In Search of Affordable Cannabis Medicine

Anyone involved in the cannabis industry over the past few years has likely heard a story like this. A farmer finds that their cannabis crop is moldy, and thinking more of the commodity than the medicine, they decide to try to salvage the harvest by sending the plants to an extractor to make concentrates and extracts. These products could end up being purchased by consumers, unaware of the previous contamination. Microorganisms like mold also can release mycotoxins, and it is possible that these mycotoxins could be concentrated in the supposedly remediated product.

The concept of using potentially toxic starting feed stock for a product displaying a medicinal label is disturbing to say the least. Most people would not likely eat food prepared from moldy starting ingredients just because the heat used to cook the food should kill microorganisms. Why would anyone accept the reality that infested cannabis flowers are being used for the generation of curative concentrates?

Cannabis farms faced with this bleak quandary are trying to extract all they can from their harvest, tainted or not. Discarding an entire harvest may not be financially feasible. Thus, a grower’s hand may be forced, and a less than desirable compromise is made. So, the cause of using tainted flower stems from the simple cost of doing business. What if a cannabis farm could produce high-quality, healthy cannabis plants, at a much cheaper overhead? Sound too good to be true? Read on.

GrowLife, Inc. has been trying to help manifest what sounds like fantasy for the last seven years…growing healthier and cheaper cannabis. They have recognized, like so many other forward-thinking entities, that using thriving cannabis flowers for the manufacture of concentrates and extracts is paramount to calling those products medicine. They have also recognized that cannabis consumers deserve affordably priced medicinal products, unlike what some nascent markets are suggesting. Marco Heygi, CEO of GrowLife has a firm grasp on just how to go about lessening financial burdens on the consumer and grower, while concurrently increasing the farmer’s credibility.

Currently, GrowLife offers over 15,000 products providing them with a unique combination of hardware and ancillary goods. Or as Marco said, “We are the picks and shovels of the green rush.” While they try to provide many of their products at the lowest cost, GrowLife wanted to do more to help growers reduce their expenditures.

Thus, they formed GrowLife Innovations to investigate how they could lower the costs associated with cannabis cultivation for their largest clients. “The wholesale price of cannabis is about $10 per gram,” Marco explained.“It typically costs farmers $2-3 per gram to grow that cannabis. As the wholesale price of cannabis dropped to about $2 per gram, the costs were still around $1.50 to $2 per gram, meaning that some farmers weren’t making any money.”

So, GrowLife Innovations studied what steps were required to lower production and operation costs to both permit a low consumer price and a profit margin for the grower. “Lots of people are growing cannabis indoors fairly expensively. We wanted to lower cultivation costs so the grower can focus on their quality”, Marco said.

The solution, they felt was in the design of their 8 x 8 x 8 ft (512 ft3) grow rooms. Everything in these rooms is controlled, including electricity and air-conditioning, and overall, the rooms require a minimal use of labor. “On a standard 64 square foot tabletop, perhaps 5 to 15 plants can be grown. Seventy plants can be grown vertically in one of our cubes, reducing the cost of growing the plants to $0.35 to $0.50 per gram. Unless growers can get the price down sufficiently, they can’t do business,” Marco discussed.

Two of the three parameters GrowLife evaluated in the first phase of their research have been completed. They’ve determined that they can get the quantity of the harvest up, and the cost of growing the plants down. The next step for them to evaluate is the quality of the crop. The endgame, however, is to empower cannabis farmers to grow the highest quality plants at the lowest cost possible. “When considering the wholesale costs of growing, 40% comes from the electricity, 40% from the labor, and 20% from necessary supplies and equipment,” Marco advised.

With one phase on its way to finality, phase two can begin. While use of the vertical grow cubes has resulted in cost reductions to $0.35 to $0.50 per gram, GrowLife wants to get these costs even lower, targeting $0.10 per gram. To do so, GrowLife has again turned to the three dominant factors: quantity, cost, and quality. “We’ve been looking at set-up costs for a grow-room. Traditionally, this cost can be $1200 per square foot. We can get that down to $750 through operational modifications, like comparing LED versus ceramic lighting,” Marco explained. LED lighting is cheaper while having the added benefit of running at cooler temperatures. In contrast, ceramic lighting gets hotter, requiring a higher output from the AC to cool the room. GrowLife also employs passive thermal units that don’t use electricity to produce heat.

Another factor to optimize is the labor cost, or rather, each farmer’s achievable output. For example, if 13 farmers can typically produce 100 plants, and the GrowLife rooms enable 500 plants, you’ve successfully increased your yield with the same staff. Therefore, you don’t need to make reductions in your staffing to trim costs, or add labor to increase yields.

GrowLife also ensures that plants get adequate water through the use of misting, which simultaneously reduces the grower’s environmental footprint through water-use reductions, and lowers production costs; this process can get cannabis farmers to below 5% of the water required for outdoor growing. “The farmer doesn’t need to do anything with our water management strategies,” Marco added. “Sustainability is a personal vision of mine.”

In 2014, Marco found himself sitting with distinguished master growers. A common thread in the conversation was the tragic fact that people were introducing toxins into the plant at the grow, which concomitantly caused issues with the soil. These poisoned plants were then being given to cancer patients and children, and being touted as medicine.

Out of these disappointing conversations came GrowLife Eco. “We wanted to endorse products that represent our sustainability objectives, while also keeping costs down, such that growers will want to utilize these products,” Marco discussed. Like many of the “greener” solutions across all industries, some of these products can be twice the cost of their traditional counterparts, preventing their communal use.

The GrowLife cubes also were designed to reduce potentially deleterious substances. The cubes provide a modular solution that prevents entire crops from being squandered should they get contaminated with something requiring their destruction. If a 20 x 20 x 20 ft space comprises the grow, that means that eight GrowLife cubes can be stacked vertically to enable 560 plants to be grown. If one cube exhibits contamination, other portions of the crop can be essentially sequestered from the contaminated plants.

GrowLife offers three commercial paths for purchasing their products. Online sales are possible in all 50 US states, and the company has a facility based in Calgary, Alberta in Canada. They also offer a consulting sales force that travels to the customers whether re-designing an existing space or building out a new grow house. As part of that consultation, GrowLife employs master growers to help guide new farms on the path to growing healthy and abundant cannabis plants.

More people are looking to cannabis plants and products to help them achieve a better quality of life. In some states, the cost of these products is low, thereby permitting larger amounts of people to truly take their health into their own hands. In others, cost may preclude potential patients from reaping the benefits that cannabis can provide, whether preventatively or proximately. GrowLife’s mission is to help reduce these expenditures across the cannabis ecosystem, such that growers and manufacturers can harvest the rewards of helping people heal more cost-effectively, while still turning the necessary profit to prosper.

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About the author

Jason S. Lupoi, Ph.D.

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