High-Tech Innovation Meets Canadian Craft
Agripharm has been at the forefront of the Canadian cannabis industry since the very beginning, when co-founders Peter and Naomi Miller developed the country’s first purpose-built cultivation facility in 2013. Six years later, partnerships with SLANG Worldwide, Canopy Growth, and Green House Seed Co. give Agripharm the opportunity to offer some of the highest profile products in cannabis.
Agripharm is the exclusive Canadian producer of some of the best-selling and most awarded brands in the global cannabis industry, including Strain Hunters, Green House Seed Co., and O.pen, the second-highest selling brand in the history of legal cannabis.
“We’re incredibly proud that the team has punched above their weight amidst a landscape of extremely well-capitalized groups, and I think that agility and that ability to adapt bodes well for what is a very optimistic, but certainly dynamic and uncertain future for everybody in the industry,” says Peter, who is also Chief Executive Officer.
Agripharm also uses its specialized expertise to manufacture products for other companies, offering toll-processing services, in which customers provide their own plant material, and white label and private label products.
“We strive to be the go-to processor for licensed producers who want to hit the ground running with the next generation of form factors that are becoming legal this fall,” explains Naomi, also Interim Chief Operating Officer. “We were the first licensed CO2 extraction lab in Canadian cannabis, so we have a highly experienced lab, and we’ve stayed ahead of the curve by continually investing in our processing capabilities.”
The company offers a range of processing services to licensed producers that want to expand their portfolio of consumer products, particularly into the extract category. Cannabis extracts can be produced in a variety of ways at Agripharm, including through supercritical and subcritical carbon dioxide (CO2), ethanol and solventless extraction. Extracts subsequently can be refined through winterization – a cooling process that causes unwanted waxes and fats to become cloudy so they can be filtered and removed – and distillation to create a purified extract that can then be formulated with a carrier oil or cannabis terpenes, depending on the customer’s specifications. The resulting formulation can be used to fill vaporizer cartridges or tincture bottles, or it can be used as a base for topical or edible products.
In 2012, when Colorado passed a ballot initiative to legalize adult-use cannabis, the co-founders of Agripharm were not at all involved with the cannabis industry as they watched the changing laws progress in the United States. After a bit of research, they came to discover that Canada had a program for self-cultivation and medical cultivation and that the government was looking to replace that with a licensed producer model.
Having early awareness of this was advantageous. As potential candidates to become licensed producers, they began performing feasibility studies, and by 2013 when the license application window opened, they incorporated Agripharm.
Agripharm has a hands-on approach to cultivation because of its roots in agriculture. “Creemore is a town where my family has been farming since the Irish potato famine, in the 1850s. And so with cannabis as just another agricultural product in our minds, we embarked on the journey of becoming licensed producers,” explains Peter.
Because of his extensive family history in the Creemore area, Peter’s goal for Agripharm was for it to provide value to its community in return for the years of support. The company hires locally and used local vendors whenever possible.
Approximately one year later, the company consolidated with Mettrum Ltd., another licensed producer based in Ontario. Agripharm was being built for scalability, and the two groups formed an entity called Mettrum Health Corporation, with Agriparm representing the majority of the cannabis production that fed the business and its customers.
Canopy Growth Corporation acquired Mettrum Health Corporation in 2016. Soon after, Agripharm was divested from the group, and Naomi and Peter became equity owners once again, along with SLANG, Canopy Growth, and Green House Seed Co.
With the support of these partners, Agripharm has been equipped to combine its craft manufacturing approach with top quality technology and innovation. Its connection to SLANG means it can use the proprietary extraction methods of Organa Labs, the longest operating licensed manufacturer of cannabis-derived products in North America.
One of SLANG’s new product lines carried by Agripharm is the Firefly Mini, an elegant all-in-one vaporizer. It is geared towards consumers who value design as much as experience in the vape pen category.
There are currently 60 employees at Agripharm, and several of its managers have been with the company from the start, making them veterans of the cannabis industry at this point. “We try to maintain a sense of excitement and also gratitude for the opportunity to be part of this historic post-prohibition period in Canadian cannabis,” says Naomi.
Since its inception, Agripharm has been extremely resourceful and focused on education. As people with no experience in cannabis before 2013, the owners immediately sought out experts in Colorado. In fact, the new company hosted two of the first people who travelled to Canada with NAFTA management consulting visas specifically to teach Canadians about cannabis growth.
Through its unceasing research and development, it has become an expert in advanced cannabis manufacturing. “As the market shifted and opportunities such as outdoor cultivation came forward, we looked beyond just cannabis again to traditional and high-tech agriculture and have brought practices from high-intensive agricultural products to cannabis. By looking at things outside the box, we’ve been able to do a lot with a little over the past six years,” says Peter.
Legal cannabis is a step forward from a social and cultural standpoint. It is exciting to see the stigma reduced, and the regulations become more practical. Canadians no longer have to worry about damaging and permanently life-altering possession charges that prevent them from finding quality work and limiting their prospects in life.
Cannabis has created an abundance of business prospects across the county. Many of the businesses that joined the industry are contributing to the current chaos, but over time, these will fall by the wayside, and the situation will subsequently improve, so adaptability and stamina are essential characteristics of any company in this market.
It will be interesting to continue watching the cannabis industry mature in Canada as the transition from stigma to legalization happens. Now that it is open, best practices are being shared, efficiency is increasing, product quality is improving, and diverse products are emerging. Cannabis growing and manufacturing operations have improved significantly since legalization, and the industry is continuing to advance rapidly.
Agripharm will continue to focus on its expertise as a manufacturer of consumer cannabis goods, and its scientific approach pairs nicely with its hands-on approach to the cultivation of cannabis.
Looking forward, the company strives to be Canada’s leading producer of the best branded products in the global cannabis industry. “Our mission is to be Canada’s manufacturer of the top-performing branded products in cannabis,” says Naomi.