Kitchener-Waterloo

Waterloo startup Grobo helps marijuana growers cultivate small crops at home

A startup based in Waterloo, Ont., is looking to take cannabis cultivation high-tech, but the success of the mobile app-controlled system may hinge on whether new regulations will allow Canadians to grow medical marijuana at home.
Grobo, a high-tech, indoor gardening system, promises to give patients their time back by automating the process of growing cannabis. (Contributed by Grobo)

A startup based in Waterloo, Ont., is looking to take cannabis cultivation high-tech, but the success of the mobile app-controlled system may hinge on whether new regulations will allow Canadians to grow medical marijuana at home.

Growing your own cannabis can be a time-consuming endeavour, says Bjorn Dawson, the co-founder of Grobo and a recent mechanical engineering graduate from the University of Waterloo.

Patients typically spend an average of eight to 10 hours a week making sure their plants have the appropriate amount of water, nutrients and light, Dawson says. Plus there's all that cumbersome equipment, the skunk-like smell wafting through your home and hours spent sifting through online forums trying to figure out what to do, he adds.

Making DIY better

"Most people create these DIY systems in a large black tent and they just use timers like you would use on your Christmas lights to automate pumps, lighting, whatever," says Dawson.

"And it feels like you're doing something wrong. I think that's the biggest thing – even though you're allowed, you have this feeling like, 'Maybe I shouldn't be doing this."'

Enter Grobo, an indoor gardening system pioneered by Dawson and co-founder Chris Thiele, a fellow Waterloo engineering graduate, that promises to give patients their time back by automating the process of growing cannabis.

Dawson and Thiele first created Grobo two and a half years ago for the purpose of growing food indoors during the wintertime, but they soon discovered the product had another application -- helping marijuana patients grow their medicine at home. 

Future in hands of Health Canada

But the future of home growing remains in question as Dawson and his team await impending regulations from Health Canada.

Currently, marijuana seeds that can be germinated are included under Schedule II of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, making them illegal to possess or sell, just like cannabis. 

However, patients who were granted a licence under the old medical marijuana regime to grow their own pot have been permitted to keep doing so as the Allard case – named after Nanaimo, B.C., resident Neil Allard, one of four plaintiffs in the case – wound its way through the courts.

In that case, the plaintiffs had challenged whether rules introduced by Ottawa in 2014 that force medical marijuana patients to purchase the drug from licensed producers – rather than growing it at home – were constitutional, given the added expense involved.

Last February, a Federal Court judge sided with the patients, ruling that restricting access to the drug is unconstitutional, and requiring Health Canada to revise its regulations by Aug. 24.

It's unclear whether the new rules will allow patients to grow their own cannabis, but if they do, Dawson says demand for their home growing system could be huge. If not, Grobo can take its product elsewhere, says Dawson.

"There are all kinds of other places where it is legal," he says.