A Glimpse into the Booming Cannabis Trade in Canada – John Fowler of Supreme

john fowler supreme canada

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Matthew: Hi. I’m Matthew Kind. Every Monday look for a fresh new episode where I will take you behind the scenes and interview the insiders that are shaping the rapidly evolving cannabis industry. Learn more at www(dot)cannainsider(dot)com. That’s www(dot)cannainsider(dot)com. We’ve talked about CBD or cannabidiol on the show many times. Just to review thought, CBD is a non-psychoactive compound from the cannabis or hemp plant that has many benefits. Now our friends at Treatibles have put together a one list chew that can help your dog or cat become more calm and balanced. Valerie wrote in to tell us about her experience with Treatibles.

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The Canadian cannabis market continues to heat up and mature. Many licensed cultivators are turning their focus specifically to producing massive cultivation facilities to accommodate the demand in Canada. One of those producers is called Supreme. We are fortunate to have the CEO of Supreme, John Fowler with us today. John welcome to CannaInsider.

John: Hi Matt. Thank you for having me.

Matthew: Sure. John give us sense of geography. Where in the world are you today?

John: So I’m sitting here in my office at our facility in Kincardine, Ontario. So very shortly I’ll be sitting in the middle of approximately seven acres or six NFL football fields of high grade medical and potentially recreational cannabis. We are located near Toronto probably a city your viewers will know and we are about two hours outside of there on one of the great lakes, Lake Huron. I remember reading one time wine makers said you can’t produce great wine in an ugly place and we’re definitely trying to produce our cannabis in a beautiful place.

Matthew: Oh good. John tell us a little bit about your background. How did you get started in this business?

John: So prior to founding this business I was an attorney practicing corporate commercial law in Toronto but actually how I got into the law was as a result of medical marijuana so the program in Canada rather than being ballot driven as in most of the United States was actually court driven. Our constitution, our supreme court, and appellate courts have found that the constitution protects the right of reasonable access for sick Canadian’s who need access to medical cannabis and I actually developed a passion for the law reading these cases and particularly being impressed that a small number of lawyers were able to advocate for their clients and create an industry not on a ballot initiative or a legislative initiative but actually through the courts.

So that led me to become an attorney. I actually realized that that was a very small market for case work for making a living and became a commercial attorney and in 2013 when the government of Canada introduced this federal program which combines high volume, high quality cannabis production with a very regulated industry. I really thought to myself that if a new industry was going to be tailor made for myself I don’t think I could do any better than this.

Matthew: And what’s Supreme? Give us a high level overview of what you’re doing there with Supreme.

John: Absolutely. So Supreme is a Canadian publicly traded company. We trade on the Canadian Securities Exchange under the symbol SL and that is a fully regulated exchange so similar in concept to the Toronto Stock Exchange here in Canada or the New York Exchange. It’s not an over the counter. Supreme is essentially an investment vehicle under which we plan to develop or purchase multiple high value assets in the cannabis sector. So currently we have one asset that’s the seven acres licensee in Kincardine that operates this seven acre greenhouse. All 100% of our focus for the time being and the immediate future is on becoming what we believe will be the world’s foremost producer of 100% legal bulk cannabis and from there we’ll look to grow Supreme through business lines whether they’re organically grown or through acquisitions to position Supreme as a real force to be reckoned with in the growing international cannabis market.

Matthew: John what do you see as the benefit for focusing on the wholesale or bulk market? What’s the strategy there? Why did you go that route?

John: So the Canadian market here is quite unique. Some of your U.S. listeners may not be aware. So we have a market here that is roughly the size of California. Similar number of users recreational and medical and conceptually a similar market size but what’s very exciting is where California has a few thousand licensees we have 30. So what we realized was we have a very strong advantage in cultivation. We believe utilizing our size and our hybrid greenhouse model and the expertise of my management we believe we can produce cannabis more effectively than anyone in Canada but what we also realized was there were many question marks in terms of the details of the final mile to the consumer, the retail front.

