A deal between a Nova Scotia university and a newly licensed medical marijuana company aims to give students on-the-job training in a budding industry.
St. Francis Xavier University has signed a three-year agreement with THC Dispensaries Canada Inc. near Antigonish, N.S., that includes co-op placements for students that could start as early as this spring.
"It will be very exciting for them, and it will also be very exciting for us to meet some of these students, and hopefully hold on to them after they graduate," said the company's president, Frank MacMaster.
MacMaster said about 20 to 30 students will be taking part in the co-op program as the company begins growing cannabis at its 7,000-square-foot facility.
THC Dispensaries was licensed by Health Canada to grow medical marijuana in December — one of two companies in the province given the green light — and plans to expand into the recreational field as well.
The company still needs approval from Health Canada to sell its product.
There are just five employees right now, but MacMaster said as the facility grows, so will its workforce.
Quality assurance to field workers
He expects to hire a team of 100 to 120 people if all goes as planned and the company expands on his eight-hectare property sometime in the next year.
MacMaster said students in the business and science fields will be chosen, and could be doing anything from quality assurance to helping to grow the plants to working in administration.
"We're going to require a lot of manpower and we just happen to be lucky enough to be in the town and county of Antigonish, so we have such a draw with a great facility like St. FX," said MacMaster.
Laurie Boucher, mayor of the Town of Antigonish, said it's an exciting development for a small town that doesn't have many large employers.
"One of our biggest challenges is having our youth outsourced," she said. "If we could have people come into our community, and gain a full-time employment, I think it's fantastic."
As the federal government works to legalize recreational marijuana this year, Boucher said there are many unknowns, but she's happy to hear the drug will be sold through the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation.
"We're thinking, we're having discussions about it. We've had workshops on it … we're ready for it, for sure," she said.
In addition to hiring students, the company will work with faculty on marijuana-related research projects.
MacMaster said he's hoping to rely on the expertise of faculty members to research different ways of ingesting the drug, such as oils and pills.
Andrew Kendall, manager of industry liaison and technology transfer at St. FX, said it makes sense given the work the university is already doing.
And while there are few specifics about what will come out of the research at this point, Kendall knows what he wants to see.
"If I see students employed, if I see researchers involved and busy, if I see research funds coming onto campus, to me those are successes," he said.