A unique partnership with an Israeli company will help MedReleaf supply Canadians with medical-grade cannabis.
MedReleaf is one of a handful of companies licensed to grow and sell cannabis under Health Canada’s MMPR program. Based in Markham, Ontario, the company has spent the last few months readying its first batch of product, which it expects to ship out by June.
While the company faces the same challenges as others in this brand-new industry, MedReleaf has the help of a valuable partner, the oldest and largest medical marijuana provider in Israel, Tikun Olam.
We spoke to MedReleaf CEO Neil Closner to learn more about his company and the future of medical marijuana in Canada.
Q: Why did MedReleaf decide to partner with Tikun Olam?
Tikun Olam is Hebrew and those two words actually mean ‘heal the world’. Their interest, as their name describes, is to heal the world. They believe, and we believe, that they have very unique and powerful products that are proprietary to them and that have the ability to help a lot of people.
What drew us to them was obviously the access to these unique genetics that they have. They have 12 proprietary varieties that they sell in Israel. We will ultimately have all of those here, but a few of them have garnered a lot of attention.
One is quite high in THC, and will probably be the highest in THC in Canada. Another is an equal balance between THC and CBD, which also has unique properties to it. And probably the most ‘famous’ is their strain that is very high in CBD with very little THC. The strain is called Avidekel, and it has been shown to be extremely potent in terms of being an anti-inflammatory.
Q: Have you gotten the chance to visit their facility in Israel?
We’ve been there a few times. We’ve visited their production location, which is a large farm in the north of Israel. They also have retail dispensaries located throughout the country, which is obviously something we can’t do here.
The genetics was one element of why we chose to partner with them. The other big reason was because they’ve been in business now for about 9 years, they’ve treated thousands and thousands of patients. And based on those treatments, they have a database that helps to direct their nurses and counsellors – when new patients come in the door – as to what varieties and in what dosages those varieties should be administered to get the best outcome.
Q: What advantages does this data provide?
One huge hurdle we have in Canada right now is educating the medical community about the benefits. And not just the benefits, but how doctors can write a prescription and feel comfortable without having to go through what would be an enormous education process.
Because there’s hundreds of varieties with very different chemical compositions, and they all behave differently in different people. Physicians aren’t typically used to prescribing something like that.
So we believe it will be important to tell physicians that we’ve got data that tells us that if a patient presents with a certain type of ailment or disease, because of our experience through our partner Tikun Olam, we know which one of our varieties will work best to help treat them.
Q: Some companies have decided to import their product. Why did MedReleaf decide to grow cannabis here?
We chose to grow it here rather than import it on an ongoing basis because first of all, we’ve got five individuals that combined have over 100 years of growing experience with this plant. So we know we’ve got the skills to grow it well here.
Also, we just didn’t think logistically it was practical to be constantly importing a huge quantity, because we ultimately do believe that we’ll be one of the larger suppliers in the country. We want to make sure we’re growing the product here so we know exactly how much product we have and when it will be available, and so we can provide our patients with steady and consistent access to product.
Q: How big is your growing facility?
Our facility is 55,000 square feet. But we expect that this is the first of what ultimately will be a number of facilities that we’ll have. We had to start somewhere, so we chose a building of this size. We thought it could get us up and running, but we certainly have aspirations to be one of the largest players in the country.
Q: How did you and your team get involved with medical marijuana?
We have an interesting mix that makes up our team. As I mentioned before, we’ve got a number of people that were growers under the previous MMAR program.
I’ve personally been involved with startups and healthcare for 20 years. I saw this industry as incredibly interesting from the standpoint of offering a new option to people that are sick that hasn’t really been widely available up until now. And something that’s always motivated me is finding solutions to help lower the overall cost curve of providing health care in Canada.
I see our healthcare system as being too expensive. If cannabis can be an option that can help get people back to work sooner, that can help take people off other prescription medications that are in most cases more expensive and potentially even have more harmful side effects, then that’s really interesting to me. That’s what really got me excited about this.