End of an era as cannabis giant Tilray sells land and leaves Nanaimo

End of an era as cannabis giant Tilray sells land and leaves Nanaimo

The pioneering Nanaimo cannabis company Tilray has finally found a conditional buyer for its flagship property and pulled out of the city, taking with it roughly 170 jobs.

Cannabis cultivator Tilray Inc.’s Nanaimo property is seen with a for-sale sign on March 19, 2022, half a year after the firm announced it was closing operations in the city following a merger. (CHEK News)

The pioneering Nanaimo cannabis giant Tilray has finally pulled out of the city, taking with it roughly 170 jobs.

Last week, it found a conditional buyer for its flagship property in the city which was listed for more than $18 million.

Canada’s first legal medical cannabis grower opened its Vancouver Island facilities to great fanfare in April 2014, a year-and-a-half before the election of the federal Liberal government on a promise to legalize cannabis.

Its departure from Nanaimo is a loss for the city.

The Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce’s president said Tilray was a major player, contributing $25 million to the local economy in its first year alone.

“There was nothing like it in Canada,” Kim Smythe said. “We were the first. It was quite a coup at the time.”

The company continues to operate elsewhere in Canada, the U.S., Europe, Australia and Latin America. Tilray says its merger with Ontario giant Aphria nearly a year ago makes it the “world’s largest cannabis company” thanks to combined revenues of $685 million.

Tilray did not respond to interview requests, but previously said it is consolidating its operations to find “efficiencies.”

“It is unfortunate for staff and others who would have lost their employment,” said Deepak Anand, a Vancouver-based board member of Medical Cannabis Canada, and former executive director of the Canadian National Medical Marijuana Association. His cannabis firm, Materia, operates mostly in Europe.

“Companies are either shuttering or closing facilities… The larger producers are not able to keep and maintain market share.

For Anand, the consolidation of what he called “Big Cannabis” is not surprising as the industry shifts amidst increasing public acceptance, and demand, for its products. The recreational drug was legalized in Canada in 2018.

But while hundreds of jobs have been lost in recent mergers and closures across Canada’s sector, it’s also an opportunity for small craft growers, he said.

That opportunity is one that local governments like Nanaimo could seize upon if they are to replace those jobs, he said. 

“The issue is not isolated to Nanaimo, many other small towns have seen this boom and bust,” Anand said. 

But it will take more support from the federal government, and cooperation between other levels of government, to take the industry’s economic boon’s more seriously, he argued.

Tilray’s former CEO has said there was a “real shift” in community attitudes toward cannabis four years after legalization. That’s led to growing pains in a nascent industry.

“Medical cannabis has gone from some of the stigma that was associated with it in the past to becoming a mainstream treatment option for many conditions,” Greg Engel told CHEK News.

With Tilray’s Nanaimo operations shut, B.C. has 82 remaining licensed large-scale cannabis cultivators, according to the federal government. The company still operates a plant in Duncan, B.C. called Broken Coast.

“Tilray is making changes to optimize operational efficiencies,” the firm said in a statement last September. “Tilray will concentrate its local B.C. cultivation in the Broken Coast facility, and its international production and manufacturing in Portugal and Germany.”

At its peak, the firm’s Nanaimo operations employed roughly 300 people, and contributed tens of millions to the local economy.

With files from CHEK News.

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