What Does It Take To Be An Executive In The Legal Cannabis Industry?

It is no secret that there are enormous sums of money to be made in the legal cannabis business. Not surprisingly, compensation packages for the executives who run profitable cannabis-based business are also likely to be large. That said, because cannabis and its products are illegal in the US, the talent pool is relatively shallow for executives with previous cannabis experience. Consequently, most new cannabis executives are likely to be recruited from other industries including pharmaceuticals, agribusiness, consumer healthcare and tobacco.  This is because, like the cannabis industry, these industries are highly regulated and will be under intense scrutiny from state and even federal agencies.

Gilbert J. Carrara Jr, MD, who oversees retain recruiting services at Battalia Winston International, recently described the skills sets and characteristics that he believes will be required for successful cannabis industry executive. They include:

Tough Mindedness

Because of the state-to-state complexity of cannabis legislation and negative perceptions surrounding cannabis use, executives in this industry cannot be thin-skinned or easily discouraged. If a person cannot accept repeatedly being told “no” or “go away” then he/she is not likely to be executive material in the legal cannabis industry.

Flexibility

The legal cannabis industry is in its infancy and it will continue to evolve and grow in wildly unpredictable and unanticipated ways. At present, change is the norm in the cannabis industry executive who are flexible, can pivot on a dime and remain open to sometimes new unconventional ideas on a regular basis will do just fine.

Adaptability

Like executives in other industries, cannabis industry executives must be adaptable because they will be required to communicate with a diverse group of stakeholders. That said, cannabis executives must be comfortable discussing scientific and medical topics with government and healthcare officials and equally as comfortable addressing business concerns with consumers.

Passion & Drive

Unlike other industries, simply having a resume with the requisite college degree and executive skill sets may not be sufficient for success in the cannabis industry. Because cannabis and its products are not legal at the Federal level in the US, the road ahead for cannabis executives is likely to be a long and very rocky one. To that point, the success of the industry will likely depend upon executives who have the desire and passion to continue to push things forward even when the likelihood of success is not certain.

As a former professional recruiter, I can tell you that finding a qualified “right fit” candidate at the technical or executive levels is never an easy task. And a limited talent pool does not make things any easier.  But, even though the existing executive talent pool may not be a great one, cannabis industry executives are needed; so choose wisely!

 

 

Currently Approved Cannabis-based Pharmaceuticals and Some in the Pipeline

Because of historical negative perceptions and ongoing legal concerns, only a few cannabis-based pharmaceuticals are currently licensed for clinical use. In the United States and Europe the synthetic Δ-9-THC drugs nabilone (Cesmet®) and dronabinol (Marinol®) and dronabinol (Marinol®) are approved for treatment and prevention of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (CINV; 1).  Another synthetic Δ-9-THC product, Syndros (dronabinol oral solution) received approval in 2016 for the treatment of anorexia associated with weight loss in patients with AIDS and for cancer patients with CINV who failed to adequately respond to conventional antiemetic treatments.

GW Pharmaceuticals’ Sativex®, an extract containing THC and CBD, is approved in 27 countries Europe and elsewhere for the treatment of spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis and, in Canada, is also approved as an adjunctive treatment for cancer pain (1) The CB1 cannabis receptor agonist rimonabant (Acomplia®) was approved for use in Europe to treat obesity but was discontinued because of serious adverse effects (2)

While the approved cannabis-based pharmaceutical list is quite short, there are several compounds and extracts that are currently being evaluated in human clinical trials for regulatory approval. Sativex®, which received FDA fast track designation, has completed Phase 3 clinical testing and an application for approval has been filed at FDA. Another GW Pharmaceuticals product called Epidiolex® received FDA orphan drug status and is currently in mid to late stage clinical testing as a treatment for orphan pediatric epilepsy including Dravet Syndrome and Lennox Gastaut syndrome

Other companies, including Arena Pharmaceuticals, are attempting to develop cannabis-based drugs and mimetics that treat pain by binding to certain types of cannabis receptors found throughout the body (3). Removing cannabis’ psychotropic effects and preserving its pain-relieving benefits is the major objective for this new class of pharmaceuticals.  Although these drugs are still in early stages of development, using them rather than addictive opioids to manage chronic pain would be an important step in combating the US opioid epidemic.

