Out in the Open

From chocolate factory to 'pot den': How small towns stand to profit from big marijuana

An enormous marijuana grow op has taken over an abandoned Hershey plant in Smiths Falls, Ont.
Tweed is Canada's largest licensed medical marijuana producer. (Photo courtesy of Tweed)

Smiths Falls, Ont., isn't just any small town. After all, the first Beatles records were pressed there (1963, Love Me Do).

For decades, it was also known for the sweet smell of chocolate in the air. The Hershey chocolate factory that called Smiths Falls home was a vivid memory for many kids growing up near Ottawa—including Amanda Burt, who described the place as "sacred territory." But when Hershey shut down and moved its production to Mexico in 2008, it was the first of many companies to abandon the town, leaving nearly 2,000 without work. And with a population of about 9,000, that's a lot of unemployed people. 

But today, the factory at 1 Hershey Drive is bustling again. Nowadays it serves as headquarters to Canada's largest licensed medical marijuana producer, Tweed.

Piya and producer Karen Chen took a road trip to Smiths Falls to check out the building's new tenant. Tweed CEO Bruce Linton showed them "the vault" and the seas of marijuana plants growing where Hershey used to make chocolate.

Host Piya Chattopadhyay visits the Tweed facility in Smiths Falls, Ontario. (Karen Chen/CBC)

They asked former mayor Dennis Staples to take them around town and explain what having a huge weed grow-op means to the town, and to have rapper Snoop Dogg sport a T-Shirt that says "Smiths Falls" on it. 

What it came down to was opportunity and some desperation. And Smiths Falls isn't the only Canadian small town that stands to profit from the legal marijuana industry. The medical market Tweed helps serve now is valued at $80 million to $100 million. The recreational market promised by the Liberals could be worth up to $5 billion. For many struggling small towns, the new marijuana industry just might be that golden ticket. 

Special thanks to Cesil Fernandes for his help editing this piece.