WAREHAM - Expectations of international marijuana powerhouse Organa Brands setting up shop at Wareham’s historic Tremont Nail Factory property have been abandoned.
Organa, which inked a $2.5 million deal with the town to build a processing business for marijuana products here in a metal “space” building - a non-historic building in the complex off Route 28 - largely put the onus on its failure on a “complete lack of communication” with the state marijuana products regulatory agency, the Cannabis Control Commission.
“We are in a one-sided conversation here,” said Chris Driessen, president of Organa Brands, which is now part of an international marijuana conglomerate, Canadian-based Slang Worldwide, which is traded on the stock market there. Driessen is also president of Slang’s U.S. operations. “And other than a ‘request for more information’ seven months after our initial foray into Wareham in 2018, we have not heard if we are moving forward or backward, or any communication at all,” he said.
The Organa Brands president added he held out hope that the CCC would respond within a year of the “request for more information” response. “We responded right away to that, and I know there are bumps and hiccups ... we expected within a year or so we would hear something, but still, we have heard nothing.”
The company’s development at the historic site required rezoning, or a “zoning overlay,” to allow the building to be used for processing again. Town meeting voters agreed to this in the fall of 2018.
Organa was planning to create at least 25 jobs to get the operation started - at $68,000 a year, with full benefits, according to the company.
Noting that Organa has been spending about $20,000 a month on refurbishing the building, “at this point we are into hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Driessen said. But since there is still no start date in site for the factory as a fully licensed business, Driessen said he had to abandon plans to open in Wareham.
“I have a responsibility to shareholders, to employees ... we have to be financially prudent and this is a huge unknown,” he said.
The company folded into Slang in 2018, along with Netherlands-based Green House Seed Company. The new resulting company has operations on five continents and in the U.S., in 12 states. “I can’t keep dumping money into a business we cannot open.”
Driessen said he hoped that things would turn around and kept improving the site - with a new roof, mold remediation and renovations - until it became “pretty clear we weren’t getting anywhere in the process with the CCC.”
“It saddens me to say this,” he said. “We wanted to be part of a renaissance for Wareham, for growing an industry in Southeastern Massachusetts, and we are still hopeful to someday enter the Massachusetts market, but the time is not right now, so, sadly, not at this site.”
While Wareham may not be getting the processing facility that Organa planned for the Tremont site, “it is getting a radically improved asset (in the space building), which hopefully can be repurposed now,” said the Organa president. “We hope that is some consolation for the town. Obviously, we wish we were just opening up the doors of a business instead.”
Wareham town leaders were “wonderful to work with,” Driessen said. “This is not their fault at all, they have been amazing. This is purely about not being able to get anywhere with the CCC.”
The deal with the town had included $184,000 per year, plus up to $300,000 annually as the town’s share of product sales for a five-year stretch.
The site had been intended for light manufacturing where Organa would process raw plants into cannabis oil for various products for distribution to retailers.