How Enniskillen Pepper stumbled into the medical cannabis business

A search for a suitable second facility for a global leader lead to a welcome community

Jack Greydanus, owner of Enniskillen Pepper Co., with his last crop in hand. Photo: J.D. Booth/Lambton Shield.

In a little more than a month, the operation known as Enniskillen Peppers, owned by Jack Greydanus, will be no more.

As previously reported, Tilray, a British Columbia-based producer of medical cannabis, will take over the 100-acre property, which is located on LaSalle Line in Enniskillen Township.

But since then, Lambton Shield has been able to interview both Greydanus and the head of the company that has cut a deal to lease (and potentially buy) his property.

One of several rows of peppers being grown at Enniskillen Pepper Co. on LaSalle Line. Photo: J.D. Booth/Lambton Shield.

The story, at least from Greydanus’ perspective, began in December 2017, with contacts from Enniskillen Township and the Sarnia Lambton Economic Partnership, which had been approached by the Ontario government to help locate a suitable piece of property, one that had access to natural gas, water and a fibre optic connection.

When Greydanus couldn’t find anything nearby, it wasn’t long before the discussions shifted to the Enniskillen Pepper property, with its greenhouse being a highly sought-after element in the future deal.

Within a few weeks, he connected with Tilray and Brendan Kennedy, the CEO of Privateer Holdings, Inc., the Seattle-based company that owns 100% of Tilray.

Kennedy, a venture capitalist with roots in San Francisco’s Silicon Valley, began investigating the medical cannabis industry in 2010, the result of having previously worked with clients in life sciences and biotechnology.

“I’d been looking for an opportunity and started doing research into the medical cannabis industry,” he said.

Through his company, Privateer Holdings, which was set up in 2011, Kennedy began assembling funds from investors with an idea to act on one or more opportunities.

In 2013, he says Health Canada came calling.

“They wanted me to look at various applicants around the MMPR (Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations),” said Kennedy. “We had announced that we had raised $75 million and Health Canada was dealing with issues like banking, insurance, nutrients and packaging. Another issue was capital, so we were asked to look at the groups that had expressed an interest in this area.”

That search came up empty, which is when Kennedy told Health Canada there was a possible solution: his company would set up its own firm to meet the government’s stringent requirements around the production of medical cannabis.

That lead to the creation of Tilray.

The first search of suitable locations for the new company’s footprint in Canada took some time, says Kennedy.

“A lot of jurisdictions didn’t want us,” said Kennedy, noting the stigma associated with medical cannabis. But his team persevered, eventually landing on Nanaimo, where the city had zoned land suitable for medical cannabis. In 2014, Tilray opened its first facility there.

Exceptional growth of the company, which became the first company to legally export medical cannabis from North America, led to plans to expand its Canadian footprint.

Fast forward to December 2016 and the eventual connection with Enniskillen Pepper Co.

Tilray, under the terms of an agreement that closes October 1, 2017, will lease Greydanus’ property for $30 million. There is an option to buy the facility over a three-to-six year period, said Greydanus.

Tilray’s medical cannabis products are now available in seven countries spanning four continents. In addition to being the first company to legally export medical cannabis from North America, Tilray said it became the first medical cannabis producer in North America to be GMP-certified in accordance with the European Medicines Agency’s Good Manufacturing Practice standards.

Greydanus and his family have been in the area since 1990, when he and his wife Christine (now a lawyer who works with Ron George at the Kettle and Stony Point First Nation), started a poultry farm next door to the pepper facility.

Prior to that, Jack was in agricultural retail, working with the Cooperative movement in places like Listowel, Durham, Sault Ste. Marie and Ottawa.

While he expects to remain active in the area, it won’t be in agriculture.

“I have something in the wind,” he told Lambton Shield. “It will be here in town but it’s totally different and not in agriculture.”

We’ll stay tuned.

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