By EMMA MASON
Got the munchies? Medical marijuana producer Tweed Inc. must have had that in mind when it purchased the old Hershey factory in Smiths Falls, Ont..
Hershey opened its first factory outside of the United States in that municipality in the early 1960s. At its peak, the factory employed 750 of the town’s 9,000 people.
The plant closed in 2008 and moved all production to Mexico leaving a large number of people in the town jobless. To add insult to injury, in the course of three years, three of the town’s biggest employers closed up shop and moved away, costing a large number of the residents their jobs.
In 2013, Tweed Inc. purchased the Hershey factory with the intent to grow and produce medical marijuana.
According to its website, Tweed Inc.’s facility “consists of eight buildings representing over 470,000 square feet of manufacturing and distributing space situated on approximately 39.6 acres of land. Tweed’s operations occupy 180,000 square feet of this space, 168,000 of which is licensed for marijuana production.”
In June 2014, Tweed purchased St. David’s Hydroponics on Concession 5 in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and started producing marijuana. The website states that this property “currently houses 350,000 square feet of greenhouse, and as far as we know, it is the largest marijuana greenhouse in the world. Plans are already being developed for a second building at the 20-acre location to allow on-site harvesting and processing.”
In May 2014, the Redpath Sugar factory in Niagara Falls closed, leading marijuana producers to approach the city about possibly converting the old factory into a marijuana grow op, which the council and mayor highly favoured.
“The best places really are old industrial sites. They’re away from people and residential centred areas and we’ve got a lot of good sites like that,” says Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati.
“Municipally, we would benefit on the property taxes from the site and also benefit from the employment opportunities because it does create jobs, and it serves a purpose,” says Diodati.
“I mean medical marijuana has been proven very effective in treating lots of things, from childhood seizures to cancer pain and all sorts of different things. We see that there’s a clear medical benefit and jobs are going to be created somewhere and we’d like that to be here in Niagara Falls.”
The community wasn’t sold on the idea though.
“I am opposed to having a legalized marijuana grow operation in my community. I use the word community, as the locations of these two plants are in the ‘downtown core” of the city,” says Cathy Fediash, a Niagara Falls resident.
Fediash goes on to say, “I have to ask, could this have a negative effect on tourism? Would tourists feel safe in a community that has grow-ops? Would businesses, especially those with a high-end reputation, want to settle next to a grow-op? Are individuals and families going to want to attend community events that are located next to a grow-op? Could this ultimately end up in a loss of revenues for the city?”
When the process began, the Redpath facility was isolated from the community, but as the process continued, subdivisions sprouted up on all sides of the facility, which ultimately ignited the opposition from the new surrounding community.
In 2015, after a lot of pushback from residents, Niagara Falls decided to vote no to a government grow up, but town council plans to appeal that decision.
“We are not pursuing that area any more. The residents were just very much opposed to it,” says Diodati. “Our council has gone on record as being very supportive of a medical marijuana growing operation, however, not in a sensitive area and not near residential areas, schools or churches.”
Although the mayor and council highly support bringing grow ops to the region, they will not act until they have the backing of the community.