This month marks two years since cannabis was legalized in Canada. But for Myrna Gillis, the founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Aqualitas, the genesis of the medical and recreational marijuana producer in Brooklyn, Queens County, goes way back.
To the spring of 2014, in fact. It was then that Gillis, a lawyer specializing in disabilities, gathered together friends and acquaintances with a variety of professional backgrounds and told them of her vision of building a medical cannabis production plant. She asked if they would like to join her; they all jumped in and the ensuing company hasn’t looked back since.
The doors opened to Aqualitas in the Port Mersey Commercial Park in Brooklyn in the early part of 2018. Since then, Canada’s first Clean Green Certified cannabis producer has grown exponentially.
In the late fall of 2019, the company began an 8,500 square foot addition to its production facility.
“Things have been good. We got our licence to sell unrestricted in March 2019, about five months later than we thought we would get it, but we have now been in the marketplace for a year and a half,” said Gillis. “There were some things we weren’t expecting, and we’re probably a year behind in our forecast, but overall the growth strategy into the provinces, and how well the product has been received, is exceeding our expectations,” she said.
The company is still waiting for its Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) certification, which was scheduled to be completed in the spring but was delayed because of COVID-19. It’s hoping it will be in place in 2021, which would allow the enterprise to further expand its offerings.
Aqualitas distributes its products under the brand name, Reef. They’re sold in seven Canadian markets including Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, P.E.I., Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and B.C., and another province is soon to come on board.
Most recently, Aqualitas finalized a supply agreement and launched organically grown medical products on the Medical Cannabis by Shoppers Inc. platform.
Gillis reports the company made it through COVID-19 fairly well. Sales were down slightly in April, May, and June, but they picked up quickly, and August was the company’s highest sales month ever. The downtime had been spent securing valuable markets and doing more research.
With strict protocols in place to keep everyone safe amid the pandemic, there have been no layoffs nor illnesses among the staff. On the contrary, Gillis said the company has hired workers over the past several weeks. Aqualitas now has 90 permanent workers, while six interns were expected to come on board this month.
Aqualitas’s products are being well received, according to Gillis. By the middle of October, its High Seas line was the second Stock Keeping Unit (SKU) overall in stores in Nova Scotia. In other markets, High Seas was number one SKU for seven weeks and still going strong in Saskatchewan. In Ontario, the company boasts the number one organics dry flower SKU.
The company sold more than $1 million in wholesale products in Alberta, in just under two months of launching in that province.
In the dry flower category, the company could boast a number of top sellers, including its High Seas product line, which was featured in Grow Opportunity magazine last year and listed as number two overall among the top heavy-hitting sativas in Canada.
Another successful product is its Even Blend. Produced from the Ebb and Flow flower, it contains a higher percentage of cannabidiol (CBD) – 10 per cent — and six per cent Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). It too was featured in Grow Opportunity magazine, which pegged it as one of the top cannabis products preferred by women.
The company also has a number of new dry flower products hitting the market, including Coastal Kush, another heavy-hitter coming in at about 24 per cent THC.
In January, the company plans to launch a first for any Canadian producer, which it’s calling Sky Cuddler.
“It’s an emerald triangle, California genetic that is very popular,” said Gillis, describing it as “the original breeders’ genetic.”
Equally notable, Aqualitas has signed an exclusive deal to manufacture the Kanha gummy, a high-quality product Gillis said is currently the number one edible in California.
The company is also working on topicals with plans to launch these early in 2021.
Although the products are sold in markets with large populations, Aqualitas reports that sales are strongest in Nova Scotia.
Meanwhile, the company has also received an export permit to send products to Israel.
The company’s research arm, the Sindica Global Institute for Cannabis Innovation and Research, is working with research groups in the U.K., U.S., Israel, and Poland on product development for sufferers of Multiple Sclerosis, chronic pain, insomnia, anxiety, restless leg syndrome, and other afflictions.
While Aqualitas has come a long way, there’s more work to be done, according to its founder. Gillis said the company now is looking to create more partnerships internationally, work on product development for natural health products in higher CBD concentrations, and get edibles onto the market.
Kevin McBain, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin