A “Budding” Industry: Former Fish Plant to be NL’s First Medical Marijuana Production Facility

An old fish plant in Placentia Bay will be the province's first legal marijuana grow op.

After a four-year odyssey of ongoing Health Canada applications, as well as a major refit of the local fish plant, Bond Rideout appears to be ahead of the pack in ushering in the province’s first legally produced bud. Quietly, plans for Newfoundland and Labrador’s first medical marijuana production facility have been taking shape in the Placentia Bay community of Fair Haven since 2013.

Despite the under wraps nature of the process to date, local residents of the area have been tuned into the developments for a while.

“It’s the worst kept secret,” says Rideout. “Everyone knows what we’re doing.”

Rideout first purchased the Fair Haven fish plant in 2006 and developed a successful export business focused on specialty seafood products. After a downturn in the American market, he started thinking about other possibilities for the facility. Now, as NL Medicorp is working through the Health Canada application process, Rideout’s operation is positioned to be one of only 33 licensed producers across Canada, with the nearest operations to Fair Haven located in PEI and New Brunswick.

Installation security, as well as the security of a rural location, has been part of the appeal of the Fair Haven location for approving bodies.

“In Fair Haven, everyone knows everyone,” says Rideout. “If a car were to come to the community that’s not from the community, everyone would know. That’s a level of security that supersedes even what Health Canada put in place because you really can’t buy that that type of security.”

Between 20 and 40 people, not including NL Medicorp’s laboratory services, will be employed at peak production. “You’re looking at 40 high paying jobs, basically,” says Rideout.Rendering capacity at the 15,000 sq. ft. facility will be approximately 500 pounds per two weeks, with further plans for a 40,000 sq. ft. facility in the works.

For Rideout, creating a marijuana-based product for the treatment of conditions like epilepsy and glaucoma, as well as for pain management, is the real opportunity.   “The money is not in the dried cannabis. The money is in the secondary and tertiary products you make from the oils – nutraceuticals, the pharmaceutical.”

Despite the looming promise of legalization of marijuana across Canada, Rideout’s focus remains on the export of medical marijuana.“I personally believe there’s going to be a lot of people who lose money in the marijuana industry by going after the legalization thing,” says Rideout. “We’re exporters here first. If you start a business in Newfoundland, you should have an export strategy before you have a bank account or you’re dead in the water before you start.”

If, as Rideout asserts, marijuana-growing operations like the one in Fair Haven represent a whole new potential industry for rural Newfoundland& Labrador, it appears the governing Liberal party has taken notice. Reached for comment, Mark Browne, the MHA for the Fair Haven area, said: “This initiative is on the leading edge of this emerging industry. Economic diversification is key if we are to put our rural economy on a sound footing, and diversification can come in many forms. We need more investment in our communities and anytime we see this in rural areas is positive news.”

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