New Brunswick

No sign of activity but Aphria's plant for Saint John still in works, province says

Despite months with no sign of activity at Aphria Inc.'s west Saint John building, a provincial official says the cannabis giant still plans to move ahead with a production plant there.

Cannabis giant was expected to produce cannabis oil but site remains quiet

The doors are locked with no sign of activity at the west Saint John building purchased by Aphria Inc in June of 2018. (Graham Thompson, CBC)

Despite months with no sign of activity at Aphria Inc.'s west Saint John building a provincial official says the cannabis giant still plans to move ahead with a production plant there.

Aphria purchased the building, a former grocery store on Lancaster Avenue, in June last year after persuading the city to rezone the property to business park commercial.

The company's product development officer, Ian Scott told councillors the building would produce cannabis oil products and employ about 15 people, "chemists, scientists, laboratory technicians, research and development experts as well as all the required processing and packaging support staff."

The Aphria application had raised concerns from a number of neighbours living in an adjacent residential area who worry about what they believe to be the industrial nature of the project.

The company's application was supported by Steve Milbury, with Opportunities New Brunswick, who told councillors at the May meeting that the company had the option to take its plant elsewhere.

"Quite honestly at the end of the day, their business is going to continue, whether it happens here or whether it happens somewhere else," said Milbury.

Aphria Inc still plans to open a cannabis oil extraction plant in Saint John according to a spokesman for Opportunities New Brunswick. (CBC)

Snow surrounded the Lancaster Avenue building Friday. The doors were locked and the interior empty.

There are no indications of demolition, painting or other renovations.

A city spokesperson said there has been no recent interaction with the company and no application has been made for a building permit.

Carol Crawford, whose Cushing Avenue home backs onto the property, said staff from a retailer across the street leave their cars in the vacant parking lot but there's been little other activity.

"We have no idea what they're doing in there. And the last time we saw anybody go in was, what? Two three months ago? To actually go in the door."

In response to a request for an update, Aphria spokesperson Tamara Macgregor said the company is working with government and local agencies on evaluating "how best to use this space and invest in the province."

In a statement Friday, Opportunities New Brunswick spokesman Jim Hennessy said talks continue on a regular basis with Aphria.

Aphria Inc purchased this former grocery store in west Saint John last June after announcing plans to set up a cannabis oil extraction plant in the city. (Graham Thompson, CBC)

"Based on our discussions and on the original plan, all indications are that Aphria continues to follow through with their original plan for [a cannabis] extraction facility."

At the corporate level, the past year has been a roller-coaster for Aphria.

The company amalgamated with Pure Nature Wellness Inc., then embarked on further expansion with the purchase of Scythian Biosciences assets in Colombia, Argentina and Jamaica totalling $280 million US.

The company is also fending off a hostile takeover. 

Over the most recent 52-week period, its stock price has ranged from a high of $22 to a low of $4.76.

On Friday the price was holding between $13 and $14.

Since December, the company has been dealing with changes at the senior management level and investigating accusations of conflict of interest involving unnamed directors. 

Cannabis sector analyst Stuart Rolph, at investment bank Veritas, maintains a "sell" rating on the company's stock stating its "fundamental picture remains obscure."

About the Author

Connell Smith is a reporter with CBC in Saint John. He can be reached at 632-7726 Connell.smith@cbc.ca

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