‘We really didn’t do anything wrong’: How a Facebook post by one of Canada’s biggest cannabis companies nearly backfired

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It took five years for brothers-in-law Adam Miron and Sébastien St-Louis to launch Ottawa-based cannabis company, Hexo Corp. Titled Billion Dollar Start-Up, the following is an excerpt from their entrepreneurial journey.

The Facebook post was made with the best of intentions. But it nearly blew up in Adam’s (Miron, co-founder) face.

A few days earlier, Louis had announced it was time for their first harvest. Every plant burst with life; flowers were visibly covered in the tiny, terpene-rich hairs called trichomes. Louis and his eldest son had walked Seb (Sébastien St-Louis, co-founder) and Adam through, proudly pointing out the biggest and bounciest buds. The sativa plants were enormous. A staggering 14 feet tall, they had grown unfettered in the greenhouse next to their shorter, stouter indica cousins. Louis’s son, who had grown up on the farm and was then the company’s facility and security manager, posed for a photo among the plants, with their 20-gram buds. They dwarfed him by 2.5 metres.

Adam was excited. After everything they’d been through — all the money worries, near misses, and full-on calamities — this at least was visible, tangible progress. Their first harvest! Not only were they paddling with the tide but for once it seemed like they knew where they were going. Plus, the weather forecast for Thanksgiving was fabulous: sunny, a few clouds, and around 14°C.

There was just one issue. They weren’t ready. Not even close, largely because, in all their planning, they didn’t anticipate when the crop would be ready. Although Louis had spent years as a master grower renowned for cultivating thousands of exotic plants, he’d never had to oversee a harvest. What he grew had never needed picking. So when he decided it was time to start trimming the plants, it had to be done immediately, especially since some were beginning to look like they could develop mould. But even with the existing crew, plus Seb’s mother, Lise, they didn’t have nearly enough hands to do the job. Nor did they have enough equipment, much less the right equipment.

Adam went into overdrive, hitting every dry cleaner he could find to buy two thousand metal coat hangers, intended to be used as drying racks. Then, he called every possible person he knew who had a week off, a current and clear criminal record check, and a pair of scissors. Still, he needed more bodies, at least 10 more. A contact at Invest Ottawa offered to post something on its Facebook page, if Adam cared to draft it. Up it went and immediately the fur flew. A competitor start-up sent the ad to Health Canada. And Health Canada was not happy.

Adam Miron (left) and Sebastien St-Louis, (right) in B5 under construction. PHOTO BY HEXO CORP

“We really didn’t do anything wrong,” says Adam, “but they didn’t like it. One of the lines said, ‘Bring your own scissors.’ What Health Canada heard was ‘Hey, anyone come on by to what is supposed to be a secure licensed facility (which it very much was), and have a go at snipping some plants’ — like a pick-your-own strawberry farm. That was the first time we came up against the regulator like that.”

It was a near miss, but in the end, the harvest came in. The question was where would they dry it? As the crew worked around the clock to trim the buds, Seb and Louis talked over the problem. The underground vault was licensed to store marijuana, but it was in no way big enough to do the job. They had to think of something, and quickly. Seb looked up at the ceiling for inspiration. There was an idea, vaguely formed in his mind. No licensed space to dry in . . . but they did have a licensed space! “Louis!” he shouted, startling his partner. “We dry it right here, in the greenhouse! It’s big enough, we have the space. There’s nowhere else.”

Louis laughed and slapped Seb on the shoulder, then immediately began giving instructions. “Grab the truck,” he said quickly in French. “Head over to Russell — I’ll give you the address — we’ll need several rolls of gardening cloth. Take two guys with you. And hurry!”

Jumping into the cab of a beat-up blue Dodge truck with a noisy exhaust and propensity to gas whoever was in the cab, Seb set off down Chemin de la Quai to the Cumberland ferry for the two-hour round trip to the supply centre in rural Ontario. By the time he returned with a pounding carbon monoxide-induced headache and the rolls of fabric, Louis and his son were already building drying racks. Seb clambered up a ladder to start putting things in place just as Adam showed up with Meena and Aruna’s Rajan uncle.

“Hey, Seb!” Adam shouted up. Seb glanced down and continued his work. Two minutes. Three minutes of awkward silence passed. Adam half smiled at Rajan, who was visiting from India and was privately impressed at how hard everyone was working to get things done. Eventually Seb climbed down the ladder, exchanged a warm, brief greeting, and then was off again to work. There was no time to lose.

Meena and Aruna hadn’t been seeing much of their husbands, so Meena brought Iyla and one-month-old Nalina to the farm for a quick visit with Adam. (Meena had been shocked to learn she was pregnant in January, when Iyla was just 11 months old. Sharing the surprising news, Aruna had waggishly quipped, “Why are you surprised? We used to watch Teen Mom together. That’s what happens when you have unprotected sex.”)

The hard work was over. There was definitely a sense of accomplishment in the air, together with the distinctive skunky odour of cannabis. As the crew packed up, amid jokes and laughter, someone asked, “I wonder who our first clients will be? Who’s going to admit to the government that they smoke weed?”

Billion Dollar Start-Up by Adam Miron, Sébastien St-Louis and Julie Beun will hit the stands on February 2, 2021, and is being published by Toronto-based ECW Press. Available wherever books are sold.

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