09/25/2013 06:56 EDT | Updated 11/25/2013 05:12 EST

Medical marijuana plant could be coming to Smiths Falls

A Canadian company is awaiting approval to bring medical marijuana production to Smiths Falls, Ont.

Smiths Falls Mayor Dennis Staples said he found out Wednesday the former Hershey’s plant, which has been vacant since 2008, is in the process of being sold from Icon International to Tweed Inc.

The company that bills itself as being “established to supply the growing demand for high-quality prescription marijuana” has to get Health Canada’s approval to start producing medical marijuana.

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Staples said the plant would be welcomed because it would bring 20 full-time jobs if and when it launches, eventually growing to over 100 full-time positions.

“It’s going to happen somewhere in Canada, our community of Smiths Falls — population 9,000 — have lost 1,700 jobs in the last five or six years,” he said.

“Our doors are open to try and attract new investment and more fundamentally, recreate and re-establish some of the jobs that have been lost here.”

Staples said it would be great to bring in more jobs but 100 is better than none with those recent losses, including 830 from the former Rideau Regional Centre and 500 jobs at the Hershey plant.

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He said Tweed would use 180,000 square feet of the 470,000 square foot plant, which he said Icon International was considering demolishing if it couldn’t find tenants.

“We’ve been shaking the trees and looking in the bushes for the last five or six years… to try and find a user, but it’s such a large physical plant,” he said.

“My sense is we’re probably going to see much more opportunity for more than one tenant in that plant.”

Staples said bringing in many small employers instead of one big one makes Smiths Falls and surrounding communities less vulnerable when one closes.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Canada since 2001, but Health Canada changed the way it’s produced and delivered in June of this year.

Growing marijuana for medical purposes used to be handled by individuals and the federal government, but now prescribed amounts can be purchased only from licensed growers sending marijuana by mail.

Approximately 30,000 Canadians were being prescribed medical marijuana at the time of the June announcement, according to Health Canada.

Prairie Plant Systems and CanniMed of Saskatchewan are the first and only two authorized licensed producers of medical marijuana in Canada, as of this Monday.

Tweed would have about 150,000 square feet of production at full capacity, according to its website.

Its leadership team has many ties to various Liberal parties, with founder and CEO Chuck Rifici serving as the chief financial officer for the national Liberal party’s board of directors.

Vice-president Mark Zekulin is listed as a former advisor to former Ontario finance minister Dwight Duncan, while chief medical advisor Dr. John Gillis is the president of the Nova Scotia Liberal Party.

Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau has voiced his support for the legalization of marijuana.

Chairman Bruce Linton is also listed as a past president of the Carleton University Students Association.