CHESTERVILLE – Cannabis was the talk of the town in Chesterville last week as the North Dundas Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual general meeting.

Set-up inside the village’s former Nestle Canada Plant Wed., Feb. 21, the site’s current owners, IDP Group, used the event as an opportunity to educate the inquiring public about the former factory’s pot growing future.

Chief among those in attendance was Chuck Rifici, CEO of Wheaton Income, the financier behind the cannabis plans.   

Wheaton Income CEO Chuck Rifici was the keynote speaker at the North Dundas Chamber of Commerce’s annual general meeting Wed., Feb. 21 at Chesterville’s former Nestle Canada plant. Press Photo – Uhrig

“We’re in the very beginning of this industry… the third inning, I like to say,” he told a crowd of more than 100 people nestled into the second floor common area set-up by IDP.

Rifici is no stranger to the industry, having founded Canopy Growth Corporation (formerly Tweed Marijuana Inc.), and building it into 500,000-square-feet of thriving cannabis growth inside the former Hershey factory in Smiths Falls.

He along with other industry leaders founded Wheaton in 2017, the first streaming company of its kind in the world. Company partners are spread throughout Canada, be they licenced producers or applicants looking to jump in the field.

“Wheaton came from a need to scale and build capacity [in the marijuana market],” Rifici said. “[Upon legalization], I expect we’ll see a 20,000 time increase in demand… Right now it is a race to build capacity.”

Where Wheaton benefits is the fact it has already received its government approval, meaning much of the legwork is already completed when new growers are brought on board.

“We can grant propriety as soon as the infrastructure [to grow] is in place,” Rifici said.    

As for a start date at the IDP site, a year’s end target is still in place.

It came as significant news last month when Wheaton announced its alliance with IDP, who has owned the 373,000-square-foot complex north of Chesterville’s downtown core since 2015.

There was 60 days to finalize a working agreement following the announcement, and all signs point to that being completed without too many headaches. The Toronto-headquartered Wheaton will then make a major investment, to the tune of $12-million, to put an initial 100,000-square-feet of the former factory into pot production. CannabisCO, a new subsidiary of IDP, will be tasked with overseeing the growing operation.

Phase one, with an expected output of 750,000 grams per year, should be underway by 2018’s end.

IDP’s Hamed Asl is equally enthused about the plan, noting that his company is at an advantage when compared to other cannabis production companies due to factors such as: access to an experienced in-house construction company, which will carry out the build and allow for efficiency in terms of cost; the product is taking place within our own buildings, which the firm has been renovating and repairing since 2015; and an abundance of indoor space and industrial land for future expansion.

During Feb. 21’s meeting, Asl again highlighted IDP’s indoor growing systems, which, he noted, are already being used to grow multiple different cultivars and leafy greens and have the future potential for indoor vertical farming for food production.

AGM notes
It was a year of growth for the chamber of commerce, which hosted a successful Local Business Expo in the spring, with more than 60 vendors and hundreds of attendees taking part.

• Mary Tessier was hired as the chamber’s first-ever administrative co-ordinator.

• The current board of directors, including the Maple Ridge Centre’s Rachel Potvin, Nation Valley News editor Nelson Zandbergen, Winchester Travel owner Owen Shortt, Main Street Clothing Company owner Lisa Williams, The Town Vintner owner Shawn Brownlee, Winchester Press editor Matthew Uhrig and Ault and Ault lawyer Samantha Berry, was re-elected for another term.