Nfld. & Labrador

Never-used St. John's cannabis production facility still idle after 2 years

It's a white elephant on the White Hills of St. John's. More than two years after Canopy Growth pulled out of its cannabis production plan, the massive structure built specifically to grow marijuana remains empty.

Leaseholder Canopy Growth not ready to talk about 'next steps' yet

An aerial view of a large cannabis production facility in Newfoundland.
Canopy Growth abandoned this cannabis production facility in St. John's and its plans to grow marijuana in Newfoundland and Labrador in 2020. (Allied Construction Management)

It was built in the White Hills area of St. John's for Canopy Growth, with the capacity to grow up to 18,000 kilograms of high-quality cannabis annually.

But more than two years after the Ontario-based marijuana company pulled out of the plan, the future of the massive, empty structure remains uncertain.

Canopy's own documents show that in 2018 the company committed to pay more than $24 million over five years to a numbered company that owns the land. 

Those documents also show Canopy has the option to purchase the production facility at the end of that five-year period.

On Jan. 5, in an email to CBC News, Canopy confirmed it continues to lease the land but said it isn't ready to talk about next steps yet.

The 21,000-square-metre production facility, which sits on a 12-acre site, has been ready to start production for more than two years. Everything is ready. Photos posted by Allied Construction Management show off the $90-million facility's pristine boiler room, pump room, open-concept office space and staff lounge.

Image shows expensive, pristine production equipment inside the $90-million dollar marijuana facility in St. John's.
Chiller pumps used to circulate cooled liquids through process equipment at the St. John's cannabis production plant built for Canopy Growth. (Allied Construction Management)

In November, Canopy sold its $40-million New Brunswick production facility to another cannabis company.

On Jan. 3, Canopy announced it has finalized the sale of all of its Canadian retail stores, including those in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Deal announced in 2017

In 2017, the provincial government released details of an agreement that it said would ensure Newfoundland and Labrador had a "safe and secure supply" of cannabis when prohibition ends in 2018.

Canopy Growth said it would provide up to 8,000 kilograms of cannabis and related products to the province annually, under a two-year agreement, with an optional one-year extension. 

It also promised to build a cannabis production facility that it said would create about 145 jobs.

At that time, Canopy's now-former CEO Bruce Linton said, "We're going to be invested here permanently."

The province didn't provide any money but promised to give Canopy a break on the sales remittances it makes to the Crown-owned Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corp., which regulates the distribution and sale of cannabis.

Chairs and tables inside a large, brightly lit room.
The White Hills facility's staff room is pictured. (Allied Construction Management)

That break was to continue until the company recovered its investment, up to a maximum of $40 million. 

But in 2020, Canopy Growth announced its plans had changed.

The company closed operations in St. John's, Fredericton, Edmonton, Bowmanville, Ont., and its outdoor cannabis grow operations in Saskatchewan. 

"These actions will be an important step toward achieving our targeted $150-$200 million of cost savings and accelerating our path to profitability. We are confident that our remaining sites will be able to produce the quantity and quality of cannabis required to meet current and future demand," said David Klein, CEO of Canopy Growth.

At the time, Industry Minister Andrew Parsons said the provincial government wouldn't lose any money because of Canopy's about-face.

"$1.9 million that's been paid through remittances, which is a complex process, but that $1.9 million, which has been paid, will be paid back to government before the weekend," Parsons told reporters at the time.

"Right now this process has cost us zero dollars. This hasn't cost us a cent. Do I like the fact that there's an empty building over there where we were hoping to have a bunch of people working? Of course that's disheartening."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Mark Quinn

CBC News

Mark Quinn is a videojournalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.


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