Although the future of cannabis-based pharmaceuticals in the US  is brighter than it has been over the past 50 years, there are still some major hurdles and obstacles that must be overcome. To gain some insight into some of these, please read 2015 testimony to Congress given by Douglas C. Throckmorton, M.D. Deputy Director for Regulatory Programs Center for Drug Evaluation and Research Food and Drug Administration.

Moreover, the approval process for cannabis-based pharmaceuticals has an additional layer of complexity as compared with conventional pharmaceuticals.  Because cannabis and its products are classified as Schedule 1 drugs according to the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), a product that garners FDA approval must also be reviewed by DEA for scheduling recommendations. To that end, FDA usually provides DEA with a scientific and medical evaluation to help with scheduling.  Scheduling classification is important because it affects the controls necessary for prescribing, supplying, or storing the product.  At present cannabis’ Schedule 1 status means that it and any products derived from it have no medicinal value or benefit and consequently are illegal in the US.  Nevertheless, it is extremely likely that any newly approved cannabis-based pharmaceuticals  will be rescheduled as Schedule II or Schedule III drugs as was  FDA’s previous experience with nabilone, dronabinol and Syndros.  That said, permanently removing  cannabis and its products form the Schedule 1 list would  undoubtedly help to speed development and subsequent regulatory approval of potentially life-altering cannabis-based pharmaceuticals.

References

  1. Ladin, DA, Soliman E, Griffin L and Van Dross, R. Preclinical and clinical assessment of cannabinoids as anti-cancer agents. Front Pharmacol. Oct. 2016; 7: 361 DOI: 10.3389/fphar.2016.00361
  2. Fijal, K, Filip M. Clinical/therapeutic approaches for cannabinoid ligands in central and peripheral nervous system diseases: mini review. Clin Neuropharmacol 2016; 39:94-101.
  3. Mintz CS, Fabrizio AJ, Nison E. Cannabis-Derived Pharmaceuticals. J. Comm. Biotechnol. 2015; 21:16-30.

 

Cannabis Education Hits the Ivy League (And Elsewhere)

It was only a matter of time before the Ivy League entered the cannabis education business.  Unlike some lesser institutions that have made  long term commitments to cannabis education, the Harvard Business School is testing the waters by offering a one-time only cannabis class. The master class will be taught by  California-based cannabis entrepreneur Adrian Sedlin (a Harvard Business School alum), and will include everything from measuring plant THC levels to how to build a scalable profitable business in an industry at a time of regulatory uncertainty.

For those of you looking for a lesser known but degree-bearing program, check out the  Institute of Cannabis Research a joint effort between the University of Colorado-Pueblo, the State of Colorado and Pueblo County, CO. According to the institute, the program was the nation’s first multi-disciplinary cannabis research center at a “regional, comprehensive institution.” The CSU Pueblo program has an in-state price tag of around $24,185 and roughly $38,767 for out-of-state students.

Another option is the Northern Michigan University (NMU) medicinal plant chemistry program which began this past Fall. According to the university,  the program (which has 12 current enrollees) is designed to give students a more “traditional four-year-secondary-education” approach to cannabis education.  In state tuition at NMU is $22,156 and out of state costs are $27,652.

A recent report indicated that almost 150,000 Americans are employed in the legal cannabis industry. As the industry continues to expand both medically and recreationally, the need for educated and well trained prospective employees will also continue to grow (pun intended).  If you are thinking about an upwardly mobile, long term, financially-satisfying career, it may be worth a shot to go to  (or go back to) college and learn  everything you can about cannabis, its products and its use!

