Dr. Neilank K. Jha, CEO of Green Relief is emphatic when he says “We have refocused the company to be purely medical”. This seems almost counter-intuitive in today’s environment when the rest of Canada seems to be focused exclusively on the ubiquitous recreational cannabis market. But then again Green Relief has never fit the mold of a traditional cannabis operation. From utilizing aquaponics as their primary grow method, to recruiting a CEO who not only is a neuro and spine surgeon but also holds an MBA from Ivey, and an MSc from the London School of Economics, Green Relief is looking to become the leading green, sustainable and medically focused cannabis company in Canada.
“This is the agriculture that will someday feed the world.”S. Leblanc
Green Relief’s Parent company, which does the cultivation and houses the aquaponics facility, is located just north of Hamilton. During our visit there aquaponics was explained by Steve LeBlanc, “This entire system is based on converting fish waste into nutrients for the plants.” Our crash course in aquaponics becomes highly scientific and technical, but in simple terms, the plants are set-up on a flood and drain table system. The water from the fish tanks slowly makes it way through the drain table, and is eventually routed back to the fish tanks. Along the way, the plants absorb the nutrients from the water which is largely created by fish waste. The water is effectively cleaned by the plant roots and is pumped back into the fish tanks. “Once this thing is balanced you feed the fish three times a day and basically we walk away from the system. It uses much less water of any conventional grow known to man. This is the agriculture that will someday feed the world. Southern US, Africa, Australia – everyone is running out of water. This will feed the world someday.” We feed our fish for pennies a day. We use an organic trout food, that’s dirt cheap and allows us to grow our fish 0.5g to 900g and then off they go.”
When asked if this would then be considered an organic grow operation LeBlanc answers, ” I consider it better than organic. Listen, this is grown in an ecosystem that purges itself. It’s as organic as it can get. There is no certification for aquaponics for organics in Canada. We are working on that certification currently, and we will get it because it is organic, but the bottom line is, we dub it better than organics because it is growing in its own ecosystem.
” I consider it better than organic” – S. Leblanc
And speaking of certification, Green Relief has invested heavily in extraction equipment in the hope of attaining GMP certification status. As LeBlanc explains ” This was a very expensive unit that came in from overseas. The reason we bought it was we wanted it computerized. We wanted be able to get the GMP certification.” (The acronym stands for Good Manufacturing Practice and to be GMP certified means that the manufacturer has demonstrated a strong regulatory commitment and compliance to international GMP standards.) “GMP is incredibly important to us because if we are selling overseas, or to a pharmaceutical company, we need to be GMP. I could have purchased a machine for a quarter of the cost, but you can’t get the GMP because you are turning valves and you can’t have a repeatable process”.
In addition to aspiring to attain GMP certification, LeBlanc discusses the medical data that Green Relief is compiling through its clinical trials. “We want to make specific medicines for specific ailments. We are constantly trying to understand which products are working best for what ailments. We have about 2/12 years of data, but it is really only in the last 5-6 months, that we are getting the real feel from the data. We have a pretty good general idea of what works for what ailment and gives us enough information to actually be helping people. We also possess data from two clinical trials of a cannabis based concussion nutraceutical. We have one more double blind placebo study to do and at that point, we will be able to speak to the efficacy of a cannabis based concussion nutraceutical.”
“We have invested a lot at Green Relief, and are a medical focused company” – Dr Neilank K. Jha, CEO Green Relief
Much of this data that LeBlanc refers to came through trial and data compilation that Dr. Jha was conducting. In 2016, Dr Neilank K. Jha founded Bodhi – a pharmaceutical R&D company with a focus on Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and PTSD, which entered into a joint venture with Green Relief. During the course of his partnership with Green Relief, Dr. Jha became recognized for his leadership and business acumen, leading him to take on his most recent challenge, CEO of Green Relief in 2019. Dr. Jha describes his vision for the company, “We have invested a lot at Green Relief, and are a medical focused company on the quality of our product. We are building value for our current shareholders privately.
We have the Green Relief parent company which does the cultivation where we have our Aquaponics Facility. We just signed a lease and opened the door to start construction of a retrofit of 175,00 square foot facility to increase our production. There, we are going to be offering different soil based products to increase the biomass because we are oversold with the aquaponic product, Sunrise Oil all the time.
However, the quality of Sunrise Oil is really based on our Green Relief Labs. We have the parent company and we have 3 subsidiaries :
1. Green Relief Genetics – where we are starting to do experimental studies on what are the best genetic seeds and how do you increase the yield from each seed. So we have employees with PhDs all over Green Relief that are doing studies on whether to use UVA or UVB for maximum plant absorption. What type of lights do you use? What CO2 levels? What nutrients? And then determining that with what type of genetics should we use. Aeroponics, Aquaponics, or should we use soil? It’s all about how to maximize yield. This will be the type of service that Green Relief Genetics will provide to Green Relief itself, but also to other providers as well. It is a subsidiary that will be profitable in and of itself.
2. We have Green Relief Labs as we have discussed
3. Green Relief Innovations where we conduct clinical trials and we are already quite advanced with traumatic brain injuries, and looking at PTSD, anxiety and depression as indications. “
“How do you make the cupcakes and the cola without the sugar? The same way as you make the medicine without the cannabis?Dr. Jha
Dr. Jha continues, “People believe in the purely medical vision of what we are doing here. Cultivation to me is sugar. Eventually how do you make the cupcakes and the cola without the sugar? The same way you make the medicine without the cannabis. Our core business is actually not even cultivation. Our core business is genetics, labs, innovations, and building intellectual property for medical conditions. I anticipate that based on the way we are doing things, we will have a lot of scientists joining us. We have doctors now from the professional sports leagues that are joining Green Relief Innovations as medical advisors. We have brought on a chair of the medical advisory who is a very prominent individual in the major sports leagues. We have professional athletes that are calling on a regular basis wanting to join as advisors. I think what you are going to notice as we move forward is that the quality of our research, the clinical trials, and the quality of the product will get better and better. Genetics produces the strains that we require, the laboratory purifies the product to that grade, and innovations goes and runs the clinical trials and tests the IP. I think our distribution to patients is going to increase tremendously just based on our model of focusing on the medical side and the amount of investment that we are making in that regard.”
Dr. Jha has not only changed the vision of the company, but is changing the work culture for the employees. Among other initiatives Dr. Jha has introduced gender pay equity, and a stock option plan. He recognizes that recruiting good employees is challenging enough, but retaining them requires investing in the human assets as well. When asked about whether there would be an IPO anytime in the near future, Dr. Jha’s response is, “It is based upon market conditions. For example, not saying Green Relief, but in general, let’s say that the US election looks like it is going to move in a certain direction – we know that that could influence an IPO. The board will have to look at several parameters and determine what is in the best interest of shareholders. We’re continuing to produce value, and as we do this, it is always possible to spit out dividends to the shareholders -make sure they are well taken care of until we determine the ideal time to move forward.”
As Green Relief works on ramping up production from the 175,000 sq. ft. facility, one can’t help think that they are on the precipice of something that has not been seen in Canada to this point. They have aquaponics, a cheap clean and eco-friendly way to grow. They are now expanding into soil based cultivation. They have re-focused solely on the creation of medicinal products specifically targeting concussions and anxiety. And, they have the leader that binds it all together with his extensive business and medical background. Green Relief looks ready to make a quantum leap. As Dr. Jha suggested, “we are not Aurora or a Canopy Growth”, but looking at what Green Relief have achieved to date, it would appear they don’t need or want to be.