OPINION: Marijuana is a very bad thing – unless, of course, it creates jobs

Marijuana plants

George Mathewson

I couldn’t help but smile at the political reaction last week to word a medical marijuana company is investing in a massive grow-op near Petrolia able to produce 43 metric tonnes of weed a year.

“I am pleased to welcome Tilray to Sarnia-Lambton,” enthused Sarnia-Lambton MP Marilyn Gladu about the B.C.-based company.

“This new facility in the Township of Enniskillen will create good jobs and growth for our community. It is an important step in diversifying our industry and will be a great help to Canadian patients,” she said.

Our MP is the first female engineer to sit in Parliament, has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and was named the “the most collegial MP of 2016” by Maclean’s magazine.

But she is also one of the Conservative Party’s most outspoken critics of Ottawa’s plan to legalize marijuana. Indeed, she was widely mocked this summer for suggesting legal pot will turn kids into “drug mules.”

Bob Bailey, the Conservative MPP for Sarnia-Lambton, was equally effusive in welcoming the $30-million investment, stating he is “very excited” about marijuana’s potential for job creation.

“I’m proud to welcome this news from Tilray as we work towards building a better Sarnia-Lambton,” he said.

A few months ago Bailey attended a “medical cannabis breakfast info session” at Queen’s Park and it must have mellowed his views. Not long ago he claimed he was “very concerned” about the Liberal government’s pot-at-the-LCBO proposal.

Tilray launched a federally licensed medical cannabis facility in Nanaimo, B.C. in 2014 that grows up to eight million metric tonnes of marijuana a year. An R&D centre there also works on alternatives to smoking marijuana by turning the bud into oils and capsules.

Subject to Health Canada approval, Tilray’s second grow-op will be located at a 100-acre property currently known as the Enniskillen Pepper Co., on LaSalle Line just west of Oil Heritage Road.

Phase One calls for 10 acres of greenhouses growing cannabis, with 50 new employees. The company hopes to produce a total of 51 metric tonnes of medical marijuana annually at both facilities by the end of 2018, it said.

And Tilray has big plans. Within five years it expects to have plants growing under 30 acres of glass just north of Petrolia, with 200 to 250 people working full-time in cultivation, production and administration.

With numbers like that it’s not surprising politicians were falling over themselves with praise at the announcement, even those from law-and-order parties historically opposed to marijuana use of any kind.

The irony, of course, is that rural Lambton has long been a hotbed of marijuana cultivation. Until a few years ago the OPP used a helicopter each September to fly over local farm fields — including those around Petrolia — to spot and destroy every marijuana plant it could find.