Tantalus Labs, now that approvals for selling medicinal and recreational cannabis have been granted, is using its 75,000 sq. feet of greenhouses in Whonnock as a starting point for what it says will become part of a major sector of B.C. agriculture.
It’s just a matter of government catching up and trying to figure out how to support the industry, said CEO Dan Sutton.
With Tantalus fully licenced and supplying its product to the B.C. Liquour Distribution Branch, Sutton sees dramatic growth in the next few years, to point where its SunLab greenhouse operation on 272nd Street will become a major employer in Maple Ridge.
Panel members will include Bianca Gilbert of Colliers, Michael Hoffweller of GrowWorks, Tom Ulanowski of NextLeaf Solutions and Rosy Mondin of Quadron Cannatech.
Tantalus has had a growing licence since 2016, but it’s taken awhile to achieve consistent harvests, Sutton added.
But during those two years, “we’ve gotten pretty good at it.”
Tantalus Labs received its licences to sell medicinal and recreational marijuana in August 2018 and currently employs 40 people in both technical and non-technical fields. Within a year, that could double.
“They’re full-time jobs,” he said.
To allow the ramp-up in production to proceed, construction has been underway to expand the greenhouses from 75,000 sq. feet to 120,000 sq. feet. The expectation is that production will grow from a current 2,000 kilograms a year of both recreational and medicinal marijuana to 5,000.
While the cannabis economy continues to evolve and rationalize, Sutton is confident Tantalus will stay around, noting that it’s already turned away corporate suitors who would like to take over the business.
But at this time, Tantalus is happy staying a B.C. owned and operated company, focusing on the Canadian market, he added.
Competition in cannabis, though, will increase as America gears up.
“I think consumer loyalty is really your best defence against competition,” Sutton said. “If people care a lot about what we do, it’s not on someone else to take it away from us. It’s on us to fail.
“I’m not too worried about the United States. There’s something about B.C. bud and the way we do things here that’s hard to compete with.”
Sutton said that as the legal market grows, the illegal one will shrink. However, he noted the former still occupies up to 90 per cent of the market.
But that will change as pot stores open, so that within three years the legal market should occupy 70 per cent of the recreational market.
There always will be some illegal product, but eventually, the legally grown product will dominate, Sutton added.
“The regulated market wins in quality assurance. It wins in consumer safety. It wins in convenience.”
He encourages illicit growers to join the legal production process, even though it’s more bureaucratic and more skills are needed.
For those who worry that pot production will crowd out growing food on valuable agricultural land, Sutton says the fear is overblown. There’s not enough demand in the cannabis market to cause farmers to give up growing food.
He said if one per cent of B.C.’s Agricultural Land Reserve was used to grow marijuana, it would produce more marijuana than the world could consume.
“There’s just not enough demand for cannabis. We eat tomatoes every day.”
The company said that it was first to build a purpose-built, cannabis-growing greenhouse, which uses sunlight for the plant’s primary photosynthetic input, rather than solely relying on artificial lighting. This reduces electricity demand by up to 90 per cent. Other companies are now using the same system.
“We are in a farming enterprise. This is an agricultural business. And there’s no better agricultural environment than a greenhouse to cultivate this crop.”
At the opposite end of the city, in the Maple Meadows Business Park, Centurion Pro Solutions offers another example of the cannabis economy.
The company and its 15 employees produce cannabis-trimming machines for the global market, with only 10 per cent of its market in Canada.
It sees steady growth for years to come as people become more comfortable with the legalization of cannabis. It’s looking to expand out of its current 20,000-sq.-foot space.
Centurion Pro Solutions says its machines can harvest in one day what it would take 50 people to do in the same time period. Its research and development team is also working on a commercial trimming machine that can harvest wet cannabis product.
“Our goal is to develop a machine that can do this volume while keeping this machine affordable, as others in this space are selling machines that harvest considerably less, for upwards of $350,000,” the company said.
As legalization occurs, “People expect proper quality tools and harvesting equipment to come along with this industry as well,” said Centurion Pro Solutions CEO Paul Niger.