So currently all licensed producers are limited to medical only sales executed online we don’t have store fronts. Moving forward we’re likely to get store fronts but it’s unsure what those will look like. So we made a decision to focus all of our investments on growing seven acres as a bulk distributor because no matter how the Canadian market unfolds, how regulated or how tight advertising is, what the point of sale looks like, we believe one thing will be true and that is the market will need high quality cannabis produced in a sustainable fashion and sent to the retailer and then to the consumer at a fair price where there’s good value and by doing that we realized that the best way to execute on that business plan was to carve off the retail side of our business and focus purely on the wholesale front.

What I also like about that is because we sell through other licensed producers currently working with six producers that are between a quarter and a third of the entire industry a bet on Supreme is a bet on the market as a whole.

Matthew: You mentioned the hybrid greenhouse model. What does that mean exactly and what are the benefits?

John: Absolutely. So as I’m sure is the case in most of the U.S. particularly where you get warm winters, or warm summers and cold winters most cannabis production is done indoors; mechanical ventilation, artificial lamps, and these kinds of things and we’ve always watched with maybe some envy of the greenhouse and field crop growers in California and the Pacific Northwest. When we went to start this business we started to see the challenges a company would have producing indoor cannabis on a scale such as seven acres but at the same time we saw some real quality limitations being a traditional greenhouse.

So the concept we developed which we call the hybrid greenhouse essentially we like to think is the best of both worlds. So it’s much, much more than just a light deprivation greenhouse. In concept it’s more like an indoor facility with a 100% skylight. So we divide the greenhouse into modular rooms, we add a higher density of supplemental lighting than most greenhouse growers would use, and we use a ventilation system that’s more in line with what you would see with an indoor grower than a greenhouse grower. The result as we’ve seen in our first crop which was completed over the last month is yields that are in excess of what we expected using indoor math. Year round production like an indoor grower but a cost scale much closer to a greenhouse grower and a little bit of extra love in terpene production that only the sun can provide.

Matthew: Okay tell us about that. About the extra love in the terpene production because terpenes is a hot topic and everybody’s always wanting to learn more about it. Tell us what your thoughts are there.

John: So without getting to much into the science. In a nutshell every artificial lamp whether it’s a HPS metal halide, LED, or any other technology the goal is to recreate the sun and some products do a better or worse job on spectrum and things of these natures but kind of our rule of thumb is if you can use the real deal let’s try to do that. So whenever we can use the sun that’s what we rely on. So for us it’s not just a cost metric, it’s also we find the sun grow cannabis with that full specter of light tends to just produce the best expression of a particular genetic as long as you can provide a good environment. So basically as I said with our concept of being an indoor facility with a skylight we’re able to use the full spectrum light of the sun but at the same time provide all the environmental controls heating, cooling, dehumidification, and even CO2 enrichment that you would see in an indoor producer.

Matthew: Okay and you threw out some facts and figures there about the size of your grow but can you say that once more? How big is the grow?

John: Correct. So at full capacity the facility is a little over seven acres. It’s about 35,000 square feet or the equivalent to about six NFL football fields. When we’re at full production we forecast we’ll be able to produce between 50 and 100,000 kilograms of cannabis per year and that will generate actually over one million plants per year on a five crop cycle.

Matthew: Wow. I assume you probably did a pro forma or some estimation of what a greenhouse would do for you in terms of a total indoor grow. How did that compare to what you’re projections were of just in your cost inputs electricity and so forth? Was there a surprise there or was it pretty much in line of what you thought the difference between an indoor grow electricity usage, utility usage versus a hybrid greenhouse?

John: I think the key here is our goal was not to be the cheapest supplier in Canada. So we do some things that create additional expense as compared to the average greenhouse grower. However we feel the result in terms of a more saleable, more desirable product is well worth it. So we’ve only been operating for about half a year so we haven’t... Canada obviously is a four season country. We haven’t been through the winters yet but initially our costs look very much in line with our projections and when we account for the additional yields that we’re able to provide per square foot per year as compared to traditional greenhouse I believe we’ll be quite competitive with greenhouse cost structures per gram and well ahead of the average indoor producer.

