British Columbia·Photos

Airplane full of legal marijuana lands at YVR

A plane carrying more than 100,000 tiny marijuana plants landed at YVR airport on Thursday. They're going to be the start of an enormous facility being repurposed for cannabis in Delta.

About 100,000 tiny pot plants that took root in Ontario are headed for a massive grow-op in Delta

A cargo plane landed at YVR on Thursday with more than 100,000 marijuana plants inside. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

The smell of marijuana wafting through the airplane on the YVR airport tarmac on Thursday wasn't overpowering, but it left no doubt as to what the huge white boxes filling the plane contained.

Cannabis giant Canopy Growth shipped more than 100,000 tiny pot plants, or clones, from a nursery facility in Ontario to its new greenhouse in Delta, B.C.

Crews unload big white boxes full of cannabis clones — an entire planeload. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)
Armed security guards escorted the tiny marijuana plants from the airport to a Delta greenhouse. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Once unloaded, the cargo was put into a convoy of trucks, and along with an escort of armed security guards in armoured vans, made its way to the greenhouse.

Just six weeks ago, Canopy invited CBC News to check out its facility in Langley, which it claimed was the largest pot production facility in the world, with 1.2 million square feet of growing space. But now, as the company puts the finishing touches on the Delta greenhouse, it's making new claims on the title. The facility will measure 1.7 million square feet. 

It's all part of the scramble to scale up from the production required to supply Canada's medical marijuana users, to supply the recreational market that's expected to begin phasing in sometime this summer, once legislation is passed.

"Part of what we have to do is make sure there is product on the shelf," said Hilary Black, director of patient education and advocacy for Canopy Growth.

The Canopy Growth greenhouse in Delta still isn't quite ready for the 100,000 plants that arrived on Thursday. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

The company's licensed nursery facility, where "mother" plants are raised to make clones that become new plants, is based in Ontario. Black said there's no way the company could produce 100,000 cuttings from British Columbia's legendary strains of marijuana, despite their "amazing, unique genetics."

Black said even though the marijuana that arrived on Thursday may be ultimately headed for recreational users, it's all produced under medical marijuana laws, and the company has about 70,000 registered patients relying on steady supply.

"We have a tremendous responsibility to make sure that their medication is not interrupted, so we are ramping up supply, and now we have this massive greenhouse that's going to be fully in production in the coming months," she said.

Canopy Growth's Hilary Black peeks into the new shipment of cannabis clones. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Black said there's no concern about surplus stock while the company waits for cannabis legalization to pass — they can store harvested pot or make extracts out of it — so long as there's no shortage.

The greenhouse was a bustling construction site, when the big white boxes of clones began arriving on Thursday. Crews of workers in high visibility vests and hard hats roamed the property.

The 100,000 plants were all tiny little clones, or cuttings, from 'mother' plants in Ontario. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Aside from the razor wire fence around the perimeter, the sprawling greenhouses look the same as many others in the area. In fact, before Canopy bought the facility, it was used to grow peppers.

But once the construction dust settles and the tiny plants are potted, it will be a big piece of the puzzle for Canada's recreational cannabis supply.

Follow Rafferty Baker on Twitter: @raffertybaker