Aldergrove saw a surge in cannabis production with operations like Canopy Growth Corp opening up amid legalization, but local companies like Adastra Lab Holdings Ltd. are one of the few focusing solely on a different side of the market –cannabis concentrate production.
Distillate is a cannabis concentrate that is produced through an extraction process that can involve carbon dioxide, ethanol or hydrocarbon solvents – which is then commonly consumed using vaporizing devices or used in other cannabinoid isolates.
Andy Hale, co-founder and CEO of the company, said other hydrocarbon cannabis extraction products are an under-served and historically popular area of the market, which requires a highly scientific process and complex machinery to create.
“Newer cannabis customers are more comfortable with concentrate products because the dosing is easier to control,” Hale explained. “Lots of folks who are older are starting to go after concentrates, but it’s taking time for them to get used to. Those people maybe used to smoke years ago and haven’t done it since then and are now noticing that things have changed for the better.”
Adastra employees shares a 13,000 square foot lab facility with its licensed analytical testing laboratory Chemia Analytics in the Gloucester Industrial Park where they employee roughly 25 technicians, fillers/packagers, and scientists.
Adastra focuses on producing distillate, but will add shatter, a brittle amber-coloured concentrate that is particularly popular in the resin market, once it brings its hydrocarbon extraction system on-line later this year.
Hale said he came to the industry after numerous bouts with cancer led him to use cannabis products to help him sleep after chemotherapy.
The CEO noted that one of the biggest advantages is that the company’s cannabis biomass supply comes from Pure Sunfarms in Delta; a local business that produces quality cannabis.
Adastra does not do any growing.
Adastra’s founder said he feels that the cannabis grower market is saturated, explaining that opportunities in “underutilized markets” such as hydrocarbon concentrate products are far better to carve out a more profitable niche business.
With the installation of the new hydrocarbon system to expand their CO2 Supercritical and recently installed cryo-ethanol extraction lines, concentrate products such as wax, budder, and THCA Diamonds will be added to Adastra’s output by the end of the year.
The current CO2 process sees cannabis flowers ground down to a near powder, and baked inside vacuum ovens at 150 degrees Celsius – an action that activates cannabinoid compounds and removes excess water.
The process continues with high pressure CO2 extraction followed by wax removal and further refinement with a molecular distillation unit.
“This is not the grey market,” Hale assured. “We are highly regulated and comply with the highest standards of Good Production Practices and compliance testing.”
Vape cartridges are diligently filled by a hands-on teams that assemble the packaging for the Phyto Extractions brand among others.
Terpenes, natural botanical flavours, are formulated with the cannabis distillate produced by the extraction and refinement process. One of the most popular being blueberry – are used in some vape products produced by Adastra.
Once packaged, Adastra’s product is shipped off to their partner CannMart Labs outside Toronto who then ensure they are safely distributed to provincial cannabis commissions in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario or retailers in Manitoba or Saskatchewan.
Hale said Adastra has been working closely with the Township of Langley to ensure safety protocols and codes are up to standard, given the current use of the ethanol and planned use of other hydrocarbon solvents to create concentrate products.
“We are just working to permit and install a brand new purpose-built extraction booth with high volume ventilation and engineered monitoring and safety systems,” he said, a process that will allow them to add hydrocarbon concentrates to their product output.
COVID-19 slowed the installation commissioning of their CO2 systems in April but after virtual meetings they became operational. With their extraction booth permit application submitted early in September, the hydrocarbon extraction production line should be up and running in by late October.
Hale explained that analytics and testing for compliance with Health Canada regulations, measuring potency content, and scanning for contaminants, which cannabis plants can contain traces of during growth, will be carried out Chemia Analytics.
He believes they will be first cannabis company in the Lower Mainland to offer these tests in-house.
With potentially dangerous processing work often comes public concern but Hale said the work that is being done has ensured not only public safety, but the well being for employees who work with the extraction processes.
“We’ve had no criticism,” Hale assured. “We’ve gone to great pains to make everything safe, starting by being located in the industrial park. It’s the right place for us and we do a lot for odor controls so people standing outside will think ‘that’s a cannabis facility’?”
He also said resins are only just the beginning of what Adastra has in store; the company is additionally moving into the edibles and beverages market by developing a soluble cannabis powder project under a joint venture.
“It’s like a sugar package that people can pour and mix into their drink,” Hale explained.
October will see two years since the previously prohibited substance was legalized.
As far as how the cannabis market is going as a whole, Hale said the detractors have all but died off and people are understanding that it’s a good market.
“People took us seriously from the beginning and we have always believed in what were doing,” Hale said.
While Hale believes the Langley area is at the forefront of growing and production in Canada, it is still lacking in retail options.
”People are going to downtown Vancouver or White Rock to purchase their products. It’s a lost opportunity not to be doing retail here yet,” he said. “I know the Township is looking at applications right now and I think they can easily allow them to be in the right places away from schools etc.”
The Township of Langley (TOL) received a total of 20 commercial cannabis store applications, with almost half of those requests located in Aldergrove.
All applications, which were received before Aug. 31, will now be presented together, by area, at a future meeting.
Council is expected to start looking at submitted applications and grant permit approvals in the fall – allowing one retail cannabis shop per neighbourhood.
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