Huge pot farm coming to Great Lakes region

May 29, 2018

Take a drive through the picturesque landscape of Niagara on the Lake and you’ll see acres of vineyards, farms and wineries.

You’ll also find a greenhouse with one of the largest marijuana farms in the world. And if you’re standing close enough -- just a few yards away from the building -- you can smell weed.

Inside the greenhouse, a tour is starting. We get a peek at the growing room.  Hundreds of lush green plants, in pots, lined up in rows under very bright growing lights. Large fans positioned near the ceiling.

Tweed Farms, part of Canopy Growth Corp., is wrapping up a greenhouse expansion – from 350,000 square feet to 1 million. That’s about the size of 22 football fields to accommodate the growth of recreational and medical marijuana.

But the expansion concerns some in this quaint tourist town on the western end of Lake Ontario.

The town – about 13 miles from Niagara Falls – is known for wineries and a theater festival named for George Bernard Shaw. Town councilor Betty Disero worries that the marijuana industry could take over valuable land used for specialty crops – like wine grapes.

“So it would seem to me logically that you’d want to save your specialty crop land to grow food," she says.

The Province of Ontario has earmarked the Niagara Peninsula for the growth of tender fruit and grapes. Last September, Disero called for increasing regulatory protection for land where specialty crops grow.

"We could end up with multiple marijuana greenhouses on an area where tender fruit should be planted," she says.

A few miles from the greenhouse, tourists meander through the village, visiting the shops and restaurants.  Some, like Lado Bertich of Mississauga – are concerned about the pot farm getting bigger.

“It could change the look and feel of [the town] as we know," he says.

Others, like Roberto DeLmas of Mississauga, say the huge marijuana greenhouse won’t change the area.

“No, I don’t think so, actually, because most of the people that come here is middle age seniors, so they may enjoy it. A puff here and here, but I don’t think it will change," he says.

Some in the area also are worried about marijuana’s dank smell. The thick skunk scent has been an issue in U.S. states like Colorado and Vermont.

And in Niagara on the Lake, the owner of one winery told the town board that he’s concerned about his vines. He said they might absorb the aroma and “show the smell of marijuana and will only get only get worse over time.”

Another neighbor, Paul Kent of Kent Heritage Farm, is a chicken producer. He’s been up the road from the pot farm for years and hasn’t noticed a stench.

Jordan Sinclair, spokesman for the pot greenhouse, says folks shouldn’t worry about the smell, because  carbon scrubbers manage the exhaust.

"It is an encased facility so I don’t think that there’s any possibility that the cannabis or the smell of it could permeate grapes and change the outcome," he says.

He’s not the only one who thinks growing marijuana makes sense here.

Alan Unwin is with Niagara College Canada, which has a new marijuana growing curriculum. And Unwin says pot is a perfect fit for the region’s established greenhouse industry.

"So a lot of our greenhouse complex here have shifted towards cannabis and growing cannabis legally for both the medicinal and recreations industry as they exist going forward," he says.

Canadian pot was set to be legal for recreational use by July — but some officials speculate that it will be much later.