YORK, P.E.I. – Edwin Jewell has spent his life farming and growing plants in York, P.E.I.
So, in January 2013 when he was looking for another business opportunity, medical marijuana production and wholesale was a natural fit. After all, marijuana or cannabis is just another plant – from a farming point of view.
That led Jewell to start Canada’s Island Garden. The business was licensed to grow medical marijuana in June 2016 and received permission to sell the product in February of this year.
As the medical marijuana business grows, so too is Jewell’s Charlottetown facility. The company is starting a tissue culture lab to help generate new plants and a system to extract cannabis oil for clients. In the spring, work is set to begin on a project that will expand the facility from 24,000 to 100,000 square feet. The expansion is expected to add another 70 jobs but also help accommodate the business’s plans to get involved in the production and wholesale side of recreational marijuana once it is legalized on July 1.
Perhaps a sign the times are changing on P.E.I., Canada’s Island Garden recently won the emerging business award at this year’s Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce President’s Excellence Awards.
Jewell sat down with The Guardian this week to talk about the medical marijuana industry and his plans to get involved with the recreational side once it comes to P.E.I.
Q: Why did you want to get involved in the medical marijuana industry?
A: If we go back to January 2013, I’m sitting in my office at Jewell’s Country Market. I can remember this is one of those moments where a little light is going on and I felt like I might be onto something. So, I’m sitting there thinking, ‘what plant could I grow to add value to the greenhouse business that we were in? And, I wondered if we could grow cannabis. At that point, the draft regulations were online and those regulations indicated that they were going to license producers to grow across the country. So, my interest in plants led me to cannabis. And, it’s medicine and it helps people. You don’t have to look that far or talk to too many people to find people who have been helped by using cannabis. So, to be able to grow a plant that helps people, there is kind of a double combination that’s been quite an incentive for us to go down this road.
Q: What is the difference between growing medical marijuana or cannabis and other agricultural plants?
A: To grow cannabis is not unlike growing other horticultural crops. It’s a plant that has the same basic needs and nutritional requirements as many plants would have. It needs light, nutrients, water and fresh air. And, those things would apply whether you’re growing cannabis or tomatoes or cabbage. The difference would be is that in (this) building, we’re in a controlled environment where we control every aspect of the way the plant grows. There is never a cloudy day in here. It’s always sunny. We even supply additional carbon dioxide to help them grow. We create an environment in here that is as close to perfect as you can get. We can get the cannabis to grow really quickly.
Q: Talk about your plans to expand the facility and interest in getting into producing recreational marijuana.
A: I think the industry is growing. We can sit on the business we have now and the building we have now and that would work. But, certainly as the market expands, there’s probably thousands of business people or other people that are in the process of trying to get a license who would love to be where we are. So, we have an opportunity now to build our business, to create more jobs and to contribute to the economy of Charlottetown and P.E.I. I’m pretty excited to be able to do that.
Q: What were the challenges of starting the business?
A: It was dealing with everything from insurers who, when we started, had no idea they could be involved in the cannabis business, to calling the Canada Revenue Agency to get an HST number and the person on the other end of the phone doesn’t know that cannabis is about to be legal and they’re a federally run organization. Also, getting financing. Even the local banks won’t let you have a bank account. Some of them, I think, may be coming around. But we deal with a bank that hasn’t. And, in fact, I was asked to close my bank account that I had for Canada’s Island Garden. We had it open for a couple of weeks. Even though the local manager knew what it was for, when he checked with the national level, they were told no, they were not allowed to have a cannabis business, even though it’s legal in Canada. So, we had to go to the credit union. We had financing arranged in one case where the gentleman who was going to lend us the money at the last minute, after we had built the building, decided ‘no,’ we’re not going to give you the money. We had to go find money somewhere else, and this is millions of dollars. I could write a book on the challenges of what it took to get us to where we are today