Can mar­i­juana save this town?

The Globe and Mail (Prairie Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

Smiths Falls, Ont., was the por­trait of a work­ing-class place that ran out of luck. Then it hit the jack­pot. Ian Brown goes in­side a boom town

When the Her­shey choco­late fac­tory closed in 2008, Smiths Falls looked like an­other de­cay­ing, post-in­dus­trial On­tario town. Then two mar­i­juana en­trepreneurs ar­rived to save the sprawl­ing fa­cil­ity from de­mo­li­tion. Ian Brown re­ports from what’s be­come the cen­tre of the (le­gal) pot uni­verse

The new­est so­cial phe­nom­e­non in Smiths Falls, the hard-bit­ten On­tario town that’s home to Canopy Growth Corp. – and there­fore the cen­tre of the im­mi­nently le­gal cannabis uni­verse – is money shy­ness. It’s on dis­play tonight at Matty O’Shea’s, the most pop­u­lar bar in town. That man at the end of the bar, for in­stance; he joined the Tweed Mar­i­juana Com­pany, as Canopy was known at the time, in 2014, just as the com­pany got rolling. His first job was stuff­ing med­i­cal mar­i­juana into pill bot­tles.

He bought stock op­tions at $3.50 a share. He cashed them this week at $66 apiece. He’s now worth be­tween $625,000 and $2.5-mil­lion, de­pend­ing on how many op­tions the com­pany granted him. But he won’t say pre­cisely, just as he won’t give his name, be­cause he’s a work­ing­class guy in Smiths Falls and doesn’t want to make his friends feel bad. He just bought a house – three bed­rooms, garage, pool – for less than $200,000, which is some­thing you can still do in Smiths Falls. He loves work­ing for Tweed. (These days, Tweed is the li­censed pro­ducer and dis­trib­u­tor of cannabis; Canopy is the hold­ing com­pany in which shares are traded.) He’s 39 years old.

Tweed moved to Smiths Falls in 2013, tak­ing over the town’s aban­doned Her­shey fac­tory. The plant had been one more tomb­stone in the ceme­tery of branch-plant cap­i­tal­ism in Canada.

But with weed about to be­come le­gal, Tweed now em­ploys more than 700 peo­ple in the old choco­late plant and hires 20 to 30 more ev­ery week. All em­ploy­ees get stock op­tions – that is, the chance to buy Canopy shares at a low price and sell them at (hope­fully) a higher price within a six-year win­dow.

As a re­sult, there are now a lot of rich folks in town – some­thing Skid Falls (as it used to be known in snooty ri­val Perth) is def­i­nitely not used to. The dream of a wealthy work­ing class! A stir­ring thought in a time of in­come dis­par­ity!

And yet, what is that faint shadow of worry cross­ing the brow of the man at the bar? What could pos­si­bly be the mat­ter? “I’m wor­ried that I sold too soon,” he says. That’s the down­side of the dream of af­flu­ence: its steady hunger. Need­less to say, this isn’t a prob­lem any­one in Smiths Falls ex­pected to have. The cen­tre of the cannabis uni­verse is a pretty place – a clas­sic On­tario mill town with ragged in­dus­trial edges. The av­er­age res­i­dent earns $33,776 a year. The me­dian house price is $219,000. The pop­u­la­tion is al­most en­tirely white and English-speak­ing. Ot­tawa’s 40 min­utes to the north.

If you had asked me five years ago if Smiths Falls would have a cannabis plant, I would have said: ‘That’s a crazy idea.’ AMY RENSBY BUSI­NESS OWNER IN SMITHS FALLS

The town’s new slo­gan, Rise at the Falls, refers to a) the Rideau Canal, whose locks at Smiths Falls raise the Rideau River 50 feet, and b) the “rise” in for­tunes Tweed has brought. The town’s new logo, an S un­der a wa­ter­fall, looks like a dol­lar sign. It seems to be in­ten­tional.

Un­til Tweed came along, Smiths Falls was left­over scrap from the de­mo­li­tion derby known as late-stage glob­al­ism. “We lost about 1,700 jobs in a town of 9,000,” Den­nis Sta­ples, the mayor at the time, says to­day. “And it all hap­pened within a four- to five-year pe­riod.”

