Despite its relative youth, Canada’s medical cannabis industry is already presenting some of the characteristics of the much more mature pharmaceutical industry. There is consolidation as well as the first moves towards differentiating business models.
“With medical cannabis, there is a chance to re-evaluate entirely the way we look at medicines.”
John Fowler, The Supreme Cannabis Company
Canada’s medical cannabis industry already counts 250,000 patients, with ten percent more patients receiving prescriptions every month. Economic figures surrounding medical cannabis are equally impressive: licensed producers raise amounts of CAD 100 million (USD 77 million) on what seems a regular basis, and one is hard pressed to keep up with news surrounding facility expansions, research collaborations or performed IPOs.
One company moving away from the usual producer model of production and direct to client retail is The Supreme Cannabis Company. It has decided to focus on production and become a wholesaler to other producers directly interacting with patients. CEO John Fowler believes the optimum way forward is to take a step back from the current hype and strategize. “It is essential for us to learn managing ourselves along the axes of a competitive mix and maybe even more importantly, learning to say ‘no’. In the still very virgin cannabis field I detect the risk of an overload of opportunities. We have to be self-conscious as to where we allocate our resources, especially our human resources.”
He also sees cannabis as potentially disrupting conventional treatment pathways, by presenting itself as an alternative, more enjoyable treatment option for many patients. “I think that with medical cannabis, there is a chance to re-evaluate entirely the way we look at medicines. For the last hundred years we have been convincing patients that medicine should not be enjoyable and that something must be wrong with it if it is,” he posits.
“Ironically, there have been tremendous efforts made on rendering medicine more enjoyable nonetheless, with sugar coating on pills, easier to swallow capsules and taste-enhanced cough syrups. With medical cannabis, we are at the core of this discussion. I reckon there is nothing wrong with enjoying cannabis-based treatments, and on the contrary, believe it is essential that patients do. As treatment evolves into something more agreeable, patients are likelier to stick to their treatment plan and actually consume the prescribed amounts.”
Producers are still fighting stereotypes, however, and focusing on demonstrating that medical cannabis is a serious business despite all prejudices and misconceptions many clinicians and patients might hold. One way to counter this is by complying with the stringent regulations Health Canada has put in place around medical cannabis.
As with pharmaceutical companies, medical cannabis companies have been complaining about slow movement at the regulatory level and Warren Bravo, CEO of Green Relief—a highly original producer growing cannabis with an aquaponics method—bluntly states: “Quite frankly, we are light-years away from where we should be—and where we need to be in the space.”
While the wish for Health Canada to move faster on approval of licenses and regulations for new product forms is universal amongst the industry players, most recognize that given the absence of global benchmarking opportunities, authorities are doing as good a job as one can expect them to.
Bruce Scully, CEO of WeedMD, a producer specializing in the care of elderly and long-term patients is positive towards what the future still has to offer in terms of regulatory reform: “I am not concerned. Actually, I am very confident we will be moving forward and I am thrilled by the will being displayed by our government to do so. Like everybody, we would like to see things move a little quicker; so that we can help more patients have access to our medicine. However, the endeavor that Health Canada has undertaken is monumental and highly pioneering and it is easy to overlook the fact that the framework from a regulatory perspective is still in the making.”
Bravo qualifies such optimism, though by drawing to attention the fact that, “We are missing out on the opportunity to deploy cannabis in combination with different medical devices or produce different treatment forms, such as capsules or creams.” “However, while Health Canada is moving slow, I do not necessarily believe that it is bad as such, as they are making well thought-out decisions and because they want to ensure that we are manufacturing at very high standards, always having the best interest of Canadians health and safety at heart,” he acknowledges.
Writer: Anna-Luisa Vogt