by Kory Glover
AgriNews Staff Writer
CARLETON PLACE – With marijuana now officially legalized in Canada, local farms are seeing an open opportunity to extend their reach and promote canna-tourism.

Mark Spear, CEO of Burnstown Farms, is in the process of building a 12-acre cannabis farm and spa to promote canna-tourism through agri-tourism.

“I was just observing what was going on in other jurisdictions like Colorado. Dispensary tours have become a really big thing over there like Bud and Breakfast, you can go to a bed and breakfast that is cannabis-friendly and get a unique experience,” said Spear. “Kind of a way to bring cannabis out of the shadows and enjoy it with other like-minded people. There really isn’t much like this that exists yet in Canada. There are some operations starting up in the west but we want to de-stigmatize the crop and we want to help inform consumers and patients about the advantages of cannabis and what they can do with it.”

Spear hopes to start the cannabis farm in 2019 and the spa in 2020, but with licensing issues, the farm could take a little longer to open. According to Spear, the process of obtaining a license to grow cannabis can take years and they can easily be suspended if rules are not properly followed.

“We’ve assembled a team that has the skills necessary to receive a license. We’re working with a couple different consultant companies to help us assemble our application to increase our chances of success with it,” he said. “[Cannabis] is a highly-regulated crop, every gram including any waste material must be tracked meticulously and Health Canada inspects these operations regularly and can suspend licenses if anything isn’t as it should be.”

Spear mentioned also that the community has been mostly supportive to his new development, however, some residents are worried that the odour from the crops might raise an issue. Spear wants to reassure people that the smell will not be an issue because the smell from the actual plant and the smoke are very different.

“The majority of people see the economic benefit in the crop and are aware that there is no real danger of cannabis like people used to believe. There are a handful of neighbours that do have concerns and we have been able to address those concerns,” he said. “The main concern really from the neighbours is the odour and it’s not really as significant as people make it out to be. The crop only has an odour for the last few weeks of the season and even then, it’s not an offensive odour. Some even find the smell quite pleasant actually because it’s not the same smell when the product is being smoked.”

Spear even admitted that this might spark an interest in other agricultural farmers who see the crop as an opportunity for growth and expansion.

“The majority of farmers see it as just another crop and they’re excited by the idea of a new crop with higher margins,” he said. “They’re more curious than anything. Farmers are very aware of the challenges of dealing with neighbours and agricultural operations in rural areas, so many of them are sympathetic of what we’re going through as they’ve had to deal with similar operations in the past. But overall the response has been very positive.”

With the growth of such a popular crop, the looming danger of theft is a constant threat. However, as per the guidelines in order to grow cannabis, security measures must be taken.

“The majority of our budget is going toward security. The federal government has very strict guidelines of what’s required in terms of security. It’s the same rules and guidelines for a greenhouse or other indoor operation,” said Spear. “That involves 24/7 visual monitoring, all of our perimeter will be monitored by infrared cameras, an eight foot security fence with barbed wire. Every gram is meticulously tracked and there’s a few other technologies that we’re implying that will allow us to detect unauthorized access before they even get to our fence line. There will also be on-site security during the flowering season.”

Spear continued saying that there isn’t a constant fear of theft because the crop “in it’s raw form isn’t useable and requires further processing to become useable.”

Production for the cannabis farm is planned to begin in the next year, if the licensing goes through without incident, while the spa is cemented for opening in 2020.