One businessperson is feeling frustrated by residents in Grimsby who have been fighting his hemp processing facility every step of the way.

Akeem Gardner, founder and CEO of Canurta Inc., said that misinformation has been clouding the public conversation about his new facility, slated for 29 Kemp Rd. E. 

In late 2022, Gardner began working with town staff to get his facility off the ground.

At staff’s suggestion, he said he applied for a minor variance to the zoning bylaw to allow for his site to be zoned specialty crop.

The minor variance application went to Committee of Adjustment, where it was shot down, but a recent ruling by the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) granted Gardner his appeal.

Canurta is a startup company with 14 employees.

As of now, the company operates out of Mississauga. The Grimsby facility will allow Canurta to process industrial hemp, alfalfa and other crops to extract polyphenols, which could create various health products, such as hemp seed powder and hemp extract.

The site will be growing hemp, but an important distinction, Gardner said, is that it’s a different sort of plant than marijuana.

“We’re growing industrial hemp, which is a fibre crop that doesn’t have as much of the flower,” he said. “It doesn’t grow up to bring pods and it’s not growing inside. Ours is an outdoor crop. Ours grows tall and is much more woody. It’s a completely different crop.”

The biggest concern about the new facility has been the potential smell.

At a planning committee meeting on Sept. 6, Gordon Van Egmond, a resident who lives near where the facility will be located, said he received correspondence from hemp growers that the facilities do smell.

“They state very clearly it is identical to marijuana … and it smells bad when it flowers,” he said.

Donna Latchford, another area resident who also spoke against the facility at the OLT, claims the OLT made “errors” in their decision by treating cannabis and hemp as different plants.

However, Gardner said, the hemp crop doesn’t contain the same levels of THC as a marijuana plant and therefore won’t smell.

According to Gardner, industrial hemp regulations came into effect in 1998, so, as he puts it, for more than 20 years, hemp producers have been able to operate just fine.

It was 2018 when the Cannabis Act came into effect, and Gardner said residents are struggling to differentiate between the two.

“Even when the town of Grimsby adopted their bylaws, they were thinking about cannabis because that’s what recently came into force,” he said. “No one was (complaining about) industrial hemp. So now (residents) are trying to do what they’re accusing me of and finding any workaround.”

At the same planning meeting, member Ian Potter had questions around the OLT’s stipulation that “no processing of hemp leaves or growing or processing of cannabis or cannabis-related products shall be permitted on the subject property.”

Potter said it sounded conflicting with what the site was supposed to be used for.

But Gardner said it’s not conflicting, and there is nuance to what Canurta does.

Through the harvest process, he said they can access the parts of the plant they need, without touching the leaves.

One of the other complaints from residents is that they haven’t seen a business plan. Gardner said originally, he was open to sharing information with area residents. But since their pushback, he’s stopped.

“The people who need to understand my business plan are the town of Grimsby and the planning department, and I’m going through the proper channels to give them what they need to allow this,” he said. “Our job here is not to appease the neighbours; it is to appease the town and the professionals who are doing their job to either allow this building to go forward or not … why would I give it to (the neighbours) if none of them have ever picked up the phone to ask me what I’m doing?”

Ultimately, Gardner said he understands the residents’ frustration, as not all growers have been on the up and up.

He just wishes they’d give him a chance.

“We’re here to do something meaningful, something that helps people, something that’s science based, but also agriculturally based and can have a variety of different benefits for a variety of different stakeholders, including the environment,” he said.

By Abby Green, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Sep 13, 2023 at 12:00

This item reprinted with permission from   Grimsby Lincoln News   Grimsby, Ontario
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