Locals holding their breath as corporation attempts to control cannabis grow-op odour
BY GLORIA J. KATCH
Special to the VOICE
“We thought it was a good first start to meet the neighbours, but next time we’ll open it up and we want the entire community to be there,” said Morgan Cates, Director of Communications for CannTrust at the corporation’s Community Open House meeting at North Pelham Hall, last Wednesday.
Earlier this year, Pelham’s largest marijuana growing facility launched Phase III of its operations, which includes an expansion of 390,000 square feet and an additional $30 million investment in its Pelham site, with a significant amount allocated towards damage control. Initially, CannTrust’s application for expansion was for 600,000 square feet, but this has been scaled back.
Beyond the odour and light pollution complaints, Cates and her communications and management team received additional flack, especially from Councillor Marianne Stewart from Ward 1, where the industrial grow operation is located, for not being informed of the meeting, and for CannTrust not publicly announcing it.
Instead, the company distributed flyers to residents within a one-mile radius of its Balfour Street location. A number of the flyers made their way to the Voice, which published news of the planned meeting in last week’s edition. Ward 1’s other councillor, Mike Ciolfi, a member of the Town’s Cannabis Control Committee, then distributed 150 more flyers to area residents. As a result, about 40 visitors turned out, including many members of the Cannabis Control Committee, several councillors, Mayor Marv Junkin, and Pelham’s Regional councillor, Diana Huson.
CannTrust recently held an open house at the grow operation itself, but Cates’ communication team noted there were those who did not want to enter the premises. This time, the company elected to choose North Pelham Hall. Around the room were tables and placards with information on various topics related to CannTrust’s Phase III expansion.
Among the proposed efforts to eliminate light pollution, black shades are being fitted to various spaces within the greenhouse facility, which should be in place by fall, noted Cates. While CannTrust attempts to use natural light as much as possible, she said special blue lighting is needed for growing and the health of the plants. Brady Green, Vice President of Cultivation, asserted that Health Canada requires the lights to be on for certain lengths of time to achieve product standard levels, so until “they scale it back,” the light pollution can’t be fixed immediately.
However, Cates said CannTrust monitors local complaints, and will be turning the lights off by November throughout the winter months for several hours during the evening to accommodate the neighbours. Lights-out times have yet to be determined.
Controlling the odour, which is almost strong enough during certain times, depending on the wind direction, to cause headaches or nausea, is proving to be more problematic.
When asked why scrubbers and carbon filters used for other types of pollution-control are not present, Green said by comparison that CannTrust’s grow-operation is much larger than those in Europe.
“I would need the scrubber the size of a greenhouse before that would work,” he said, adding, “it’s not the expense.”
Since CannTrust is such a large facility, when the vents open a large volume of air flow is “exhausted in about a minute.” Since Phase IIII began, the first odour-controlling agent proved to be ineffective, even when fans were added to enhance air flow. The second trial, which was implemented in early March, used another odour-masking agent with a perfume-like, “bubble-gum” smell, which not everyone is pleased with. This agent is commonly used to control the odour in the swine industry, which is “pretty heavy duty,” Green noted.
CannTrust is proposing to test a neutralizing agent alone, which eliminates the marijuana odour, but doesn’t “mask it” by adding an additional fragrance, explained Green, who is hoping this will have better results.
CannTrust is also planting 400 white cedar trees along Highway 20 to naturally absorb the odour, and divert the air flow up and over the trees. Since cedar has a naturally pleasant odour, the attractive foliage barrier may also make a significant difference.
Green admitted to one disgruntled visitor that at the beginning CannTrust believed they had all the solutions to the smell and light pollution. However, marijuana is a relatively new industry, and with the rate CannTrust is growing, it is difficult to manage all of the problems that have occurred.
Green indicated more changes need to be incorporated, and that the company was “willing to adapt.”
Green and Cates both stated that CannTrust was meeting with other large marijuana producers and experts on various technological developments in other countries to solve problems. On a global scale, CannTrust is partnering with marijuana growing operations in Denmark, the US, and Australia, and are considering “best practices,” he said.
Locally, Michael Caplin, CannTrust’s General Manager, will be meeting with Councillor Ciolfi to discuss times when light and odour pollution are high in order to help fix the problem. Cates said CannTrust is willing to attend the Cannabis Control Committee meetings, when invited, in order to help come up with solutions. Cates pointed out that CannTrust wanted to be a member of the committee, but in the end the Town declined to include industry representatives.
The demand for medical and recreational marijuana is increasing, and new products are being created. CannTrust’s goal is to reach 100,000 kilograms per year capacity after Phase III is completed by about September 2020. In order to produce higher yields, some 150 more employees will be hired, in addition to the 353 current jobs.
CannTrust has expanded its hybrids to 23 varieties of marijuana, which helps serve more than 60,000 medical patients, noted Cates. GreyWolf Animal Health Inc., a veterinarian-based company, which supplies medications to animals, has partnered with CannTrust to produce cannabis health products for pets. Cates said there are lobby groups in discussions with the government, so legislation on pet products hasn’t passed as yet.
There’s also the recently patented Brew Buds, which is “curated” THC and CBD products in coffee.
“For people who are new to cannabis, we see it as a nice entry point to consume it in a coffee product,” said Cates.
The caffeine levels will be about 30 millilitres lower than a regular coffee, and more equal to a can of pop, she noted. In the future, CannTrust will be looking at the herbal tea industry as well. Brew Buds will be manufactured in Vaughn, as the flowers need to undergo a heating process called decarboxylation to work in various types of coffee machines. As far as other edible-related products, CannTrust and other cannabis producers are waiting to hear what government regulations dictate.
While the cannabis products drum up profits, local residents like Christina Klassen, who just purchased her home on Balfour Road four years ago, worry about their property values hitting rock bottom.
“We bought the house to live in the country and now the area has these alien lights.”
Klassen wasn’t pleased to see expansion of CannTrust’s greenhouses, as it resulted in the removal of several cherry trees. She is concerned that the situation will worsen in future, as CannTrust’s operations increase.
At the town hall meeting, Jim Jeffs, a member of the Cannabis Control Committee, wasn’t yet convinced that the odour elimination system would work, saying, “It’s outrageous that [CannTrust] has had such a negative impact on the community. Something has to be done.”
Cates said the company is not planning any expansion in Pelham beyond Phase III. In the meantime, as CannTrust experiments and tests technology to eliminate odour and light pollution, she also wanted to remind the community that the company is acting in good faith by supporting many local benevolent non-profit agencies, such as Hospice Niagara, and Project Share. The company may also soon be a “dedicated funder” to Pelham Cares.
Cates admits there are still some organizations which are not comfortable with the attached controversy regarding marijuana usage.
“We respect their values,” she said, adding, “The more people we meet, the more open they are.”
In spite of marijuana’s legalization, there are still many myths surrounding cannabis usage, Cates said, arguing that education is one of the keys to “de-stigmatizing the industry.”