When Her­shey Canada Inc. dumped Smiths Falls for new digs in Mex­ico in 2008, 550 peo­ple lost their jobs. But Her­shey was just the crest of a wave of de­struc­tion. The Rideau Re­gional Cen­tre, an in­sti­tu­tion for peo­ple with de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties, closed in 2009, and an­other 830 jobs dis­ap­peared. Stan­ley Tools laid down in 2008, and so did 175 po­si­tions; Shore­wood Pack­ag­ing folded 112 more in 2014. There were many oth­ers. The Lament of the Lay­offs is a cat­e­chism long-time res­i­dents of Smiths Falls can re­cite from mem­ory. RCA Vic­tor Ltd., which pressed North Amer­ica’s Bea­tles records, closed an eon ago, in 1979 (350 jobs), but peo­ple still talk as though it hap­pened last week.

The losses had an un­salu­tary ef­fect on town life. Forced re­tire­ment be­came a way of cop­ing; the av­er­age age to­day is a dod­der­ing 44. In 2016 – un­til Tweed be­gan hir­ing every­one from farm­ers to chemists with PhDs – less than 10 per cent of the town had a uni­ver­sity de­gree. Smok­ing and drink­ing in the sur­round­ing coun­ties still out­pace pro­vin­cial av­er­ages. The lo­cal mis­sion serves 30 free lunches a day – 7.3 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion doesn’t have enough to eat, although Smiths Falls is not unique in that. Yes, there are many signs of eco­nomic re­ju­ve­na­tion, in­clud­ing Arts & Science, a new Pi­lates and phys­io­ther­apy stu­dio that opened last March. Still, it’s next to the Money Shop, one of three pawn shops in the down­town alone. Three is a lot for a town of 8,780. Smiths Falls’ trans­for­ma­tion is so re­cent you can still see the ghosts of what was there be­fore.

Bruce Lin­ton and Chuck Ri­fici part­nered up on the Tweed Mar­i­juana Com­pany in March of 2013 af­ter Mr. Lin­ton read in a news­pa­per that Canada’s po­lice chiefs were beg­ging the govern­ment for clearer rules on cannabis. Both men had made money in Ot­tawa’s tech boom. And both thought the li­censed and reg­u­lated pro­duc­tion of cannabis was the next big thing.

By late spring, Mr. Ri­fici was search­ing for a place to grow the stuff. He al­most skipped Smiths Falls’ col­laps­ing Her­shey hulk. Tak­ing on a huge retro­fit be­fore Tweed had a li­cence was one chal­lenge. He also promised his wife that the new pot fac­tory would be less than an hour’s com­mute from Ot­tawa.

The drive to Arn­prior was only 20 min­utes. The fu­ture weed kings were on the verge of tak­ing over its 25,000square-foot Play­tex fac­tory – imag­ine that re­brand­ing chal­lenge – when Arn­prior’s town coun­cil got cold feet over zon­ing. “There was cer­tainly stigma in­volved,” Mr. Ri­fici re­calls.

So Mr. Lin­ton hired a con­sul­tant to find lo­cal small towns with big empty fac­to­ries and bylaws that per­mit­ted agri­cul­ture and fab­ri­ca­tion in the same space. Two can­di­dates popped up: Long Sault and Smiths Falls. And Long Sault’s build­ing was a pip­squeak.

By late June, as the Harper govern­ment pro­posed to li­cense the pro­duc­tion of mar­i­juana, Mr. Ri­fici was back in Smiths Falls, this time with Mr. Lin­ton. There were so many lawn signs, Mr. Lin­ton thought an elec­tion was un­der way. They were For Sale signs. But noth­ing was sell­ing.

The de­crepit Her­shey plant was owned by Icon In­ter­na­tional, a cor­po­rate barter com­pany that wanted it de­mol­ished. Loath to see that hap­pen, Mr. Sta­ples asked the Tweed team to make a pitch to the Smiths Falls town coun­cil.

