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Medicinal Pot Takes Over Giant Hershey Plant in Canada

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    After sitting idle for five years, a vast old Hershey factory in Canada will come back to life with the hum of industry. But as the lights go up there will be none of the 200,000 bars of chocolate that used to roll off the lines each day. This time around, the 500,000-square-foot complex will be producing medicinal marijuana -- and lots of it.

    As marujana producers Tweed Inc. announces its successful application for a growing license, we take a look through the keyhole as the company gears up for full production.

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    Tweed is one of 185 companies that sought a permit to produce medicinal marijuana after Canada's health department said it would no longer allow people to grow it in their homes and instead would license companies to supply the drug.

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    The revival of the factory at 1 Hershey Drive is a turnaround for the 9,000-strong community of Smith Falls, Ontario. After almost half a century of continuous operation, the site closed in 2008 -- and the truckloads of Cherry Blossoms and Chipits, plus 500 jobs, were gone. Marijuana may bring some of those jobs back.

    Here, finishing touches are made to the "Mother Room", which will host the initial batch of Tweed's cannabis plants.

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    Tweed will be using more than 150,000 square feet for its operations and plans to grow 20 varieties of marijuana. The company is aiming for sales of C$100 million ($91.3 million) a year and a potential C$1.3 billion in countrywide sales by 2024.

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    Tweed’s master grower, Ryan Douglas (pictured), has experience of managing as many as 700,000 plants and previously worked for the Remedy Compassion Center in Maine.

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    Tweed will bring employment to the city of 9,000 people, which in recent years has lost 1,700 jobs, including those at the Hershey plant.

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    Since its introduction in 2001, Canada’s Marihuana Medical Access Program (MMAP) has swollen exponentially from fewer than 500 to more than 30,000 people growing the plant for medical purposes. This has led to unintended consequences such as hurting public safety and people abusing the system.

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    Plants for harvesting will be sent to one of 30 grow rooms where they are placed under a rigorous lighting regime to encourage flowering.

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    New regulations enable licensed growers to provide quality-controlled marijuana for medical purposes, produced under secure and sanitary conditions.

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    Former sugar vats left over from the days of Hershey will form a key part of the new hydroponic irrigation system.

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    Also under way are efforts to attract other businesses to the site, a potential source of job creation and investment in the area.

    Tweed will seek partners to use the 300,000 square feet of leftover space, which includes equipment left behind from when the plant was used by Hershey.


    Photograph by John Kealey for
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    The complex of eight buildings takes up about 500,000 square feet -- which for 45 years was operated by Hershey and capable of producing 200,000 chocolate bars daily -- the company’s first outside Pennsylvania. There was even a road named after it: Hershey Drive.

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