The journey to the centre of Canada’s marijuana economy begins on a stretch of country road in eastern Ontario.
It weaves through a patchwork of cornfields and hamlets before settling in Smiths Falls — a town that boasts a stone mill, a Lion’s Club that meets every second Thursday and a factory that grows cannabis by the tonne.
The building on Hershey Dr. looks barren. Weeds sprout between cracks in the asphalt parking lot and its stucco walls betray a painfully dated style of architecture.
For nearly over 40 years, this place manufactured enough Hershey’s Kisses to crown Smiths Falls the “Chocolate Capital of Ontario.” But in 2007, Hershey laid off 600 workers, shuttered the factory and moved it to Mexico.
Today, the plant is home to the Canopy Growth Corporation and its Tweed brand of medical marijuana.
There’s an element of absurdist humour to this: The place that once churned out untold crates of Reese’s Pieces now grows medical marijuana strains with names like Lemon Skunk and Boaty McBoatface.
“The joke never gets old,” says Adam Greenblatt, who’s spearheading Tweed’s expansion into Quebec. “They used to make munchies here and now we induce them.”
Here’s where the joke ends.
Last week, shares in Canopy Growth were trading at $12.69 on the Toronto Stock Exchange, up from $3.15 last July.
Since November, the company has swallowed competitors in Quebec and Ontario in a pair of deals worth an estimated $430 million. As it stands, Canopy is valued at $1.6 billion — making it the most lucrative marijuana operation in Canada.
Now the company wants to break into the largely untapped Quebec market. Last fall, Canopy bought a 90-acre farm outside Drummondville, and Greenblatt is hustling to get more doctors and patients on board with Health Canada’s medical marijuana program.
Last month, CEO Bruce Linton announced Canopy will triple its production in short order. Linton, who founded the company four years ago, is guiding it on an aggressive campaign that will pour millions into new labour and construction costs.
He isn’t alone. Competitors like Aphria and Aurora Cannabis are also injecting cash into expansion projects that one market expert has dubbed “the great marijuana arms race.”