“Den­nis had grey hair, a grey suit and was a tall, thin, dis­ci­plined-look­ing ac­coun­tant,” Mr. Lin­ton re­mem­bers. “And I’m try­ing to con­vince this guy grow­ing mar­i­juana’s gonna be a good idea? This is not go­ing to go well.”

But the mayor was con­vinced some town would grow mar­i­juana on an in­dus­trial scale – and he wanted it to be Smiths Falls. He was the last coun­cil­lor to weigh in. He talked about his brother, who had found re­lief in cannabis while he was dy­ing of can­cer. The coun­cil vote was a unan­i­mous yes.

Tweed planned to oc­cupy only a quar­ter of the Her­shey plant’s 500,000 square feet (which was spread over eight build­ings) and promised only 100 jobs. “But 100 jobs was 100 jobs,” Mr. Sta­ples re­mem­bers. Know­ing the build­ing was oth­er­wise slated for de­mo­li­tion, Mr. Lin­ton and Mr. Ri­fici and a group of in­vestors were able to buy it for $1.6mil­lion. It was a steal.

The own­er­ship group later sold the plant back to Tweed Mar­i­juana for tax pur­poses, at Mr. Lin­ton’s in­sis­tence and over Mr. Ri­fici’s ob­jec­tions, for $7-mil­lion. By then, re­la­tions be­tween the co-founders were fray­ing. The fol­low­ing year, with his shares worth roughly $20-mil­lion, Mr. Ri­fici was fired by Canopy’s board. The two par­ties are still coun­ter­su­ing each other – a nasty con­tretemps in which it has been re­ported that Mr. Ri­fici bor­rowed $300,000, se­cured against his share of the plant, from Chris Sau­mure and his fa­ther, two scions of Smiths Falls who own a con­struc­tion and de­vel­op­ment com­pany. Ac­cord­ing to Canopy, the loan threat­ened Tweed’s con­trol of the plant – and all it would even­tu­ally come to rep­re­sent. Mr. Ri­fici’s coun­ter­suit claims it did no such thing.

But that was all to come. In the mean­time, Tweed needed $16-mil­lion just to start pro­duc­ing med­i­cal mar­i­juana – a prob­lem, given that its pro­duc­tion li­cence wouldn’t ar­rive un­til Jan­uary, 2014. A li­cence to sell ar­rived in May, and the first gram went out the door on the fifth of that month. The com­pany grazed bank­ruptcy sev­eral times, par­tic­u­larly when the Royal Bank turned up its nose at Tweed’s ganja busi­ness. “Call it cor­po­rate elitism, racism – what­ever you want,” Mr. Lin­ton says. “It was a scram­ble. And it wasn’t just for money. What about pay­roll? What about pay­ing sup­pli­ers?” Or, to put it an­other way: What about the town?

At least 700 towns­peo­ple at­tended Tweed’s open­ing. Still, “it’s a rather con­ser­va­tive town,” says Leisa Pur­don Bell, a cu­ra­tor at the Smiths Falls Her­itage House Mu­seum. “I think that there was a lit­tle col­lec­tive gasp: We’re go­ing from the choco­late town to the pot town.”

But Mr. Lin­ton saw how much Smiths Falls needed Tweed as he com­muted in from Ot­tawa ev­ery morn­ing through the town’s bedrag­gled north end. “When I came in here about five or six years ago,” he re­mem­bers, “I’d see peo­ple tak­ing their kids out to get on their school bus. But the peo­ple were still in their py­ja­mas, with the smoke and the cof­fee, dressed to go back in the house. Now I see fewer par­ents like that, and so I see fewer kids com­ing home to a shit show, be­cause Mum and Dad might be go­ing to a job now.” He likes to di­vide the town into eras: DH (Dur­ing Her­shey), AH (Af­ter Her­shey) and now DT (Dur­ing Tweed). “There’s like these glacial cuts. If you cut the town, you can see them.”

Money is trans­form­ing Smiths Falls in mul­ti­ple ways. Money can do that.

Amy Rensby, a for­mer tech con­sul­tant in Ot­tawa, bought a Vic­to­rian man­sion in Smiths Falls (for $240,000) a month be­fore Her­shey closed its doors. “Peo­ple were los­ing their houses.” Nowa­days, prices are up at least 10 per cent, and Park View Homes, a lo­cal builder, has res­ur­rected not one, but two new sub­di­vi­sions. Some $3.5-mil­lion worth of build­ing per­mits were is­sued in 2015; the to­tal so far this year is $161-mil­lion.

