When Leesboro Central Public School closed in 2009, the residents of Thorndale couldn’t have predicted what the building would become. A local man initially purchased the school, but it remained vacant for many years, attracting robbery and vandalism.

It wasn’t until a former student came along, having the building rezoned in 2018 and transforming it into a cannabis growing operation. Rob O’Neill is the owner and CEO of JC Green — a cannabis cultivator with a deeply rooted family history in the Thorndale community and its agriculture industry.

The O’Neill family has experienced tragedies and setbacks in the past, but these have been Rob’s inspirations for JC Green and its impact on the cannabis industry’s future. Rob developed a plan and surrounded himself with the right people to fulfill his vision — one that would also align with his late brother’s vision for a cannabis cultivator.

“We have already received an amazing amount of support from our community,” Leslie Bean, Chief Compliance Officer of JC Green, said. “As we continue to grow, we are excited to share our unique story and our high-quality products with the rest of Canada.”

A majority of the building is currently functional for JC Green’s growing operation, with a part of it used for offices and other administrative rooms. Among this includes the former office of Leesboro Central Public School’s principal, now serving as Rob’s office at the facility.

Another part of the building operates to cultivate its product, while the school’s gymnasium is now a shipping and receiving area. There is also a section of the building under construction, which is scheduled for completion in the fall of 2020 and will play a role in JC Green’s next phase.

JC Green underwent significant growth and development between late 2019 and early 2020, including the acquisition of Karthia Medical Group Inc. Through this clinic, JC Green will be the preferred licensed producer for Karthia’s medical patients.

In addition to this new subsidiary, JC Green announced an extraction agreement with Motif Labs toward the end of 2019. This partnership will allow JC Green to convert a portion of its cannabis harvest into distillate oil by using Motif’s extraction facility.

The most noteworthy development of all occurred on March 25, 2020, which was JC Green’s licensing expansion with Health Canada. Previously, JC Green was only allowed to cultivate and sell its product to other licensed producers. The company is now permitted to sell to medical patients and provincially regulated stores directly.

However, JC Green hit in a bump in the road during the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. It was an exciting and promising time for the company with its recent acquisition, partnership and sales license, but wholesaling its product was quickly paused due to this unpredictability.

Like any business at the time, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a fair amount of uncertainty for JC Green. The cannabis industry felt this impact as a whole, including Ontario’s provincial government flip-flopping this sector between the essential and non-essential services list.

Despite the abrupt closure of most businesses to implement physical distancing, JC Green couldn’t suddenly stop its growing operation altogether. Unfortunately, the company had to lay off a majority of its staff temporarily.

JC Green was also implementing staggered shifts and bringing in fewer employees to keep gatherings to a minimum, allowing workers to supplement their Employment Insurance (EI) payments. Given its high standards for cleanliness before the pandemic, increased sanitation was a smooth transition.

As businesses started to reopen in phases through the Ontario provincial government’s plan, JC Green was able to bring back employees to work in the facility. While adhering to physical distancing and smaller gatherings, JC Green was thrilled to have its employees return to work.

The location of this cannabis cultivation facility is in the right community for all the right reasons — it’s why residents have responded positively. Rather than a large corporation using the building, Rob is a former student of the school and has a deep connection to Thorndale.

Similar to the help JC Green received from CFDC Middlesex through loaning and consulting, the company is passionate about providing support for its local community. As opposed to being a small aspect of its practices, community-based initiatives are a part of JC Green’s philosophy.

Some of these initiatives include bi-monthly fundraisers for local charities, most recently a staff food drive to help a local indigenous shelter. JC Green’s community-based practices are also prevalent in its hiring practices, as the company hires locally from Thorndale and Thamesford.

“As a rapidly expanding start-up company, JC Green is very grateful for the local support from CFDC Middlesex for helping to accelerate our growth. Having them believe in us and our vision gives us even more confidence moving forward,” Rob said.

As for JC Green’s short-term plans, it has been looking into increasing its outdoor growing operation, yielding hundreds of more kilograms in product each year. To complement its medical brand, JC Green is also in the process of launching a recreational cannabis brand.

With businesses slowly resuming and recovering from COVID-19, JC Green can fully maximize the benefits of its cultivation and sales licensing with Health Canada. Through this expanded license, do not be surprised if JC Green becomes a household name in the cannabis industry.