Canada's Chocolate Town starts manufacturing legal weed? Sounds like the pilot for a sitcom — or a match made in marketing heaven.
Tidal Health Solutions, a medical marijuana company based in St. Stephen, tells CBC News that in addition to current openings for an assistant grower and lab technician, the company also plans to hire "between 30 and 40 workers" in the coming months, according to partner and spokesperson Kent Hovey-Smith.
The company, owned by five New Brunswick investors with backgrounds in rehabilitation medicine and horticulture, was founded three years ago. It aims to become a full seed-to-sale hydroponics production facility for medical cannabis, growing the plant hydroponically and shipping it to medical consumers.
The two new positions are the first of many, according to Hovey-Smith.
"We're currently working through the construction details, and expect within six months that the construction phase will be done," he said.
Tidal Health's news comes on the heels of mass layoffs at Superior Tanks in the town earlier this week. The steel tank manufacturing company was bought out by a Quebec-based company and plans to end its St. Stephen operations, according to St. Stephen mayor Allan MacEachern.
At least 33 workers have been left scrambling to find jobs.
'Good-paying jobs with full benefits'
In the next phase, Hovey-Smith said Tidal Health expects to hire additional cannabis technicians, growers, quality control and customer service representatives.
"We intend to ensure that they are good-paying jobs with full benefits," he said.
The company has constructed a 12,000 square foot secure warehouse, of which 10,000 square feet are designated growing space, in the St. Stephen business park.
MacEachern said he's toured the facility and approves of the plan.
"As long as they're abiding by the laws that Canada has put in place, it's a business, and we've got to be part of that business," he said.
"All of a sudden you have 30 plus workers looking for work, and you've got things on the horizon, but not solidified yet," he said. "It makes you want to start things now."
In addition to Tidal Health, the town is also in talks with St. Stephen's flagship chocolate company, Ganong, Futurenet, Flakeboard Co. Ltd., and the emerging vertical farming industry to find work for former Superior Tanks employees, MacEachern said.
"We'll progress through the construction phase, and then it's all going to be coming soon," said Hovey-Smith, adding the facility hopes to produce 1,700 kg of medical cannabis per year.
Cash crop, or smoke and mirrors?
Tidal Health isn't the first medical marijuana company to generate jobs in rural New Brunswick.
Since 2014, the medical marijuana company Zenabis has received a $4 million loan from the provincial government and an additional $3 million from the Listuguj First Nation to build a growing facility in the former Atlantic Yarn Mill facility in Atholville.
The plant was expected to open in the fall of 2014 and create hundreds of jobs. But, like Tidal Health, Zenabis still hasn't received a green light from Health Canada and remains at the pre-license inspection stage under the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR). In 2015, Zenabis put its Atholville warehouse up for sale.
Tidal Health Solutions says it has been approved by Health Canada to apply for a Confirmation of Readiness Prior to Inspection — a stage in the regulatory process attained by only eight other companies in Canada
Organigram, the only Health Canada-approved producer of medical marijuana in New Brunswick, hasn't had a hitch-free certification process, either.
Earlier this year, the Moncton-based company struggled with unauthorized pesticide contamination and issued a voluntary recall of some of its products.
'Committed to job creation'
But with smaller-scale production plans, and evolving medical marijuana legislation, Hovey-Smith said Tidal Health isn't over-promising, as some other businesses hoping to cash in on the nascent industry, which according to some reports, could reap as much as $5 billion annually in tax revenues — have been prone to do.
"What we're doing is implementing the plan that Health Canada has approved. So we don't think there is going to be any issue there," Hovey-Smith said.
Further, he said, "we don't know of any company that has been granted their license to build [under the ACMPR] that hasn't received a license to sell."
But even if getting certified takes longer than expected, Hovey-Smith said Tidal Health is "committed to job creation in the region."
"We've chosen St. Stephen strategically," he said. "We're all New Brunswickers, we know the area and the people, and have great support from local government."
"We're very confident in our plan and expect to have between 30 and 40 roles in place later this year."