“It has been very sud­den,” Ms. Rensby says. She’s now work­ing 70-hour weeks. When she opened C’est Tout, a French bak­ery and café – on the main drag of work­ing­class Smiths Falls, no less, com­plete with $12-a-litre ar­ti­sanal kom­bucha – Mr. Lin­ton told her it was a cra­zier idea than start­ing a cannabis com­pany. But partly be­cause Mr. Lin­ton re­fuses to open a com­pet­ing cafe­te­ria in the Tweed fac­tory (em­ploy­ees can or­der from town), her busi­ness is up 70 per cent this year. Even the town’s traf­fic is in­ten­si­fy­ing. When the 7 a.m. Tweed shift heads into work, you some­times have to wait to cross the road.

Younger and bet­ter-ed­u­cated work­ers have meant “more in­no­va­tions, more idea cre­at­ing.” Ms. Rensby sees peo­ple jog­ging and bik­ing – she never used to. This sum­mer, Tweed spon­sored Smiths Falls’s first Pride pa­rade. More peo­ple turned out to watch than any­one pre­dicted. “If you had asked me five years ago if Smiths Falls would have a cannabis plant, I would have said: That’s a crazy idea,” Ms. Rensby says. “And if you said it’ll have its own Pride pa­rade, I would have said: You’re even cra­zier.”

But the de­vel­op­ment that best ex­em­pli­fies the new striv­ing fancy-pants Smiths Falls is Le Boat, a New York­based travel com­pany that leads tours on the great rivers of Europe. This sum­mer, it be­gan to sell week-long self­guided mo­tor­ized cruises up and down – yes, the Rideau Canal! “The boats are specif­i­cally de­signed” – ex­tra bumpers, stern and bow thrusters – “for peo­ple who have no boat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence,” ex­plains Lisa McLean, the com­pany’s North Amer­i­can mar­ket­ing man­ager. “It’s kind of like the best of Europe’s cruis­ing grounds, in one place.” If that seems faintly breath­less, that is pre­cisely the mood in Smiths Falls these days: Any­thing’s pos­si­ble, baby. Ms. McLean, who has her­self hap­pily moved to Smiths Falls, urges all her clients (a third are from Europe) to visit Tweed’s new vis­i­tor cen­tre. With time and luck, the world will flock to Smiths Falls for weed the way tourists travel to Dublin for Guin­ness and Vi­enna for pas­tries. Next sum-

With time and luck, the world will flock to Smiths Falls for weed the way tourists travel to Dublin for Guin­ness and Vi­enna for pas­tries.

mer’s boat tours are al­ready sell­ing out. The re­cep­tion area of Tweed’s rapidly ex­pand­ing Smiths Falls head­quar­ters re­sem­bles a very cool high-school cafe­te­ria: pool ta­ble, high ceil­ing, con­stant mu­sic, free cof­fee bar, com­mu­nal ta­bles, in­ces­sant ac­tion. There is no dress code. Em­ploy­ees are free to “med­i­cate at will” in the com­pany’s vape rooms, pro­vided they have a pre­scrip­tion and don’t drive heavy ma­chin­ery. Se­cu­rity is re­laxed be­cause cam­eras are ev­ery­where; video footage has been kept for two years. There have been no re­ported thefts. An apoc­ryphal story is told of a trim­mer in one of the com­pany’s 16 flow­er­ing rooms who shook resin onto his la­tex glove, then turned it in­side out and dropped it into his pocket, only to be ap­pre­hended by the time he got to his car. But it is an apoc­ryphal story, as the Tweed pub­lic re­la­tions peo­ple in­sist.

