Over the past year I have learned more about the cannabis industry than I ever imagined. What is most important, I have learned so much about the plant and the care and commitment that goes into creating a quality product at all levels. With current regulations and restrictions not everyone can visit a cannabis farm or facility, but I had the incredible opportunity to visit a number of facilities and I’m excited to share my learning with you in the coming months.
I didn’t have to travel far to visit the first cannabis producing facility. James E Wagner Cultivation (JWC) has two facilities located in my hometown and currently employs over 160 people while continually adding to their workforce. When we were invited to take a tour of their second facility last month, I jumped at the chance to check out their expansion plans, unique growing systems and talk with the founding partners to find out why people are talking about JWC.
The JWC story begins with family and this theme of “family” is evident in all that JWC does. Co founder and CEO Nathan Woodworth started to grow cannabis to treat debilitating migraines that left him bedridden. Conventional prescribed pharmaceuticals to treat his condition, either left him unable to function or did not provide the relief he needed. He discovered that cannabis worked well to alleviate his migraine pain and noticed that it reduced the frequency of migraines over time. Other members in his family also found relief for various medical conditions through cannabis and in 2008, under the guidance of their grandfather and company’s name sake, the founding members formed a collective under the MMAR (Medical Marijuana Access Regulations) to help patients like themselves get access to affordable, quality cannabis-based medicine.
When regulations changed in 2012, the founding partners (siblings, cousins, and friends who grew up together in the suburbs of Kitchener-Waterloo) formed JWC. Their mission was to create and maintain a company that gives back to the community they love, values employees and create quality products.
Waterloo Region is home to the University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University, and Conestoga College, three of the top post secondary institutions in Canada. Along with these internationally ranked and respected institutions, the region is home to The Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics (PI), Google’s largest research and development office in Canada, several start-ups, and a thriving tech community led by innovators such as Vidyard and Desire2Learn. With this abundance of brain power, the community I call home is considered the “Silicon Valley of the north”. After Research in Motion/Blackberry experienced a boom for nearly two decades and then instability, it spawned new start-ups drawing the attention of tech-forward investors. It’s not surprising that a trail-blazing cannabis cultivator like JWC, born in an innovative community is tackling various aspects of the industry. It’s what happens in Waterloo region; create, innovate, produce. JCW’s innovations include their GrowthSTORM™ System which reduces waste and saves natural resources, keeping with their plans for further water conservation through rainwater reclaim and capture. This focus on waste reduction is spawning future goals for a 3rd concept facility focused on sustainability.
Their 2nd and currently largest facility is located in the former Lear factory in Kitchener. Lear Manufacturing Inc. once employed over a thousand people in this community. The auto parts manufacturer closed in 2015, as did many other factories in the area over the last decade taking thousands of jobs that offer a decent living wage and benefits with them. JWC opened its facility in the former Lear plant in fall of 2018, signalling a new era for production in this region and contributing to the reviliatization of the manufacturing district in Kitchener. JWC has also partnered with Living Wage Waterloo Region to ensure that compensation packages offered, including wages and benefits are fair and equitable for all employees.
On my visit at JWC with CanCan Buzz, I spoke to several employees from across the organization who expressed a sense of pride and family belonging. When asked, “What do you enjoy most about working here?”, all of them answered “The people.” Many explained, not only do they enjoy interacting and working with their colleagues, but the management and leadership have created a great work environment fostering high standards and shared vision. They love that the leadership team at JWC values their ideas and opinions, actually encouraging them to share and innovate with them. Together they create a consistent quality product. The value that JWC highlights in their people shows in employee satisfaction, positively impacting the end product. As Woodworth points out, “We’re all working toward a goal. My grandfather spent his life farming and was most concerned with that. People who work the farm with you, become family. I think the spirit of that is still alive today at JWC.”
JWC and their employees are active in many charities that directly benefit the community they work and live in. Whether for the Back to School Supply Drive, Food Drive or the YWCA Kitchener-Waterloo Emergency Shelter, the entire JWC family embraces the surrounding community initiatives. They won “Employer of the Year” in 2017 & 2018 and were recognized 4th in Canada’s Top 10 cannabis employers at last months Lift award show. Word of mouth is viral which explains why over 700 people lined up to apply for employment opportunities at JWC last month.
Many new and exciting things are developing at JWC and growth is inevitable. Precise testing of their innovative technology over the past year ensures quality and care remain top priorities when scaled up. Currently the facility has been approved for further expansion and the recent loosening of retail and distribution regulations in Ontario, allow for the planning of a flagship retail store at the Manitou Drive location. This retail venture will offer farm gate value, meaning cannabis producers in Ontario will be allowed to retail their products directly to customers at a lower price point in one of their facilities. Other plans for 2020 include concentrated cannabis products like kief and rosin, and recently JWC announced an agreement to provide a minimum of 100 kilograms of cannabis biomass per month to CannaCure in Fort Erie. This cannabis biomass will be formulated into vaping oil for vaporizers.
Quality is not only important for the discerning cannabis connoisseur; it is paramount for cannabis patients who rely on consistent quality medicine for their health and wellbeing.
“Quality and consistency is especially important for medical patients that have compromised immune systems or specific medical concern,” says Chief Compliance Officer Laura Foster. “We want to make sure we’re providing the highest standard, and that comes with consistent quality.” “Quality is very important,” adds Woodworth. “I spend a lot of time in the back with the plants.”
Although JWC has been focused on offering medical cannabis to patients thus far, the new year will include recreational products distributed through retail locations across Canada.
“Its a real misconception that we’re only ‘allowed’ to sell to medical consumers” comments Foster. “Our goal was to focus on getting it right, then scale up.” For JWC, moving into the recreational market was and is part of the overarching plan.
There is a community pride that seems to happen among those of us who grew up in this area. If you know who Ethel, Jane, Morty or Phil are, and can show me on a map where Mount Trashmore is (probably because you know someone who almost died there as a kid scaling the steep inclines on a make-shift toboggan), you probably see JWC as hometown heroes and are cheering them on with me and many neighbours and friends. The Canadian cannabis industry is new with its challenges as it grows and develops. Despite these challenges, the industry is thriving and full of amazing people like the ones at JWC. I look forward to watching JWC continue to grow and give back to the community we love. I know I will be there when their flagship store opens its doors.