Canada: Country's first craft cannabis co-operative ready to take root in Taber

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Grasslands Taber Cooperative CEO Lindsay Blackett, a former Alberta PC government cabinet minister will start the country's first cannabis cooperative ready to take root in Taber on Thursday, November 14, 2019. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

As grain elevators tumble to time, a terminal accepting cannabis shipments could soon be a replacement on the southern Alberta prairie.

That’s the goal of a group behind what they say is the country’s first craft cannabis collective, one that’ll host growers, processors, researchers and other links in the pot production and supply chain on 25 hectares of land in Taber.

“It’s like a concept of rural Alberta, raising a barn,” said Grasslands Taber Collaborative CEO Lindsay Blackett, a former Alberta PC government cabinet minister.

“It’ll operate like a co-operative. People can do it without it costing an arm and a leg, they can get their feedstock and they don’t have to leave the grounds.”

The core of the $70-million to $100-million concept, said Blackett, is to attract 20 craft cannabis micro-cultivators who’ll sell their harvest to 10 processors in the same complex, turning out products ranging from recreational pot edibles to non-psychoactive hemp food.

Targeting higher quality, said Blackett, is a key to undermining the black market and breaking free of the doldrums plaguing the mass production pot industry.

“We’re only focusing on craft cannabis, we’re not in a race to the bottom … the saviour will be small to medium-sized producers that can compete with the black market,” he said, adding there’ve been expressions of interest in between five and 10 business lots.

“It’s trying to leverage the technology they have for processing and what we now know about cannabis.”

Grasslands, he said, will guarantee growers $6 per gram “and we’ll provide everything in terms of equipment, power, water and genetics.”

A 3D rendering of the craft cannabis collective coming to Taber. Supplied.

The site, located in the Eureka Industrial Park in Taber’s northeast corner, said Blackett, will also have access to potential partners in the area’s existing, expansive food production industry.

It’s a partnership with the town, he said, that’s “covering the costs of servicing and roads.”

An energy co-generation system will reduce power costs by 15 per cent for the hemp and agri-food incubator, added the CEO.

Plans also include a restaurant, cannabis retailer, artisan shops and financial services tailored to the industry.

The company is negotiating with Health Canada for a late-stage processing licence and hopes to break ground on the project next April.

It’s hoped growers will be producing by early 2021, said Blackett.

Taber Mayor Andrew Prokop said the co-operative is an innovative route to economic development.

“As part of council’s strategic plan, we outlined that one of our main goals was to develop our community and promote growth,” Prokop said in a statement.

“Our synergistic relationship with GLTC builds on our region’s existing agricultural base and we are excited that Taber will be at the forefront of innovation and collaboration as we move forward.”

The plans come just as cannabis extracts such as edibles, beverages and vapes are set to enter the legal market, a little more than a year after the drug was legalized recreationally.

Blackett’s group said they expect that market to reach a retail value of $5 billion in five years.

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