A huge new ad­di­tion to the ex­ist­ing plant, slated for “ad­vanced man­u­fac­tur­ing,” is un­der con­struc­tion. Mean­while, cul­ti­va­tion spe­cial­ists waft in and out of re­cep­tion in white lab coats and hair nets like a strange new life form: peo­ple hav­ing fun at work. The first tour through the new vis­i­tor cen­tre last month was a bus­load of se­niors from a re­tire­ment home. Tweed hopes to even­tu­ally draw 400,000 tourists a year, as Her­shey did. The com­pany store sells Tweed cloth­ing and clever books ( How to Smoke Pot) and an ar­ray of para­pher­na­lia (in­clud­ing $600 va­por­iz­ers) and – as of next April, in keep­ing with On­tario Premier Doug Ford’s new rules – ac­tual Tweed weed.

A tour of the plant – the “mom rooms,” white and bright like hospi­tal nurs­eries, the sepul­chral clone and veg­e­ta­tive rooms, the dark­ened flow­er­ing cathe­drals, trim­ming and ex­trac­tion, the teem­ing en­cap­su­la­tion room (where Tweed’s tech­ni­cians are fig­ur­ing out how to stan­dard­ize dosages, which makes cannabis eas­ier for re­sis­tant doc­tors to pre­scribe – there, that big freezer bag on that dolly rum­bling into the vault, that’s $11,000 worth of cannabis in 2.5 mil­ligram soft-gel cap­sules, four of those equal one Colorado gummy bear – a tour of the plant, as some­one was say­ing, is un­de­ni­ably thrilling but com­pli­cated to ex­plain. You feel like Gul­liver en­coun­ter­ing a New World no civ­i­lized be­ing has ever seen be­fore, an en­tire com­mu­nity de­voted to, of all things, cannabis. And yet, you sense the na­tives are onto some­thing mean­ing­ful. The ded­i­cated Con­stel­la­tion room, for in­stance, is teem­ing with clever re­searchers de­vis­ing new ways to drink cannabis. (Con­stel­la­tion Brands Inc., the U.S. For­tune 500 liquor be­he­moth that owns Corona beer and Robert Mon­davi wine, in­jected an­other $5-bil­lion into Canopy last month, earn­ing in re­turn four seats on the board and stock war­rants that, if ex­er­cised along­side fur­ther in­vest­ment, will give it con­trol of the com­pany. The deal has been given the thumbs-up by share­hold­ers and is await­ing ap­proval from the fed­eral For­eign In­vest­ment Re­view Agency.) Every­one moves with a sense of mis­sion.

What ac­counts for the ca­ma­raderie? At Tweed, says Jor­dan Sin­clair, Canopy’s vice-pres­i­dent of com­mu­ni­ca­tions, “there’s a chance you’re go­ing to go home very rich. But there’s also a chance that you’re go­ing to change the world.” An early em­ployee, Mr. Sin­clair re­luc­tantly ad­mits that, at 36, he has done well enough by the com­pany that he could, the­o­ret­i­cally, re­tire. There’s that money shy­ness again. But he has zero de­sire to re­tire. “I like to come to work.” His new chal­lenge is “nor­mal­iz­ing cannabis around the world. When I travel to other coun­tries” – such as Ger­many, only now de­vel­op­ing a med­i­cal mar­i­juana sys­tem – “it’s like trav­el­ling back in a time ma­chine. Canada’s great as a train­ing ground for that.” In Tweed’s pre­ferred nar­ra­tive, plucky Smiths Falls is the home base of that ex­pan­sion.

Canopy has led the charge to le­gal­iza­tion, cap­i­tal­iz­ing on in­vestor eu­pho­ria all the way. What re­mains to be seen is how co-chief ex­ec­u­tives Bruce Lin­ton and Mark Zekulin and their vil­lage of en­thu­si­asts man­age the day-to-day slog of run­ning a multi­na­tional con­glom­er­ate. Canopy op­er­ates 12 fac­to­ries and green­houses in seven prov­inces and has op­er­a­tions in 12 coun­tries, in­clud­ing the U.S., where this week it be­came the first com­pany to im­port Cana­dian cannabis for re­search pur­poses. Canopy has spent $250mil­lion on the Smiths Falls crown jewel alone. As of Oc­to­ber, the com­pany was worth $14.4-bil­lion on the stock mar­ket. Mr. Lin­ton’s share is said to be $180-mil­lion.

