German expansion of cannabis company NS hampered by COVID-19 restrictions, worries

The expansion of a Nova Scotia cannabis business into the German market has been temporarily hampered by pandemic travel restrictions and concerns about the Omicron variant.

Aqualitas Inc. was forced to lay off seven workers last month because German federal inspectors were unable to visit its cultivation facility in Brooklyn on the south shore of Nova Scotia.

The licensed grower has become well known for growing cannabis organically in tanks filled with koi fish – a process known as aquaponics – in part of the former Bowater paper mill.

Founder Myrna Gillis said the company harvests thousands of kilograms per year, about 30 percent of which is sold in Nova Scotia.

But Gillis said a contract to sell cannabis to Cannamedical Pharma GmbH, a Cologne-based medical cannabis wholesaler, could more than double production, with a goal of selling an additional 5,000 kilograms per year.

These koi fish provide nutrients to certain cannabis plants grown at Aqualitas. (Paul Palmer / CBC)

“We will have to grow to meet the full contractual obligation, and we certainly intend to do so if the numbers warrant,” said Gillis.

“We have sufficient capacity to handle this contract, which we expect to be the initial numbers, probably between 1,000 and 1,500 kilograms to begin with.”

Gillis said he hired 13 more people to cover the increase, but without an inspection of the site by German officials, exports did not take place.

The initial delay was caused by travel restrictions in Canada requiring a quarantine in a hotel in Toronto, followed by mandatory isolation for two weeks in Nova Scotia.

But even with relaxed international travel restrictions, concerns about Omicron are delaying the inspection trip a second time.

Gillis said he hoped German authorities would be able to conduct the site inspection in June. The approval process would take less than a month after the inspection.

Aqualitas has previously sold medical cannabis within the European Union and has a separate ongoing demand to sell products in the United States, according to Gillis.

Gillis said Aqualitas currently employs 84 people between its head office in Bedford and its facilities in the Municipality of the Region of Queens.

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James R. Rhodes