MariCann expansion establishes Norfolk as primary site today, in future
Photo by Jeff Tribe
MariCann Inc. looks forward to ‘growing green with green’ in its state-of-the-art $8-million 180,000-square-foot expansion.
“This is the field of dreams,” said VP of Operations Richard Kropman, indicating a large, fenced rectangle dotted with heavy machinery.
On a drizzly January morning, the target area on the MariCann property southeast of Glen Meyer was a muddy expanse. But for what Director of Media and Investor Relations Shawn Alexander describes as a startup company in a startup industry, ambitious dreams are well on their way to reality.
“We refer to it as scaling up,” understated Alexander of a 700-per-cent expansion from the current 30,000 square-foot self-contained indoor grow, production and distribution facility.
“In eight months, you’re going to see roughly 180,000 square feet of buildings standing where that second dirt pile is,” added Kropman, pointing.
MariCann Inc. is a licenced producer under Health Canada Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR), one of 23 in Ontario and 38 nationwide. Created in 2013 by a founder who believes in the therapeutic practicality and effectiveness of cannabis, the company says its expertise includes a track record of creating shareholder wealth combined with experience in the pharmaceutical sector. Although currently a private company, plans are for its listing as a public entity on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
The emergence of cannabis from black market to highly-regulated and quality-assured white market medical product with multi-billion-dollar potential is driving what MariCann CEO Ben Ward (who holds an MBA with a dual concentration in operations and finance from Bradford University School of Management in England) calls only the ‘first big new phase’ on the 97.5-acre property. There are 90 acres of buildable space in total says Ward, cradling the long-term goal of creating the largest operation in the world.
“Right in Norfolk County. Norfolk County offers all the opportunity and infrastructure to allow us to do that.”
MariCann’s roots were planted via a September, 2013 handshake deal with the former owner of a MMAR (earlier Medical Marijuana Access Regulations for smaller ‘cottage industry’ operations where patients grew their own cannabis or had it grown for them) site.
The existing MMAR facility assisted in the transition to contemporary ACMPR licensing on a property with ample access to water, electrical grid and natural gas. Combined with required facilities, Health Canada regulations create a significant financial barrier to entry into the medical marijuana business, Kropman indicating a generally accepted ballpark of $9-million, and MariCann’s own $8-million startup total.
“It’s not throwing seeds in the ground and watching money come in, it’s not easy,” says VP Information Technology and Security Stephen Lem, who has 30 years of experience including working with Fortune 500 companies DuPont, Amgen and Actavis. “It requires a lot of discipline and a lot of planning.”
MariCann began operations with roughly a dozen employees, received its licence to sell in December, 2014 and sold its first product on the 20th of that month. The operation currently employs 60 in a self-contained production, processing and distribution facility which doubled sales in its second year. Expansion was always part of long-term planning and the current phase began November 22, 2016.
“We’re moving to 205,000 square feet in total,” said general contractor Jeff Ayotte, noting the new facility will have a 30,000 square-foot nursery, equal in size to the current total. First production is scheduled for the end of March, 2018.
Employment is anticipated to rise from current levels to between 80 and 100 upon project completion says Kropman. Due to its higher-tech automated nature, a majority of the new hires will be in quality control and supervisory roles.
“It will be more operations.”
It was Ayotte who mentioned the phrase ‘growing green with green’ for a project which includes lowering carbon footprint as a design element. The possibility of installing solar panels on the production facility’s roof has been investigated says Ayotte, along with various options for the site’s operational natural gas well, including gas-fired co-gen electricity production under island (off the grid) or parallel (selling back to the grid) models.
“Energy conservation on this project is huge.”
MariCann’s No. 1 priority is producing top-quality cannabis under practices which not only meet, but exceed the high bar of standards set by Health Canada. But environmentally-responsible operations also lower significant input costs for its controlled-environment (greenhouse) agriculture base, display a leading-edge approach for Health Canada, and offer ‘green’ branding advantages for clients.
“It’s a comfort level with our customers as well,” said Ayotte.
The first expansion project’s size is only part of a story that includes evolving technology in creating consistent production of a consumable food-grade item destined for pharmacy-level processing inside a controlled but fluctuating growing environment. Ayotte touched on some of the more technical aspects of a facility that to sum up succinctly, will not rely as heavily on equipment or practices converted from other uses, but more so feature dedicated state-of-the-art cannabis-producing technology.
“It kind of puts Norfolk County on the map and sets standards for production facilities.”
The process has been assisted says Ayotte, not only by the county’s support, but its natural and human advantages.
“We have a large talent pool to draw from and support us in this expansion.”
The site is currently MariCann’s lone production facility and will remain the company’s key production facility moving forward, says Kropman.
“This is an exciting phase of the industry,” he concluded. “MariCann is looking forward to expanding in Norfolk County and being part of a long-term win-win situation.”