New medical cannabis facility taking root in Espanola

GaiaCann plans to have 132,000 square feet of facility space in 2021.

Company will be producing 11,750 kilograms of cannabis a year in 2021

By 2021, Jeff Scharf hopes his facilities will be producing 11,750 kilograms of marijuana a year. (Matthew Pierce/CBC)

A medical cannabis company is building a 32,000 square foot cultivation facility in Espanola, Ont.

Jeff Scharf, President and CEO of GaiaCann Inc., began building a greenhouse to grow lettuce, but pivoted to cannabis after being approached by individuals in the sector.  

"Our goal is to create pharmaceutical grade cannabis products," he said. 

The facility is at the south end of Espanola, next to a small solar panel farm which Scharf also owns. 

Scharf previously ran a solar energy company, and will be adding solar panels to the roof of the 'Innovation Project' facility. (Matthew Pierce/CBC)

He expects the facility will be ready for operation in January 2020 and will cost upward of $20 million to complete. Work crews have just finished the walls, roof and upper level flooring. He says the electric and ventilation systems are next. 

The building's large, white roof slants southward.

"We're adding solar," Scharf said, "which will offset roughly a third of our operational electrical load."

Solar panels need to face south to capture a maximum amount of sunlight. 

Electrical costs are some of the biggest expenses for any indoor horticulture operation. Bright lights that mimic the sun's rays are often left on 24 hours a day. 

Dubbed "The Innovation Project", the facility will require up to 50 people to operate, he said. 

"90 per cent of our staff that are coming on-board are from the northern Ontario area, primarily from Sudbury and the north shore area here, which has been a terrific surprise to us," said Scharf.

He says they will be hiring for positions in harvesting, security, research, and management.

According to the GaiaCann Inc. website, a second facility is being considered. It will be a 100,000 square foot traditional greenhouse. Production capacity is expected to be 9,000 kilograms of cannabis per year, but won't be up and running until some time in 2021.

22,000 square feet of space is set aside for cultivation, with the other 10,000 for research and administrative functions. (Matthew Pierce/CBC)