Happy 4/20 — Yukon now has the North's first licensed pot farm

·3 min read
An artist's rendering of ArcticPharm's cannabis farm north of Whitehorse. The company hopes to start growing as soon as it can get seeds in the ground, but it may be another year before any retail product is available. (ArcticPharm - image credit)
An artist's rendering of ArcticPharm's cannabis farm north of Whitehorse. The company hopes to start growing as soon as it can get seeds in the ground, but it may be another year before any retail product is available. (ArcticPharm - image credit)

Chris Cornborough has a lot to celebrate this 4/20 — his company, ArcticPharm, recently became the first in the North to get a licence to cultivate and process cannabis.

The plan is to start growing pot on the company's 116-acre farm north of Whitehorse this year, and eventually sell product in retail stores across the North.

"The [licensing] process itself has taken us two and a half years to work through. It's very labourious, very bureaucratic," he said.

"I guess you could equate it to getting your driver's licence — for a company, I mean — now we can do what we set out to do."

A federal licence issued by Health Canada is required to cultivate and process cannabis for medical and non-medical use. ArcticPharm's was granted on Friday.

Brendan Hogan, ArcticPharm's head grower, examines a test plant at the company's farm north of Whitehorse.
Brendan Hogan, ArcticPharm's head grower, examines a test plant at the company's farm north of Whitehorse.(ArcticPharm)

Cornborough says his company will be one of only a handful of licensed producers of certified-organic cannabis in all of Canada.

Right now, Yukon's legal weed retailers can only sell what is available through the Yukon Liquor Corporation, which serves as the territory's sole wholesaler. Cornborough believes Yukon tends to get "the last pick of the product," compared with larger markets elsewhere.

"The reality is that I think the product quality, according to most folks we talk to, isn't as good as what you get down in, say, B.C., for example," he said.

"We're hoping we can supply the North, the Yukon and the other territories, with a locally-grown, quality product.... And from there, we'll be able to kind of fill the gap and hopefully put a little bit of a dent in the black market in the North."

John Lenart, ArcticPharm's master grower, checks out some test plants. The climate around Whitehorse is ideal for growing cannabis, said Chris Cornborough, ArcticPharm's president.
John Lenart, ArcticPharm's master grower, checks out some test plants. The climate around Whitehorse is ideal for growing cannabis, said Chris Cornborough, ArcticPharm's president.(ArcticPharm)

But that won't happen right away. Cornborough says there are still some hoops to jump through with Health Canada before any ArcticPharm product goes to market. He's hoping that happens by next spring.

The company also already has its own retail licence in Yukon, granted more than a year ago, for a site in downtown Whitehorse. Cornborough describes that licence as "a placeholder, for now."

He's also hoping ArcticPharm can get into the health and wellness industry as a wholesaler.

Farm visitors 'not welcome quite yet'

The plan right now, though, is to simply start growing pot as soon as they can get seeds in the ground this year. The property north of Whitehorse, off the Takhini Hot Springs road, is already equipped with all the needed farming infrastructure — including a state-of-the-art security perimeter around the growing plots.

A greenhouse on ArcticPharm's cannabis farm last fall. The company says it has all the infrastructure in place on its Yukon property, to begin growing this year.
A greenhouse on ArcticPharm's cannabis farm last fall. The company says it has all the infrastructure in place on its Yukon property, to begin growing this year. (ArcticPharm)

"So please don't come to the property, if at all possible. Visitors are not welcome quite yet," he said.

Cornborough says his plan has been met with some scepticism, especially from down south.

"We talk to people, especially in B.C. or Ontario, they think we're, you know, we're out to lunch because they think of snow and igloos and dogsledding in the North — they don't think of growing," he said.

"But the climate in the Yukon, and specifically around Whitehorse, it's actually very ideal for growing a lot of things, including cannabis. There's no humidity, and with the midnight sun during the summer months, it's optimal."