Cannabis and Sex: Is There A Connection?

A recent study conducted by Stanford University researchers Andrew Sun and Michael Eisenberg entitled “Association Between Marijuana Use and Sexual Frequency in the United States: A Population-Based Study” suggests that smoking cannabis increases sexual activity in both men and women (1).

The researchers asked  28,176 women (average age= 29.9 years) and almost 22,943 men (average age =29.5 years)  men how often they had sex (heterosexual) in the four weeks prior to the survey and how frequently they used cannabis in the past year.  The study employed a multivariate statistical model that controlled for demographic, socioeconomic and geographical/culture characteristics.  More than 60% of the men and women were Caucasian and 76.1% of men and 80.4% of women reported at least a high school diploma.

Results from the study found that women who did not use marijuana over the four-week period had sex on average six times  whereas women who used cannabis daily had sex 7.1 times on average. Similarly, men who did not use cannabis had sex 5.6 times on average whereas men who used cannabis daily reported having sex 6.9 times on average during the four-week period.

Based on these results, which were statistically significant (P<.001), the researchers suggested that cannabis use may lead to greater heterosexual sexual activity.  It is important to note, however, that while the study results may have been statistically significant, the real life implications of these findings may  not be relevant.  More important, the researchers did not offer any explanations about the connections between cannabis and sex. Further, although the statistical design of the study controlled for a variety of variables,  other variables were not considered or addressed. For example, did the persons who participated in the survey have cannabis in their systems before, during or after sex.  Was cannabis consumed before, during or after sex?   What was the time differential between cannabis and actual sex? Put simply, there needs to be a greater examination and more in depth analysis of the direct effect of cannabis on sexual activity before any firm conclusions can be drawn.

Sadly, many cannabis users who read this post (or similar articles in the lay press) are likely to point to this study as another reason why it is good to regularly smoke cannabis.  That said, despite assertions to the contrary, there is evidence which suggests that smoking cannabis daily may negatively affect your health e.g., lung irritation and other respiratory issues.  LIke most things in cannabis science, many more studies must be conducted before scientifically accurate conclusions and facts can be established.

Despite the possible limitations of this study, there was something positive that came out of it.  One of the study’s authors offered “that if a patient asks whether his frequent marijuana use is getting in the way of his sex life, he will tell them that “it may not be the culprit. For most people, we tell them instead to go to the gym and lose 20 pounds”

References

  1. Sun AJ, Eisenberg ML. Association between marijuana use and sexual frequency in the United States: a population-based study. J. Sex Med 2017; 14:1342-1347.

 

O Canada-Part Deux

Those zany Canadians are at it again!  Yesterday, the Canadian government announced that it will invest almost $47 million (Canadian) over the next five years in a cannabis education and awareness campaign.

According to a press release,  the campaign will include “factual and evidence-based information on the health and safety risks of cannabis use and drug-impaired driving. The campaign will build on ongoing social media efforts, advertising and interactive events to engage youth on the facts.”

The goal of the campaign is to provide Canadians, especially young adults and youth, with clear factual information so that they understand how cannabis could affect them.  A critical part of the initiative is to equip parents and teachers with factual evidence-based scientific information so that they can have meaningful discussions with young Canadians about the risks of cannabis use, especially drug-impaired driving.  To that end, this fall, Public Safety Canada will launch an initiative to inform citizens about the dangers of drug-impaired driving.

Because medical cannabis is legal nationwide  in Canada (and recreational use is soon to follow)  making an investment in cannabis education and awareness makes sense.  An informed and educated public ought to reduce some of the anxiety and possible dangers associated with cannabis use.

Perhaps, the US ought to follow Canada’s lead and make similar investments to educate the American public about medical and recreational cannabis use. At present, the amount of misinformation far outweighs the facts. This is extremely troubling since tens of millions of Americans are currently regular cannabis users.