Where Science and Culture Meet
Breathing Green Solutions
On the first day of cannabis legalization in Canada, the province of Nova Scotia saw over $660,000 in sales, which was unexpected for a population of under 1 million. People were lining up outside of government sales offices before opening, eager to get their hands on the good stuff.
In that first week, Breathing Green Solutions, started by Nova Scotian Joe Sanford, hit the market. Sanford grew up riding the rough waves on his surfboard in Lawrencetown, near Halifax. “I’m a surfer. My biggest passion is surfing. It’s the sport I grew up doing, I grew up by the ocean,” he explains. “And that kind of speaks to the whole ‘living healthy, living organically, breathing green.’ That’s where that came from.”
The demand for cannabis in Canada is high and the number of suppliers is exploding in what can only be described as the wild west of weed. It’s an unpredictable market, with variation in growing and sales regulations between provinces and thousands of companies trying to gain a foothold in this emerging market.
With alcohol sales, the taste and texture of an ale, for example, is the prime consumer focus, instead of the buzz. But with recreational cannabis, while connoisseurs will appreciate the taste and texture, consumers largely focus on the final outcome – how was the high? With an abundance of options to choose from, brand loyalty will fall to those who not only produce a desired high, but who can deliver it consistently. There’s little prospect for longevity for a product that produces euphoria on the first go but paranoia on the second.
In the first few months of legalization, who can guess what the most consistent product will be? Already, there have been shortages due to growers who had their license but failed the government test results, or who are waiting for results to come back from labs. For investors, it can seem like a craps shoot, especially with growers wanting to retain their trade secrets. For consumers, with so many products to try, trial and error will be the first way in.
Almost by accident, Breathing Green Solutions, Nova Scotia’s first licensed grower, found itself in a perfect position to impact this new market.
Based out of a converted military facility nestled deep within the woods of rural Nova Scotia, Breathing Green Solutions hadn’t intended to develop a secret weapon for this very scenario. For five years the company was meticulously building, improving and perfecting a medical-grade marijuana laboratory, where the team developed its trademarked PurePlant™ method. The company had a Master Grower with almost 20 years’ experience collaborate with a retired Health Canada Inspector to lead the facility’s design, operating procedures, sanitations programs and production processes. Everything was in place to go medicinal, when the Trudeau government announced legalization for the recreational side.
Joe Sanford, Chief Operating Officer of Breathing Green Solutions, and his team of seasoned scientists and growers had to make a quick decision. Would they keep on the path to medicinal, or open up a branch for recreational users? New growers across Canada were rushing to build facilities, gain permits and go through inspections, something Sanford and his team had already been doing for the past five years. In the wild west of weed, while everyone was racing to sell as many pistols as possible, Breathing Green had been quietly developing heavy artillery. Explains Sanford, “we really believed that we had heavy enough guns to put out a product that could be anywhere in the world quality-wise.” The decision was made to change course to the recreational sector, while only slightly delaying the launch into the medicinal market.
“We’ve been getting fantastic reviews,” says Sanford. “This product is as smooth and clean and fresh as can be.” The company’s PurePlant™ method is at the heart of this consumer experience. It was designed by Breathing Green’s Master Grower, who was trained in Amsterdam and has been working in the Canadian medical marijuana industry since its infancy in 2001. For years he has been developing a method that is a mixture between hydroponic and pot-based growing techniques, with a flushing system that gives the end consumer pure cannabis with zero minerals, sprays or unwanted chemicals – something that mass-scale recreational growers don’t achieve.
“When you have a product that’s not flushed properly, anything you put into that plant is basically staying in the buds,” explains Sanford. “So if you’re drying out a bud and then you roll that up and you smoke it, you’re going to be smoking everything that’s in that product,” such as chemicals and nutrients. This results in the harshness of marijuana, the coughing, dry throat and residue commonly found on joints and blunts. It may also impact the type of high consumers are getting, something more research and development will certainly bring to light. “If you’re smoking our product that has gone through the PurePlant™ method, we basically can guarantee you that it’s one of the cleanest products – if not the cleanest product – you will get your hands on in the market.”