Matthew: Okay. What’s the patient growth like in Canada month over month? What are you seeing now? Is your estimate or is there official numbers on that?

John: Yeah so the patient growth is actually very exciting and very fantastic. So just to give context in our old system the court driven system I mentioned it took about 13 years to get about 40,000 patients into the program. Here we are approaching the third anniversary of the new commercial program and as of the most recent official statistics we’re between 75,000 and 80,000 patients. So just monumental growth for the three year period and also what’s quite exciting is we’re adding patients at a rate of about 10% month over month compounding. So really we’re starting to hit that hockey stick or that exponential trend in terms of patient acquisition and at Supreme we can’t take credit for that. That’s the hard work of all of the other licensed producers in Canada who are working with doctors and working with patients and building client databases but that’s part of why our wholesale model works.

We’re saying hey there is a lot of great companies out acquiring patients and working with docs to grow the market so let’s just sit back and supply them with cannabis so they can meet their own business goals rather than trying to roll up our sleeves and get in a fight over retail level market share.

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Matthew: Tell me about the rest of your team at Supreme.

John: Yeah so one thing I certainly find interesting having a background in marijuana production here under the old medical program and a good understanding of some high quality U.S. businesses people who come to see us at the greenhouse are often surprised that less than 50% of our staff actually work producing the marijuana. So we have a very big team from IT technicians and security folks to obviously accounting individuals, HR professionals, compliance individuals so it’s an interesting organization of a little under 30 people where less than half actually deal with the marijuana on a day to day. At a very high level some people of interest here we have a very strong board of directors at Supreme.

So key amongst that are our chairman who is a very successful developer here in Canada. Provides a lot of great expertise both on construction projects but also capital raising and corporate growth and we’ve also hired, brought on as a director a gentleman named Scott Walters who is a former investment banker who really has a passion for growing the cannabis industry in Canada and the U.S. So he provides us with great industry data and also data on developments, trends, and best practices coming out of the Pacific Northwest. So those are some great assets for Supreme and our shareholders. The company is run day to day by myself. We talked about my background and our CFO, Nab Dhaliwal who is a CA by trade but has a strong entrepreneurial side particularly with tech which I think is quite vital as day by day cannabis companies become more technologically savvy. I mean we’re just farmers on one hand but we’re quite tech savvy farmers at the same time.

And elsewhere on the team here at the greenhouse we’ve just been very fortunate to have great support in the local community and we’ve had a lot of highly skilled individuals who have knocked on our door to come work because they’re interested in what we’re doing and what we’re trying to achieve here and all in all it’s just a group here that I couldn’t ask for anything better in terms of a group of individuals to manage towards the common goal of becoming one of the world’s biggest cannabis companies.

Matthew: That sounds like a great team.

John: Absolutely. I wouldn’t trade them for the world.

Matthew: Listeners are always interested in the cost of cannabis and then what it could sell for so could you give us an idea of what the cost of cannabis is right now in Canada and what the selling price is per gram?

John: Absolutely. So in the legal market, so in the LP market where we operate which is a mail order system that I mentioned earlier the average sale price is in the 8 to 12 dollar range. So there are some outliers. There’s a few that are more expensive and there are a few that are less expensive but the average falls right in there for grams or small orders by patients. Our pricing model is we want to provide the retailers an ability to markup at least 50%. We’re very committed to our retailers doing well because our business grows when our retailers grow.

Matthew: Now I definitely don’t expect you to be an expert on illegal dispensaries in Canada but we can’t help but look at the headlines and see about all of these dispensaries that operate I guess you would say illegally or kind of in a gray area but probably illegally in Toronto and in Vancouver. What are your thoughts on that? What’s happening there and are more going to get shutdown in your opinion? Where do you see that going?

John: So definitely there has been immense growth primarily in and around Toronto and Vancouver. I would say five years ago we had a handful of very discrete medical cannabis stores and now we have hundreds. You’re correct to say there has been, it seems to be an increase of enforcement against these operators. For me I think the history of prohibition of cannabis shows if there’s demand for a product there will be supply whether it’s legal or illegal. If that was not the case you and I would not be having this conversation. Marijuana would have been eradicated in the 30’s and 40’s. So given that there is this demand to me it’s incumbent on our government to move quickly to regulate these storefronts and find a way to bring them into the market in a way that’s meaningful but at the same time is respectful and takes into considerations the safety of both users and non users.

So to me I think we have this awkward transitional period where I don’t think any action is going to be perfect. There is certainly critiques against legal action through law enforcement but at the same time there are valid critiques against doing nothing. So I think for me the big picture is I try to look forward and I try to do what I can to move our country as quickly as possible into a way where all the demand of Canada can be satisfied legally and where that industry is as inclusive as possible.

Matthew: What do you perceive as the largest challenges and opportunities for your business right now and also I’d say the market in general?

John: So if we talk first at the market I would say the biggest challenge is going to be creating a regulatory framework for recreational and medical sells that can do just what I mentioned which is provide a supply that is capable of satisfying all of the demand in Canada leaving as small as possible a black market. I think alcohol and tobacco show us there will always be some black market but I think that’s demand driven. I think most Canadian’s prefer legally sourced cannabis and as long as the legal providers give good value to their clientele I think that can be effective. So at the macro level I think that’s the challenges finding the right set of rules and regulations that allow for as close to a 100% legal market as possible and obviously the opportunity there is I’m sure there’s going to be a great growth in the number of companies and type of companies as regulations change and the recreational market opens up.

For Supreme our biggest challenge is going to be managing immense scale on a very short term. So one reason we like the wholesale business is it really allows us to focus on cultivation. So growing from the 20 or so thousand square feet we have today to 350,000 square feet under production in the next two to three years is a challenge there’s no doubt about it but the good thing is we’re able to focus all of our time, effort, and attention on that singular challenge which is scaling to become a leading cultivator which I think really mitigates a good deal of that risk. In terms of the opportunity what we see is a market that’s growing exponentially in medical. Supply is growing in more of a linear fashion and we see a massive catalyst event being the commencement of recreational distribution at some time in the next couple of years and that’s obviously going to have a massive increase in demand and we’re doing everything we can to make sure Supreme is front of mind as retailers and users of medical and recreational cannabis start making their purchasing decisions over the next 12 and 24 months.

Matthew: Okay so let’s say a lot of the rough edges get sanded and there’s a healthy medical and recreational market. What does it look like in Canada in 3 to 5 years from now would you say?

John: So actually I’m hesitant, my crystal ball has not been the most accurate in the past.

Matthew: That’s okay mine hasn’t either. We won’t hold you to it.

John: One reason that we like the wholesale business and we focus on growing is exactly that reason because what I can see in 3 to 5 years I’m quite confident we’ll have a recreational and a medical market and I’m quite confident I have a lot of faith in our government and our federal government and our provincial governments, our state governments that we’re going to have a pretty functioning marijuana or cannabis market. What that means for us is the only thing I can tell you absolutely will be true is a large functioning cannabis market needs a lot of great cannabis and that’s why we’re focusing on making sure we can be there as a leading cultivator and distributor of great cannabis to support the medical and recreational markets.

Beyond there the minutiae what does a store front look like, who gets to own it, how many extract products will be available, advertising restriction these things we actually don’t even speculate on those because as long as we can agree that great cannabis will be the backbone of any functioning cannabis market we’re well positioned to be successful.

Matthew: John I like to ask a few personal development questions to give listeners a sense of who you are personally. Is there a book that has had a big impact on your life that perhaps after you look at the arc of your life and look back on history has changed your perception or given you a new lens that you’d like to share with listeners?

John: Absolutely. So I actually thought about this one quite a bit thinking and maybe coming listening to some of your older interviews and I narrowed it down to two but I’ll give you one if I must. I would say that anyone looking to become an entrepreneur should read “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz. That book is about Ben’s career in a number of different successful startup tech companies but in a nutshell it comes down to CEO’s and entrepreneur’s are not graded on their history of success and their good days. Really the good and the bad are separated by how effective you can be on the bad days and it talks a lot about identifying those bad days and doing everything you can to keep the company going in the right direction.

