Niagara-on-the-Lake was once home to what was touted as the largest medicinal marijuana-growing operation in the world.
Canopy Growth closed its Tweed location on Concession 5 in 2021, a property with one million square feet of indoor greenhouse space that opened in 2014.
And finally, after sitting empty for several years, the website of real estate firm Avison Young says the property, with a listing price of more than $32 million, has been sold.
An online website that lists property transfers indicates it sold for $21,800,000 in May, to a company that grows mushrooms — neither the realty company or Canopy Growth responded to calls or emails to confirm that information.
Angus Foreman, the man who originally purchased the Concession 5 greenhouses and received Health Canada’s permit to grow medical marijuana, told The Local that with the exception of the more recently built greenhouse added to the range, the range was not best-suited for growing cannabis.
He later sold the operation to Canopy Growth, and said he would expect it to be purchased by a produce or flower operation,
He thought it unlikely, he said, that another cannabis producer would purchase it, because growing the crop has turned out to be not very economical.
Coun. Erwin Wiens, who has been a local grape grower for 26 years, said he has heard the former Canopy Growth site had been purchased, but not who bought it.
It appears interest in growing cannabis, medicinal or recreational, has dried up in Niagara-on-the-Lake, as the Canopy Growth facility is the only legal one to have ever set up shop within the municipal boundary, said Marah Minor, spokesperson for the town.
Minor said the municipality is unaware of what might be moving into the greenhouses.
“The town is not aware of any current operations at this site,” she said. “There are no formal applications for this property at the current time.”
When the operation, originally known as Park Lane Farm when Foreman started it, and then Tweed Farms under Canopy Growth took over, opened in NOTL, there were only a couple of other legal medicinal cannabis operations in Canada, tightly controlled by Health Canada, and since it closed nobody else has come forward looking to grow cannabis in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
“The town has not received any inquiries for potential growers in Niagara-on-the-Lake,” Minor said.
Once Canopy was already in operation, selling its harvest through mail orders only, the town implemented an interim control bylaw to curb any further facilities from starting up, until its cannabis production and processing bylaw was implemented in 2020.
But Canopy was allowed to continue because the bylaw came after it was already growing, said Wiens, who noted the most important factor of the bylaw was the mandatory 600-metre setback put in place for future growers, which was largely intended to address odour concerns.
“Folks in St. Davids, their concern was always the smell,” said Wiens, referring to when Canopy was in business.
It was often “overwhelming and overpowering” for them, he said.
It also seems that a forecast of large-scale, commercial grow operations as the next agricultural cash cow hasn’t budded the way some were predicting, although there were those who tried.
In 2017, police arrested two people for growing marijuana in a greenhouse on Larkin Road in Niagara-on-the-Lake. It was reported at the time it was believed they were operating under medical marijuana licences, but outside Health Canada regulations.
At least two other greenhouses operations were suspected of growing cannabis illegally, and investigated by police, one on Lakeshore Road in 2014, at a time when the town said it had five applications for growing cannabis, and one in Virgil about five years later.
Wiens said it’s his understanding that cannabis didn’t become the booming business many expected it to be, which is likely the reason why sites such as Canopy Growth are closing, and new ones aren’t sprouting up.
“In agricultural products, it comes down to the economics of it, and so consequently, you’re not seeing a major uptick in growth,” said Wiens.
Asked if there were a lot of owners of agricultural lands who thought when legalization came into play, and was getting plenty of attention, that they might be able to sell their assets and retire, Wiens said that back then some did.
But as it turned out, growing cannabis “was not as economical and profitable as it was originally thought,” said Wiens.
Even though cannabis facilities, for both medicinal and recreational purposes, continue to be allowed in town under certain restrictions, he doesn’t see a resurgence coming.
“It’s hard to find a spot in Niagara-on-the-Lake where the setbacks work,” he said, adding the municipality “just doesn’t have the space” for them to exist.
He’s also said he would not expect another cannabis company would occupy the former Canopy Growth property.
Cannabis also can’t be purchased legally in Niagara-on-the-Lake, a result of council opting out in 2018 of allowing retail stores to open in the community.
It was the “right idea at the time,” said Wiens, adding that residents “didn’t have an appetite for them.”
Municipalities, under regulations from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, are unable to opt out after agreeing to allow stores on their streets or in local strip malls.
However, they can reconsider and welcome retail stores after initially saying no.
Wiens said there hasn’t been any discussion at council since making the first decision to opt out.