Interview with Greg Wilson, Chairman and CEO of VidaCannabis.com. Greg talks about: R&D, their new 315,000 Sq Ft growing facility, and more. Listen to the interview below or find the interview on iTunes
Interviewer: Today we're going to be hearing the story of Vida Cannabis, headquartered in Canada's capital of Ottawa. Vida has its sights set on becoming one of the largest and most advanced cannabis growers in Canada. Vida recently broke ground on construction of a state of the art 315,000 square foot production facility in Nova Scotia. We are fortunate to have Greg Wilson, the Chairman and CEO of Vida Cannabis with us today. Welcome Greg.
Greg: Thank you very much.
Interviewer: Glad you could be on the show. For people that are not familiar with Vida, can you give us a little background on what Vida is?
Greg: Yes, absolutely. Vida Cannabis was conceived from inception to build a leadership position in the medical marijuana market in Canada. We have assembled what I believe is the top management team in the country in the key areas of security, research, quality assurance and cultivation. We're in the process of obtaining a commercial production license from Health Canada under the MMPR, which stands for Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations, which came into effect on April first of this year. And as you mentioned, we purchased a 315,000 square foot building in the town of Stellarton in the Province of Nova Scotia, and we're nearing completion of a phase one build out that will include a 600 light, state of the art hydroponic grow facility.
Interviewer: God, that's absolutely massive, 315,000 square feet.
Greg: It's big, it's actually seven acres under roof and so it certainly gives us the size and scalability to expand in what we see as a market with significant growth over the coming years.
Interviewer: Okay. How did you get into the medical marijuana industry, I mean did you wake up one day and say I must be in this industry and build the biggest grow facility in Canada? Is it the biggest grow facility? It sounds like it might be.
Greg: Well, it's the biggest that we know of.
Greg: At the present time. And I hadn't really thought too much to be honest about the industry itself, but after watching this CNN documentary hosted by Dr. Sanjay Gupta...
Interviewer: Oh sure.
Greg: ...in August of 2013, I really started to think about the medicinal power of marijuana, and I was intrigued by the opportunity to create a business in a market that is in the early stages of significant growth and at the same time, be in a position to help patients who rely on marijuana for a variety of ailments.
Interviewer: Good timing. Are you looking to sell cannabis at the retail or wholesale level?
Greg: Our plans are to provide medical marijuana directly to patients, so at the retail level.
Interviewer: Okay. When do you estimate you'll have your first harvest and how big do you estimate that will be?
Greg: Well as I mentioned at the outset, we're in the process of applying for a license, and at present we are in the security clearance stage.
Greg: So our next milestone is the granting of what's called a ready to build letter, which is analogous to conditional approval.
Greg: Now we've already started construction in anticipation of that letter, and we hope to be ready you know early in January for an on-site inspection by Health Canada and at that inspection there will be a focus on security protocol and quality assurance standards, and if we pass that inspection, we'll at that point be granted the right to start growing which would put us in position to ship to patients in the Spring of next year.
Interviewer: Okay. You know as you're in the midst of it right now, what do you feel like Health Canada, Government officials, and regulators are doing right, what are they doing wrong, do you feel like it's too onerous in any way or do you think that what they're, the proper controls are in place, how do you feel about it overall?
Greg: You know, I think the MMPR is a step in the right direction. Again it was put into effect April first of this year and it really focuses on large scale commercial producers. And so I like the program, I think it's bringing needed regulation to the market. There's very strict quality control and quality assurance standards, which are good for patients looking for marijuana as medicine, and so I think there's a lot they're doing right. It is in the early stages of new legislations so I do think there will be change. One change we'd like to see is a different delivery method. Right now, according to Health Canada's guidelines, we ship by wither mail or courier directly to the patient.
Greg: And given the amount of money that spend to secure our facility, we're not sure that's the most secure or safe form of delivery. So we're hoping over time that that gets addressed.
Interviewer: So you're hoping to be able to have patients come into maybe a retail location and purchase real time instead of having to wait for a courier or mail, is that what you're hopeful for?
Greg: We do see some form of dispensary model evolving.
Greg: That will take some time but if they're properly secured and if they're you know professionally run and very patient centric, then we do you know, think that that would be a more viable model you know to work with patients longer term.
Interviewer: Now I just want to stop and talk about the facility in Stellarton Nova Scotia, the grow facility. I mean this is so outrageously huge I just got to get some more details. Is there any greenhouse aspect to this grow facility or is it entirely enclosed like a building and what's the security like there? You touched a little bit on the security but can you give us a little more detail?
Greg: Yeah, absolutely. It's an old warehouse facility. With 18 high walls, very secure, you know very few windows, and so you know it's a true indoor fully secure facility. We're actually implementing a level ten security standard, which is the highest level available and includes three meter high perimeter fence with barbed wire on top dug down two feet below surface, there's 24 hour surveillance, night vision cameras, thermal imaging on the roof, and biometrics inside to control access and I believe our facility will be the most secure medical marijuana facility in Canada and will set the standard for those that follow. Interestingly our head of security is Derek Ogden, who spent 27 years with the RCMP, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Greg: And for the last seven of his 27 years of service he rose to the rank of Director General and Chief Superintendent in charge of the drug enforcement department across Canada and had 1300 investigators reporting to him. So Derek has tremendous experience working with Health Canada, working with security forces and you know is a huge sort of part of our team and that really resonates with Health Canada in terms of what they're looking for in terms of security.
