Cannabis park gives micro-growers running start in competitive sector

Small-batch growers of cannabis hoping to get in on the legal and growing recreational market will soon have a home to get a head start in the business.

The owners of the 50-acre Sooke Industrial Park have carved out just under a third of the land to establish buildings that will house both micro-cultivators and a production facility.

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It is called the B.C. Canna Park and one of its key selling points is it offers small growers a serious head start. It is already zoned for growing and production, offers the necessary power supply, security and a partnership with the landlord for packaging and marketing.

“As that market started maturing, we noticed there really was nowhere for micro-growers to go and they will have a hard time getting into the marketplace without zoning,” said Ian Laing, who along with partner Mike Forbes directs B.C. Canna Park and Specialty Medijuana Products, a licensed cultivator that also grows and produces on site.

Laing, whose background is in development and real estate, said it seemed like the natural move to build a rental facility for small growers — which in some cases may have been serving the black market — and they had plenty of space at the industrial park.

“We had a lot of extra land zoned and ready to go,” he said.

The facility will offer growers the chance to come in and design their own grow space.

The first phase is a six-unit building that will offer about 4,500 square feet to each grower.

Each micro-grower is limited to 200 square metres of plant growing space.

That first building is expected to be finished in six or seven months. A second building with 28 units should be completed within the next 14 months. At the same time, a 20,000-square-foot production facility is also being established on site.

Laing said another selling feature is they can sign a lease with prospective tenants right now, giving micro-growers an address, a landlord consent form and a survey certificate, which they need when submitting an application to Health Canada.

Laing said the hope is the completion of the first building dovetails with the time it will take for the growers to get their applications approved.

By getting an address before taking possession and paying for a lease, the growers are saving thousands in rent they would otherwise have to pay while their applications are being considered.

Laing said in an ideal world the approvals come, the building is finished and the growers can get into the space to make their tenant improvements and set up their grow operation.

Laing said they have sold out the first phase and are currently selling space in the 28-unit block.

“It’s an exciting time. We saw an opportunity in the marketplace,” he said. “This is the moment in time in the cannabis industry, that moment when the black market is scrambling to see who can capture the most market share in the briefest amount of time. The brands of the future are being created today.”

Laing looks at the micro-growing market as being akin to the craft brewing industry, which is expected to produce higher quality, interesting strains of cannabis for the marketplace.

The park has enthusiastic support from one of its neighbours.

Mike Hicks, Capital Regional District director for the Juan de Fuca district, has his offices across the lot from the B.C. Canna Park.

“I can’t be more excited. It will probably be the biggest employer in the Sooke region, second only to the sawmill that was in Sooke,” he said. “This is not just a great idea, it’s the greatest for our area.”

Hicks said the tax implications alone are monstrous, as the buildings that could hold 34 growers and employ as many as 200 people, could cover about three-quarters of the Otter Point Fire Department’s budget.

“There’s no harm or foul here and it will employ a ton of my folks in Juan de Fuca. Can you imagine the dream of having people in Otter Point walking to work?” he said.

According to Hicks, the Juan de Fuca district has been methodically changing zoning to allow this kind of business, and intends to keep doing it.

For his part, Laing admits he never saw himself getting into this business, but he noted the world changed when marijuana was legalized and they started getting a lot of calls from marijuana producers looking for space.

“We felt we could provide safe haven for them,” he said, adding they have had to invest heavily in security, including 24-7 video monitoring of every inch of the site and will be equipping the buildings with state-of-the art systems to ensure the byproduct of growing and packaging doesn’t waft through the area.

“It could be the only smell will be from the illegal grow-ops in the area,” he said with a laugh.

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