Jun. 14—When Andrew Rayburn was putting Buckeye Relief and its team members together in 2016, he was "very quiet" about it.
Now, as the Ohio-owned and -operated marijuana cultivator and processor — with a location in Eastlake— reaches its 44th harvest and on the verge of gaining 100 employees, Rayburn says he is an amazed and proud CEO.
"I wasn't even telling my friends what I was doing," Rayburn recalled. "Scott Halloran, our chief operating officer and who has some ownership, said to me, 'Look, what are you doing? Tell me what you're doing.' I told him and he said, 'You know I'm going to have to be a part of this.' We were really quiet about it because the level of acceptance was substantially lower than what it is now."
During the time of Buckeye Relief's beginnings, cannabis was a delicate subject, Rayburn said. Fast forward to this year, he says the majority of people in Ohio have realized that medical cannabis is a real, natural medicine that has value for roughly 250,000 people in the state.
"The majority of those have registered and visited a dispensary, and are active patients," Rayburn said. "That number is growing. It's still moving up by 5,000 to 8,000 new patients a month."
"We're roughly one year ahead of where I thought we would be in 2021," Rayburn said. "I'm proud of the level of excellence that everybody in our place is operating with from our cultivation to post harvest. People are willing to do every last step of what it takes to get it done right and done well."
Buckeye Relief team members collect data on a regular basis and most of that data is used to make informed decisions for changes in operational procedures, said Matthew Kispert, director of horticulture.
"Everything from how many plants are on that table to what height those nets are was determined from data we collected," said Kispert as he pointed out plants that were in week eight of the growing process.
Coming up with a mapping system for each of the grow rooms is one of the biggest things the company has done, Kispert said.
"If I have a plant that suddenly starts developing funny, I can look back and figure out every single plant that is related to that plant," Kispert said. "Having that historical library to rest on has been the most valuable thing. We don't do anything here by the seat of our pants. It's all slow and thought out, and I think it's paying off."
For Lisa Burgess, irrigation and controls manager at Buckeye Relief, her favorite room in the whole building is the water room, where the company's water treatment and fertilization for the plants happen.
"Our reverse osmosis filtration system strips anything foreign out of our water, so we have total control over what's going to our plants," Burgess said. "It's basically a high-tech filter. As a horticulturist and somebody who has worked with plants for a long time, cannabis is a plant that I hope, in the future, will get serious research and widely accepted as a valid medication for people."
The company is always looking for new products, Rayburn said.
One of Buckeye Relief's national brand partners is Wana Gummies, which are all naturally vegan and gluten free, said Leslie Brandon, who handles marketing and communications at Buckeye Relief.
"We have eight flavors and we're bringing on a ninth — sour apple," Brandon said. "The cycle just keeps going. Our in-house lab, which I think makes us stand out, is how we do all testing and data collection. It also allows us to run experiments before we implement them in the grow room."
One of Buckeye Relief's most recent changes is building a second level of growth space in every single room, Brandon said, which will double the company's footprint.
"Our license gives us 25,000 square feet of plants," Brandon said. "We got a dispensation from the state now that we know there is demand for it in the market. We can grow twice as much. That is going to drive hiring in every single department to keep up with that."
Three years ago, Buckeye Relief started with 10 people, including Brandon. By the end of the year, Rayburn is projecting more than 120 team members. Additionally, before the end of the year, Rayburn has hopes of opening Buckeye Relief's first dispensary on Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights.
In the beginning, Buckeye Relief started with just plant matter, Brandon said. Every new product and method of consumption is a whole new opportunity for education, she said.
"It's a collaborative relationship, which has been cool in the industry," Brandon said. "We are up and running, and we plan to keep it that way."