LETHBRIDGE -- Calgary-based 51st Parallel has announced a joint venture with a U.S. company to open Canada’s first industrial-scale extraction and purification toll-processor in Lethbridge.

The plant will focus on extracting hemp-based cannabinoids.

The company began exploring opportunities in the Lethbridge area several years ago, and in early in 2018 started construction on a greenhouse complex with 12 growing rooms for cannabis production and an office facility.

But 51st Parallel CEO Jay Kujath said a lot has changed in the Canadian cannabis industry, and so has the company's perspective on where opportunity lies in the rapidly evolving industry.

"We saw there was a significant number of acres of hemp being grown in the area already and there is planned to be even more throughout the coming years," Kujath said.

The Lethbridge extraction facility, to be known as Thar Exports Alberta, is a joint venture between 51st Parallel Inc. and Thar Process Inc., an American company that currently operates three industrial-scale extraction facilities in the U.S.

"Canada is poised to become a market leader in the global supply of hemp-derived cannabinoids and we are confident we can position Thar Extracts Alberta as the leading processor in the Canadian market," Thar said in a news release.

Kujath said the target is to have the plant operating by the fall of 2020, in time to process next year's hemp crop. 

"With the available land in southern Alberta, and with so much of it being irrigated, added in with the amount of sun and experience with the farmers, we feel it's an ideal place (not just) to process hemp, but also to grow hemp."

Until now, the focus has been on growing industrial hemp, but Kujath said the Lethbridge facility will be geared toward using all parts of the hemp plant, including the extraction of CBD, CBN, CBG and a number of additional cannabinoids. 

Kujath said the material will be produced and refined for sale at the bulk level, to be used as an ingredient in a variety of medicinal, recreational and wellness products.

Economic Development Lethbridge CEO Trevor Lewington welcomed the announcement. 

"When you look at the (recent) announcement in Medicine Hat where Aurora (Cannabis) — that's more on the recreational cannabis side, is slowing down construction, (while) the value-added processes like what 51st Parallel is working on are accelerating.

"That’s where we want to be," he said.

Kujath said Thar Exports Alberta will provide 50 jobs and represents an additional $30-million investment in Lethbridge.