As of December 2018, Breathing Green Solutions offers four cannabis strains, but will soon expand to 25. Its top two sellers are Nor’Easter and Mirage. Nor’Easter was named after the powerful storms that Atlantic Canada is famous for, and is a 20 percent THC sativa. Mirage, an indica, also has a high THC content and offers a relaxing body buzz that is named after boats at low tide in the Bay of Fundy – they sit on the ocean floor and seem like a mirage. For new or cautious consumers, the company offers Shelter, a five percent THC/eight percent CBD hybrid for a calming, milder buzz.
“I feel very strongly, and so does my team here, that everyone doesn’t want the most potent strains. We’re trying to cater to those who haven’t tried cannabis either ever or in a very long time. Having the lower THC strain would help them try something safe without being discouraged,” says Sanford.
Part of this approach comes from starting from the medical angle. The biggest difference between recreational and medical grade marijuana are the strict adherences to accurate and precise targets, measurements and dosages that the medicinal market chooses to undergo in order to target specific effects for specific users. Throw 10 darts at a target – the one that is closest to the centre is the most precise, but the average location of the 10 darts is the accuracy. The recreational angle is all about moving a high-volume product that is relatively the same – getting darts near the middle, but never having to actually hit the bull’s-eye. Medical marijuana has to hit the bull’s-eye every single time, because it’s competing in the same market as pharmaceuticals. In other words, recreational focuses on accuracy, while medicinal focuses on precision.
Customers who purchase Nor’Easter from Breathing Green, for example, will get the same Nor’Easter every day of every calendar year. And that’s where ‘Solutions’ comes into the name – long-term R&D will help to cater cannabis strains to individuals’ needs and dispositions.
Jeff Norrie, Breathing Green’s Chief Science Officer, will be leading this R&D. With a PhD in Plant Physiology, he’s spent the last 20 years working in plant nutrition, stress physiology and product development. He joined the team in early 2018 to assist the Master Grower and will also serve as a liaison between Breathing Green Solutions, governments and academics. He’s deeply interested in the science behind cannabis and is eager to work closely with local universities to conduct new research around horticulture and genetics, chemistries and plant profiles, and health and wellness.
Compared with other plants and other drugs, the research on cannabis is quite thin, and the opportunity to populate this sparse literature is exciting for horticulturists and plant biologists alike. “We’ve already been in touch with researchers with the National Research Council and several universities who are just champing at the bit to be able to take a look at this and different projects,” says Sanford. Even Dalhousie, where Norrie is an Alumnus, is showing interest in the plant and in medicinal research. “The message I’ve always tried to get across to people is that there is all kinds of research we need to do in this industry to educate people on the proper use and proper dosage of cannabis, including the negative impacts and side effects.”
Catering to the consumer in an open and honest way runs all the way through the business, which is very Nova Scotian. “Our work culture is based off of years of experience of running businesses in Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada. And there’s absolutely a different mentality here,” says Sanford. The hard-working attitude of fishermen is deeply embedded in the province’s culture, and Atlantic Canadians are renowned for their humility and dedication to working hard on one job and doing it to perfection. “Either fish or cut bait,” is a popular term to describe it. Sanford explains, “That is just kind of the way of life. We’ve always run our businesses with a mentality that you treat your employees like you expect your employees to treat your customers.”
His hard-working 35-member crew are all rowing in the same direction, developing top-tier products for both the recreational and medicinal markets. The good news is, this boutique operation is delivering precision bud in medical grade facilities for anyone to try.
The bad news? For now, the company’s product is only available in Nova Scotia. Until it expands, it’s well worth the road trip to experience the difference of Breathing Green’s PurePlant™ method. Plus, you’ll be surrounded by the some of the friendliest people in the country and breathtaking scenery to go along with it.