So I think that is fantastic and if I can slide in one more I think everyone should have a look at “Zero to One” by Peter Thiel. That’s our concept here. We believe that through our hybrid greenhouse model we’re going from zero to one in terms of creating a totally brand new way of cultivating cannabis that combines the best practices of indoor cultivation with the power of the sun and the cost savings of a greenhouse.

Matthew: Is there a tool web based or otherwise that you consider indispensible to your life for productivity that you would like to share?

John: Absolutely. So we’re big believers here in virtual offices and virtual telecommuting. In part in necessity there’s 3 hours between our corporate office in Toronto and the greenhouse here in Kincardine. So whether it’s simple messaging software like Telegram or more advanced software say like Slack we feel very strongly in this day and age that every organization needs that quick sort of messaging solution that you can ask and get quick feedback on much more efficiently than typing out a whole email.

Matthew: John any thoughts on the American election? I just want to see if you can alienate half the audience really quick here.

John: I’m pretty sure you’re going to end up with a new president and beyond that that’s my only prediction.

Matthew: Does it look like a wrestling event the way it’s being produced in the conflict between the two? Is it entertaining out there in the great white north looking at this?

John: Entertaining yes until you realize that the TV drama is going to result in the next U.S. president.

Matthew: Right, right yeah right. That’s no laughing matter. Okay well John in closing how can listeners learn more about Supreme and can you tell us is there an opportunity to invest in the company that we haven’t discussed yet?

John: Absolutely. So the best way to find out about Supreme is to visit our website. It’s www.supreme.ca. So it’s www.supreme.ca, a Canadian ending and if you go there you can learn a bit more about the company but more importantly you can join our mailing list so you get all of our news releases and shareholder updates. Currently we’re not actively raising funds. We were very successful in closing what I think is the biggest non brokered private round for a Canadian marijuana company. We closed gross proceeds of approximately 15 million dollars over this ([28:23] unclear). So we’re well funded right now for our phase 1 expansion which will take us to about 100,000 square feet under production and we believe in excess of 10,000 kilograms of production per year.

So in terms of future offerings the best bet is to join the mailing list but also viewers are reminded that we are publicly traded so someone can always make an incremental investment either through the Canadian Securities Exchange where we trade under the symbol SL like the Mercedes or on the OTCBB market where we trade under the symbol SPRWF.

Matthew: Great. John thanks so much for joining us on CannaInsider today we really appreciate it.

John: Awe it’s my pleasure anytime.

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Canada’s legal cannabis business are booming, just take a look at their stock performance over the last few months. The reason has to do with the incredible growth of users that are purchasing cannabis from licensed producers.

About our Guest: John Fowler, President & CEO of Supreme (CSE: SL) (OTC: SPRWF)

John began working in the medical marijuana sector over ten years ago. He pursued a career in law to assist medical marijuana patients with legal challenges relating to access, employment and tenancies. This culminated in 2013 when John assisted with R v. Mernagh at the Ontario Court of Appeal. John is committed to providing Canadians access to high-quality, low-cost medical marijuana and working with the medical community to improve physician education and support for medical marijuana.

Key Takeaways:
[2:44] – John talks about how he got started in the cannabis space
[4:13] – High level overview of Supreme
[5:31] – Benefits on focusing on the wholesale market
[7:39] – John explains the hybrid greenhouse model
[9:35] – John talks about terpenes
[12:48] – Patient growth in Canada
[14:50] – John talks about his team at Supreme
[17:34] – Cost of cannabis in Canada
[18:44] – John talks about illegal dispensaries in Canada
[20:38] – John talks about challenges and opportunities in his business
[23:20] – Canada’s cannabis market in the next 3 to 5 years
[24:46] – John’s book and web tool recommendation
[27:43] – Contact details for Supreme

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