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Contracts already lined up for production facility
The ball is rolling on the development of a cannabis production facility at an idled Northside pharmaceutical plant.
Highlanders Cannabis Corp. purchased the 48,000-square-foot building last year following a negotiation with a court-appointed receiver.
The company's subsidiary, Bluenose Labs Corp., will submit the final piece of an application to Health Canada later this month in hopes of receiving a standard processing license.
“We already submitted the application but last May Health Canada changed things and said we require an evidence package,” said Tiffany Walsh, president and the current head of security for the Highlanders plant.
Additional package components involve video and photographic evidence of security measures in place, Walsh said.
A response from the federal department is expected by the end of March.
Walsh recently re-located from Vancouver to Sydney Mines — the community where she was born and the place that her family has called home for more than four generations.
Members of Walsh’s family are now seeking to transform the once beleaguered plant into the largest dedicated cannabinoid manufacturing operation in Atlantic Canada.
The world-class facility and its equipment have been sitting idle for eight years after its previous owners sought bankruptcy protection.
Among recent upgrades to the building is a high-tech vault used for product storage.
“Every single spot in this facility has a camera that can see you,” said Walsh, a practicing lawyer, as she walked the facility’s hallways. “There are no blind spots.”
The plant is expected to begin operations with the manufacture of white-label products such as vape cartridges and possible topicals.
“We already have some contracts lined up with other licensed producers and those licensed producers will be our customers,” Walsh said.
“They are going to give us their product and then we manufacture the end product that they want, and then we send it back to them. We’ll eventually start producing for other than just LPs. We’ll be distributing to the provincial distribution networks, so in Nova Scotia that’s the NSLC.”
Walsh said raw materials processed at the facility will come in various forms. A separate entrance is already available for plant employees in an area that includes showering stations for them to clean off before leaving the complex.
“CBD isolate, for example, and THC distillate is something we would be putting through the vape cartridges,” Walsh said.
“We’ll also have a carrier oil that tastes like bacon, so we’ll be able to have a CBD oil for pets as well, that we’ll be working on.”
Walsh said the operation will one-day expand into a Highlanders brand of products.
She said the name ‘Highlanders’ is derived from her two grandfathers who both served in World War II, as part of the Cape Breton Highlanders regiment.
Bluenose Labs is also planning to delve into the research side of the cannabis industry. Once licensed under the Cannabis Act, Walsh said the subsidiary will work with government and local universities to create opportunities for students, recent graduates and local residents alike.
Walsh said there are several reasons why THC and CBD are offered in a variety of forms for both medical and recreational users.
“Not everybody wants to vaporize or smoke a joint,” she said. “It’s easier for them to have something to eat — somebody with lung problems for example. Or somebody that says I don’t want to consume it in my body, but I like the effects or how it feels for arthritis on my knee.”
Walsh could not say how many jobs would be created but noted that they will start small. Roughly six to eight manufacturing technicians are expected to be hired, in addition to a handful of other key positions, in getting production underway.
As part of its interest in expanding the business, the plant’s owners have engaged in talks with the Cape Breton Regional Municipality on the proposed sale of land surrounding the Northside plant.
“We have the option to purchase still, we just haven’t purchased it yet,” said Walsh. “If we wanted to turn into a cultivation facility, we’d first have to get our cultivation license and then we could absolutely put up a facility.”
In December 2018, CBRM council approved amendments to its Municipal Planning Strategy and Land Use Bylaw to permit the cultivation of agricultural products in all zones where manufacturing is permitted, provided the cultivated agricultural product is also processed at the site.