Canopy’s rev­enues, on the other hand, were a teensy $77.9-mil­lion in fis­cal 2018. And they pro­duced a net loss of $70.4-mil­lion. How long can that go on? And what will it do to those em­ployee-mo­ti­vat­ing stock op­tions?

If you hang around the buzzing re­cep­tion hall of the Tweed plant long enough, you even­tu­ally run into Bruce Lin­ton. He tries to get back to Smiths Falls two days a week, when he isn’t trav­el­ling and tout­ing Canopy and Tweed.

Short and blond with the build of a farm-fed hockey player, he looks younger than his 53 years. He’s patho­log­i­cally en­er­getic, gets 200 e-mails a day (he has aban­doned voice­mail) and hardly ever stops talk­ing. Lis­ten­ing to Bruce Lin­ton an­swer a ques­tion is like sit­ting in a he­li­copter and watch­ing rush-hour traf­fic con­verge on a huge city from ev­ery con­ceiv­able di­rec­tion: Your only choice is to wait and hope that one of the cars makes it down­town. He doesn’t fin­ish sen­tences so much as keep start­ing them un­til he finds one he can work with. He never stops trav­el­ling. On his­toric Oct. 17 – le­gal­iza­tion day – he’ll start his day in St. John’s, N.L., where Canopy has a big op­er­a­tion, sell the first-ever le­gal gram of recre­ational cannabis in Canada (based on the time zone), then hop on a char­tered jet to Smiths Falls to cel­e­brate the end of pro­hi­bi­tion with his staff and towns­peo­ple. Plans to con­tinue on to Toronto for a blowout with cannabis in­dus­try pioneers are now un­der re­view. Note that Smiths Falls is the cen­tre­piece of the day.

To­day, he is grant­ing in­ter­views to The New York Times, NBC, NPR and CNN. To that end, he is wear­ing a blue tweed sports jacket. It’s 30-plus de­grees out­side, and he’s melt­ing, but he knows the value of a brand. The me­dia have al­ways been drawn to yakky Bruce and strug­gling Smiths Falls. It’s that old un­der­dog dream again, the plain-talk­ing fel­low and the hard-work­ing town that fi­nally get their due and strike it rich by break­ing the rules. Not that Mr. Lin­ton is so sen­ti­men­tal. “They were cu­ri­ous be­cause it was a taboo topic with an easy ac­cess point,” he says. “And the easy ac­cess point is we just put a ton of pot science in a choco­late fac­tory. You want to un­der­stand why the Oompa Loom­pas are so happy? We’ll tell you in a few years” – a ref­er­ence, of course, to Willy Wonka’s tire­less work­ers in Roald Dahl’s novel Char­lie and the Choco­late Fac­tory.

Lately, Ms. Rensby ob­serves, there has been talk around town that Tweed, too, may one day pull a Her­shey and split Smiths Falls. “It’s un­usual to have any in­dus­try stay in a town for any length of time,” Mr. Sta­ples, the for­mer mayor, points out. “Twenty-five years would be great.”

Twenty-five years is a long time. But a town that has most of its eggs in one bas­ket wor­ries a lot about the bas­ket. The prospect of cheap out­door cannabis grown in hot coun­tries such as Colom­bia could threaten Tweed’s Cana­dian mar­gins (although, Mr. Ri­fici says, not for at least a decade). Con­stel­la­tion Brands, the Amer­i­can gi­ant, may one day care as lit­tle for Smiths Falls as Her­shey’s head of­fice in Penn­syl­va­nia did. Inco dec­i­mated Sud­bury. Massey Fer­gu­son dumped Brant­ford. The list of be­tray­als is end­less.

Mr. Lin­ton dis­misses these fears out of hand. He had to di­lute the com­pany’s shares and ex­pose it to takeover, he says, so the com­pany (and there­fore the town) could ex­pand af­ter Canada’s char­tered banks snubbed him. As to the dis­tant threat of Tweed leav­ing Smiths Falls to pro­duce more cheaply else­where, “that pat­tern does oc­cur. But the fly in the oint­ment on this topic is the United Na­tions nar­cotic con­trol act.” The treaty en­sures that each coun­try can pro­tect it­self, and thus its own pro­duc­tion of cannabis, from im­ports. Mr. Lin­ton in­sists the UN treaty won’t be aban­doned in his life­time.

