Nova Scotia

N.S. cannabis company's German expansion hindered by COVID-19 restrictions, concerns

Aqualitas Inc. says COVID-19 restrictions and the rise of the Omicron variant are hampering its plans to expand into the German market.

Aqualitas Inc. has been forced to lay off 7 workers

An Aqualitas employee displays some of the cannabis grown at the Queens County facility. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

A Nova Scotia cannabis company's expansion into the German market has been temporarily stymied by pandemic travel restrictions and concerns over the Omicron variant.

Aqualitas Inc. was forced to lay off seven workers last month because German federal inspectors have been unable to visit its growing facility in Brooklyn on Nova Scotia's South Shore.

The licensed producer became well known for growing cannabis organically in tanks full of koi fish — a process known as aquaponics — in part of the former Bowater paper mill.

Founder Myrna Gillis said the company harvests thousands of kilograms per year, roughly 30 per cent of which is sold in Nova Scotia.

But Gillis said a contract to sell cannabis to Cannamedical Pharma GmbH, a medical cannabis wholesaler based in Cologne, could more than double production, with a goal of selling an additional 5,000 kilograms annually.

These koi fish provide nutrients for some of the cannabis plants grown at Aqualitas. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

"We'd have to expand to meet the full contract obligation, and we certainly intend to do that if the numbers warrant it," Gillis said.

"We have enough capacity to handle that contract, what we expect to be the initial numbers, probably between 1,000 and 1,500 kilograms to start."

Gillis said she hired 13 additional staff to cover that increase, but without a site inspection by German officials, the exports have not happened.

The initial delay was caused by Canadian travel restrictions requiring a hotel quarantine in Toronto, followed by mandated isolation for two weeks in Nova Scotia.

But even with loosened international travel restrictions, concerns around Omicron are delaying the inspection trip a second time.

Gillis said it's hoped German officials will be able to perform the site inspection in June. The approval process would take less than a month following the inspection.

Aqualitas has already sold medical cannabis within the European Union, and has a separate application underway to sell products in the United States, according to Gillis.

Gillis said Aqualitas currently employs 84 people between its corporate office in Bedford and its facility in the Region of Queens Municipality.