Canadian greenhouses may be the future of pot
Growers go big with aim of driving down prices, limiting black marketers
DELTA, British Columbia – The redleafed blueberry bushes and greenhouses filled with tomatoes tell you that this small town south of Vancouver is a great place to grow things. A peculiar smell in the air tells you marijuana producers have already figured that out.
Across Canada, gleaming glass greenhouses that once grew produce for consumers are being retrofitted with air filters and light-blocking shades. Gone are the tomato plants and peppers. In their place are tens of thousands of sun-grown cannabis plants and hundreds of farmworkers transplanting, watering, trimming and packaging pot.
Experts say these highly sophisticated operations are the future of marijuana production internationally. The hope is that they will drive the price of pot so low, black marketers give up.
“We haven’t changed the footprint,” said Rob Hill, CFO of Emerald Health Therapeutics, which is growing marijuana in Delta. “We’ve just changed the crop.”
Canada became the second and largest nation to legalize marijuana on Oct. 17. The country’s legal marijuana system requires that cannabis be grown indoors by licensed providers, so Emerald Health Therapeutics partnered with a longtime produce operation, Village Farms, in a joint venture called Pure Sunfarms capable of producing a staggering 82 tons of marijuana annually from the 1.1 million square foot greenhouse complex about 30 minutes south of Vancouver.
Canada’s decision to legalize and regulate marijuana sales is being closely watched globally by governments, regulators and cannabis investors who claim the nation’s precedent-setting move could herald broader acceptance of legal pot, particularly in the United States. The business of pot is a prime motivator. Today, wholesale marijuana sells for about $600 a pound in some U.S. states that have legalized it, making it a far more valuable crop than lettuce, almonds or tomatoes, where per-plant profit margins are usually measured in fractions of a penny.
The price of pot reflects the reality that it largely remains a boutique crop, often grown under expensive electric lights in warehouses.
Because cannabis – and even hemp – has been illegal to grow in most parts of the U.S., highly effective and efficient farming operations have stayed away from marijuana, mostly ceding the space to hobbyists and enthusiasts, or Mexican drug cartels.
Experts and regulators say driving down the price of legal marijuana will help drive out those cartels and blackmarket dealers. “We’re seeing a shift away from people who were effectively hobby growers,” said Karson Humiston, 26, the founder of cannabis staffing firm Vangst in Santa Monica, California. “It’s all going to Big Ag. That’s definitely where the industry is shifting. For them, what’s the difference in growing lettuce, tomatoes or cannabis?”
A worker at Canadian marijuana producer Pure Sunfarms moves plants in a greenhouse. Due to concerns about crossing the U.S. border, few workers in the Canadian industry are willing to be photographed in a way that they can be identified.
A worker at Pure Sunfarms trims a plant inside a greenhouse.