positions in human recourses, growing, quality assurance and quality control, as well as positions in cleaning, trimming and packaging which require less high levels of expertise, the number of jobs at the Stellarton Facility could go well over 200 once it’s working at full capacity.
“Myself and council were elected in October 2016 and the most common question by far from residents after we were elected was, ‘what is happening with the cannabis facility? When will it become operational? And will there be jobs?’,” said Stellarton Mayor Danny MacGillivray during a brief press conference before the tour.
“On behalf of myself as mayor, town council, staff and residents, welcome to Stellarton we’re happy to have you and we look forward to working with you.”
Both MacGillivray and Grieve also thanked Central Nova MP Sean Fraser for his work in advocacy and assistance in getting the facility off the ground.
“I’m over the moon,” said Fraser. “The Health Canada process is very rigorous and the folks who actually get through it demonstrate that they’ve met every possible security requirement so that we know that this is a safe and effective place to take advantage in a new industry.”
“It was a saving grace,” said Tami MacGillivray, 31. Before starting work here two weeks ago, MacGillivray would drive every morning from her home in Trenton to the Halifax shipyards where she worked as a rigger.
“Basically, I would get up at five a.m. to be at work for 7:30 and I would get home at six p.m. after finishing at four,” she said. “The shipyard has a lot of layoffs and undetermined employment from week to week and this place provides full-time.”
Tami applied for her position through the online jobsite, “Indeed”.
Positions that Zenabis is currently hiring for are also posted on the company’s website.