As pru­dent as it may be to con­sider him a po­ten­tial traitor to the town be­cause he’s a cap­i­tal­ist run­ning a pub­lic com­pany, the re­al­ity is that he cares more about Smiths Falls than a hard-nosed bot­tom-line CEO prob­a­bly should.

He’s think­ing of buy­ing two prop­er­ties down­town – one of which would be­come a much-needed first-class ho­tel. He backs the town’s Santa Claus pa­rade. Tweed’s lo­cal char­ity golf tour­na­ment raised more than $240,000 this year; last year, $25,000 went to the lo­cal Big Broth­ers Big Sis­ters or­ga­ni­za­tion – sur­rep­ti­tiously, so no one could ac­cuse the weed com­pany of try­ing to con­vert kids. (Even so, the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s board de­bated the is­sue for months.) He’s spend­ing $50,000 on a 400-foot mu­ral for the out­side wall of his weed fac­tory, but in­structed the Toronto-based artists to give it “the tex­ture of Smiths Falls.” The com­pany has a Thanks­giver pro­gram – free turkey in re­turn for food bank do­na­tions – and used to do some­thing called Fry­days, born of Mr. Lin­ton’s love of take­out Chi­nese food. (It goes with­out say­ing that there are three Chi­ne­seCana­dian restau­rants in Smiths Falls.) “But then it be­came chaotic. You start try­ing to or­der Fri­day lunch for 200 peo­ple.” He is noth­ing if not a prag­ma­tist. He spends ev­ery penny he can in Smiths Falls. He even pa­tron­izes Mr. Mous­tache, the lo­cal barber, which may ex­plain his pro­to­mul­let.

“I worry about ev­ery­thing about the town,” he says, shortly be­fore head­ing home to his wife and kids for the first time in three days. “I worry about, like, ev­ery­body here. When they go home. Who’s pay­ing for the gas in their car. Who’s pay­ing for their house. So you want to make sure you’re do­ing this right in the be­gin­ning.”

Alas, now that le­gal­ized weed is a fact in Canada, Mr. Lin­ton ad­mits he will have to spend more time over­seas, spread­ing Canopy’s and Canada’s cannabis foot­print. Mean­while, the weed busi­ness is be­com­ing fe­ro­ciously com­pet­i­tive, and easy money is harder to find. At Tweed, the ro­mance of hyp­ing cannabis will yield to more mun­dane man­age­rial is­sues. You will re­mem­ber that Willy Wonka had to learn, in the course of Mr. Dahl’s story, to care more about peo­ple and less about his mag­i­cal prod­uct. Now that Mr. Lin­ton has turned his per­sonal touch to the rest of the world, Tweed – and there­fore the town of Smiths Falls – may have the op­po­site prob­lem.

There’s a chance you’re go­ing to go home very rich. But there’s also a chance that you’re go­ing to change the world. JOR­DAN SIN­CLAIR VICE-PRES­I­DENT OF COM­MU­NI­CA­TIONS, CANOPY GROWTH

PHOTO FRED LUM/THE GLOBE AND MAIL. IL­LUS­TRA­TION BE­LOW BY JAMIE BEN­NETT

PHO­TOS BY FRED LUM/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

A worker stands in front of cannabis plants at Tweed, a li­censed pro­ducer and dis­trib­u­tor of mar­i­juana, in Smiths Falls, Ont., in Septem­ber.

A worker op­er­ates a ma­chine among stor­age con­tain­ers at Tweed. At the com­pany’s rapidly-ex­pand­ing Smiths Falls head­quar­ters, em­ploy­ees are free to ‘med­i­cate at will’ in the com­pany’s vape rooms, pro­vided they have a pre­scrip­tion and don’t drive heavy ma­chin­ery.

Trucks park in front of an area of Smiths Falls where new hous­ing de­vel­op­ment is tak­ing place. The once-stag­nant Smiths Falls econ­omy has been re­ju­ve­nated by the jobs Tweed has brought to the town.

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