DURHAM—In a few months, recreational cannabis will be legal in Canada, and there’s already a green rush in Clarington. There are currently four licensed cannabis producers operating in Clarington, and three more are coming soon — the highest number of licensed cannabis producers in Durham Region.
“When you think about it, this is the lifting of prohibition. It’s like what happened in the alcohol industry all those years ago. The lifting of prohibition is a very exciting time for us,” said Alan Cooke, regional general manager for Canopy Growth’s Bowmanville, Niagara-on-the-Lake and New Brunswick operations.
Canopy Growth, with a 55,000-square-foot facility on Bennet Rd., is the largest of several local cannabis-production companies in Clarington. Cannabis companies are finding affordable property, easy access to transportation with local highway access and a welcome reception from the Clarington Board of Trade and the Municipality of Clarington.
“Some people would be surprised at the presence here already,” Clarington Mayor Adrian Foster said. “There is a cluster that has come about on its own.”
For several years, cannabis has been legal for medical purposes, as long as the patient is authorized to use by a health professional and registered with a licensed producer or Health Canada. A hub of licensed medical cannabis producers has settled in Bowmanville, in the industrial area of Bennett Rd. and Lake Rd.
“We are so excited about the potential of this industry and the endless possibilities,” said Sheila Hall, executive director of the Clarington Board of Trade.
The cannabis industry in Durham was largely non-existent during the 2011 census, and data from the 2016 census is not yet available. Currently it’s estimated there are 800 local jobs directly related to the cannabis industry, and it’s anticipated the industry will soon offer more than 1,000 skilled jobs. Jobs in the industry include agriculture/greenhouse work, security, water management, distribution, quality assurance and more. There are occupations that involve hands-on training directly after high school and others that require advanced doctorate degrees in chemistry.
“I like the diversity of occupations. The potential to improve labour market outcomes for the spectrum of Durham Region is really exciting,” said Heather McMillan, executive director of the Durham Workforce Authority.
This year, Durham College launched a cannabis-industry specialist certificate, a part-time business course. More than 300 people have enrolled in the course, with wait lists, since its launch in November.
“We were the first college in Ontario to launch this course,” said Debbie Johnston, dean of continuing education at Durham College. “They’ll learn about plants, the medical side, the history, market and supply … We’re not going to teach people how to be an accountant. We’ll teach an accountant how to talk about the cannabis industry.”
The local cannabis industry is expected to grow with the upcoming legalization. Many of the current licensed cannabis producers are expected to have both a medical cannabis branch and a recreational cannabis division.
“On every level, this industry is rapidly growing or evolving,” said Melissa Leach, cannabis educator for The Clinic Network Canada Inc. in the Bowmanville Health Centre.
Legalization could mean a range of new local cannabis sectors — from storefront bakeshops to manufacturing plants for edibles and food products.
Delta 9 Chefs is an Oshawa-based company that teaches people who use medical cannabis how to infuse their food with cannabis (from butter to honey balsamic vinaigrette to noodles). With legalization, Delta 9 Chefs could expand to teach recreational users, or even open a cannabis café. When people ingest cannabis the effect is much stronger and they need to be taught how to micro-dose when cooking with it, chef Matt Hawkins explained.
“We can teach you how to make really good food,” Hawkins said. “There’s also a huge education aspect to edibles … People need to understand the severity of it. We’re there to fill in the gaps.”
The Cannabis Act, which will legalize recreational cannabis in Canada, received royal assent in June. That means that, as of Oct. 17, it will no longer be illegal to buy, possess or use cannabis for anything other than authorized medical or research purposes (with some limits).
The rationale for legalization is that it will displace black-market cannabis, better prevent youth from accessing the drug and protect people with quality and safety regulations.
“This is really an opportunity for Canada, as opposed to a threat. People are already consuming cannabis — all around, it’s happening. This is an opportunity to take it out of the black market to put it in a safe, regulated supply chain,” said Mark Zekulin, president of Canopy Growth Corp. “It took this community a lot of courage to accept a cannabis company, to work through that perceived stigma, to recognize, in many ways we’re a business like any other. The product we make is a little unique.”