Tilray Closes Vancouver Island Facilities

Stephen Andrews
22 Mar 2022

Canadian cannabis giant Tilray pulls out of the city where it first started operations eight years ago. Move affects roughly 170 jobs as flagship property at Nanaimo finds a conditional buyer. The Vancouver Island facilities were listed for more than $18 million. The company announced it was closing operations in Nanaimo half a year ago following its merger with Aphria.

Tilray entered history as the first legal medical cannabis operator in Canada after opening its facilities at Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, in the spring of 2014. It happened before the country's legislators went on to craft marijuana laws and regulations. 

Tilray's decision to sell land and leave Nanaimo has been described as "the end of an era" and "a loss for the city." 

The Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce's president said the cannabis operator was a major contributor to the local economy, pouring in $25 million to city budget in the first year of operation alone.

"There was nothing like it in Canada," Kim Smythe said. "We were the first. It was quite a coup at the time." 

"We have a real shortage of industrial and light industrial land in Nanaimo in the area so this would've been a pretty attractive spot for someone else to move into," Smythe told CHEK News. 

Tilray continues its operations elsewhere in Canada, including a plant in Duncan, B.C., called Broken Coast. The company is also present in the U.S., Europe, Australia and Latina America. 

"Tilray is making changes to optimize operational efficiencies," the company said in a statement last September. "Tilray will concentrate its local B.C. cultivation in the Broken Coast facility, and its international production and manufacturing in Portugal and Germany."

Tilray completed a merger with Ontario giant Aphria in 2021 and now has combined revenues of approximately $685 million. A sum that makes the company one of the largest cannabis enterprises in the world, if not the largest. 

At its peak, Tilray's Nanaimo operations employed 300 people and contributed tens of millions to the local economy. Withdrawing from its birth nest is seen as a blow for locals who are now left jobless. 

However, this won't be the first case where jobs are lost due to mergers or closures across the country. Canada currently appears to experience a restructuring or "correction" of its cannabis sector. Legalization has helped popularize cannabis, both as medicine and as a recreational drug. However, it has also led to growing pains in the industry as big agro has grown disproportionally and as regulators have sped up license issuing to a point where it's increasingly harder for a business to keep up with competition. 

Still, for the hundreds of jobs recently lost, it's an opportunity for small craft growers to jump in and fill in the gaps. Hopefully, any lost job is replaced as the country strives to establish a more efficient industry and as it emerges with fresh lessons learned from its first four years of legalization.

Stephen Andrews