A hydroponic grow box called Grobo may be the solution for real estate professionals seeking to help select clients grow cannabis safely in their homes once the practice becomes legal in much of Canada, says financial consultant James Zaza.
“The Grobo is going to help (Realtors) get in the door and get leads,” he says. Today’s real estate professionals “need to be more than just somebody who sells a house,” and the Grobo helps them achieve that goal, he adds.
Zaza is an investor in Grobo, a Waterloo, Ont. startup that has developed an indoor growing system that is fully automated from a smart phone app. It’s odourless and care-free and eliminates the problems posed by mini grow-ops in homes, he says.
Cannabis grown indoors requires significant heat and moisture, which can cause water and mould damage to homes, harm their structural integrity and pose fire threats.
The real estate industry has expressed concerns that cannabis grown improperly in homes could cause property values to plummet. However, Zaza says the Grobo provides homeowners with a safe way to grow cannabis indoors.
Zaza, president of Toronto-based Zaza Financial Group, will be demonstrating Grobo at the Ontario Real Estate Association conference in late February. He will also be introducing a scheme in which Realtors can sponsor the devices and provide them to clients or potential clients who have prescriptions for medical marijuana and would like to grow their own cannabis.
Grobo was initially created in 2014 to grow fruit, herbs and vegetables indoors during winter, but co-founders and fellow University of Waterloo mechanical engineering graduates Bjorn Dawson and Chris Thiele soon discovered it could help marijuana patients grow cannabis plants at home.
The cannabis cultivation unit is sometimes described as a “Keurig for plants.” Users need only fill its reservoirs with water and nutrients, drop seeds into its base and then let a connected app control the growing process. The Grobo uses sensors to monitor the condition of the plant, automatically adjusting its watering schedule, and then lets you know when it’s ready to harvest. LEDs inside give the equivalent of 18 hours of sunshine every day and electricity costs are low.
“It’s really a great concept because without even touching the plant, you can watch it grow and add nutrients in the water and light remotely,” says Zaza. “There’s no humidity, there’s no leakage, there’s no drain of electricity. LED lighting provides efficient, concentrated power. It’s safe, it’s clean, it’s childproof.”
At the OREA conference, Zaza plans to sell Grobos at full price or lease them to Realtors who have joined his recently launched insured personal pension and health benefits plan for self-employed real estate professionals.
Under the lease plan, Realtors can sponsor the Grobo and provide it for free to clients with prescriptions for medical cannabis. Panels on the Grobo unit will have space for advertising displays by Realtors.
Clients who receive a Grobo free of charge can also get free cannabis seeds if they agree to give back their surplus cannabis production to Zaza, which he in turn hopes to donate for free as medical marijuana to children with epilepsy or cancer. (The Grobo can produce up to 16 pounds of cannabis a year in four growth cycles. Medical marijuana users would generally require less than one pound a year.)
“A lot of people are going to be keen to grow clean, quality-controlled, reasonably priced cannabis in their own home,” Zaza says.
Although the federal government’s proposed law to legalize non-medical cannabis in July 2018 permits adults to grow up to four marijuana plants at home, it is up to each province to outline their plans for regulating recreational marijuana. Not all provinces are onboard with growing cannabis in homes. For example, Quebec has announced no one will be allowed to grow cannabis in homes for personal use and Manitobans without a medical license will be forbidden from growing plants at home.
Zaza says Realtors can host the marijuana equivalent of Tupperware parties – lead-generating “home Grobo parties” that will educate potential clients on the medical values of cannabis, its proper usage and how to grow it safely in the home.
Agents “will be all over” the sponsorship idea. “It’s a great way to meet people, lets them know you care about their families and their health.” It also allows real estate professionals to “do something unique and exclusive for the community that has never been done before.”
Zaza met Dawson of Grobo a few years ago and decided to invest in the company. (He would not divulge the amount.) He also has investments in his portfolio in several Canadian cannabis companies that represent most of the country’s production.
More than 600 Grobo units have been sold in pre-production at a cost of $1,995 to buyers in Canada, U.S. and Europe. The units, which are five-feet high by 2-1/2-feet deep by 2-1/2-feet wide, should begin shipping in March. Once the company is in full production, about 25 to 30 Grobo units should be made weekly in Waterloo, Zaza says.
Grobo is not alone in the market. In October, marijuana company Aurora Cannabis paid $3.85-million to buy B.C. Northern Lights Enterprises, a Vancouver-based company that manufactures refrigerator-sized grow boxes. The miniature nurseries are loaded up with high-powered lights, ventilation systems and hydroponics equipment.
Zaza plans to roll out his Grobo plan in Ontario before expanding it to other provinces.
He is a strong proponent of the potential health benefits of cannabis. His website contains a “Cannabis Community College” link with information on the drug.
He says cannabis has saved his wife and daughter from opioid addiction. “My purpose is to try to eliminate opiates. I’m trying to get them off the face of the earth.”