Interviewer: That's great. I know you can't speak for Derek but that's a big turn about to go from you know RCMP or Government Enforcement to then security on your end, I mean has his attitude toward the plant changed or was he always in support of legalization?
Greg: You know if you ask Derek, he'll say in effect he's sort of working for the Government because he's going to be working for a licensed producer that is subject to very strict standards set out by the Government for the safe delivery of the product, you know, for delivering a quality product that again is medicine to patients. So in a way, Derek still feels he's working you know with the Government to enforce very high standards in this nascent industry.
Interviewer: Cool. How much has been invested in Vida so far?
Greg: Well, we raised a total of just under $10 million to date, and we'll be spending a total of about $12 million on the facility itself by the time we're done. And we expect to you know be finished construction sort of in the December time frame of this year. And we're currently raising additional funds to finish the building.
Interviewer: Is there still opportunities for investors to participate in Vida's growth and how can they do that if so?
Greg: Yeah, it's a private route of financing that we're doing right now. It's only available to accredited investors.
Greg: In Canada, the U.S., or foreign. And if anyone is interested, they could you know just go to our website or contact me through our website for more information.
Interviewer: Okay. So a little more detail circling back to Stellarton, you can tell I have a fascination with the size of this grow facility. Will that be broken down into like sub rooms, smaller rooms, how will that look from the actual grow perspective?
Greg: Right, so we're starting with an initial phase one build out of 93,000 square feet which will include about 35,000 square feet of actual grow space. And the rest of the areas will be you know employee areas, employees will have locker rooms, there will be shower facilities where they'll shower and they'll put on pharmaceutical sort of grade gowns, they'll go through a negative ionizer before they reach the cultivation area to ensure that there's no pests or pathogens introduced to the cultivation area.
Greg: There's also you know, shipping, receiving, there's a security area, and we're also going to have an onsite laboratory, which is quite unique to Vida. And so there's a lot of infrastructure bring built into the initial phase and again the grow facility itself will be broken down into four different grow rooms so as the plants advance to different stages of the growing cycle, they'll move through these different grow rooms.
Interviewer: Okay. And you mentioned a little bit about a lab on site, can you tell us what Vida's goals are in terms of research and development?
Greg: Yes, absolutely. We're very fortunate to have as our Chief Research Scientist Dr. Pritesh Kumar who earned his PhD in Cannabinoid Pharmacology and for the past six years has managed the cannabinoid research and testing lab at the University of Louisville in Kentucky. And Pritesh is a published expert and a featured speaker at medical marijuana conferences. And one of the objectives at the lab will be to develop proprietary genetics that can then be tested in clinical environments with research collaborations that we're creating. And one of those research collaborations that we're very excited about is with AltMed, a medical marijuana company based in Florida that shares our research focused, science based approach to producing pharmaceutical grade marijuana.
Interestingly again AltMed is setting up a lab of their own in Florida and we plan to work together to again develop proprietary genetics and then collaborate to really advance research in this area and provide clinical evidence and efficacy to the medical community which and the doctors we've talked to are open to prescribing medical marijuana but are clearly looking for more clinical evidence on the effectiveness to support this as a medicine.
Interviewer: Okay. Is there any specific ailments that you're interested in developing treatments or applications for right now, or that's still a little vague?
Greg: You know, one of the key areas that we see is for pain management and chronic pain.
Greg: We've done significant profiling of a patient population that our 5-person grow team has been supplying for over five years in British Columbia. And this group of 5600 patients which, by the way is very loyal to our grow team and has committed to moving over to Vida once we get a license. We've profiled 600 of these 5600 people and 70% are using medical marijuana for some form of pain management or pain relief. So our initial strains will be geared towards you know those ailments and that patient population.
Interviewer: Okay, interesting. I know that cannabis firms can't advertise in Canada, correct?
Greg: That's right. We cannot advertise, however, there are a number of things we can do to create awareness for patients and for the medical community. And you know we're going to be partaking in a number of health care conferences with a focus on ones that Pritesh will be a speaker at. We've also got a medical outreach program where we'll be educating doctors and working with physicians across Canada to again, provide clinical evidence and research to back up you know the effectiveness of medical marijuana. And then of course there's public relations opportunities...
Greg: ... that we'll be able to advantage of too to create awareness about Vida as a company and our approach to the business.
Interviewer: Now what's your general feeling about where doctors are as far as the understanding how cannabis can help their patients? Not just doctors but you know the health care community in general in Canada, do you feel like there's a huge disconnect and there's a massive opportunity for education or do you feel like that gap is being bridged pretty rapidly?
Greg: I think there's work to be done. I think there is an openness from the medical community, certainly the people we've talked to, to prescribe medical marijuana, but they're looking for more information and as I mentioned, one of the reasons that we're going to take an active role in advancing the research and doing clinical studies is so that we can share the results of that with the medical community and really work with them on a peer to peer basis to create credibility for Vida and to educate them you know over the sort of shorter to medium term. So it's not going to happen overnight but again we've talked to a lot of doctors that we feel are open to it. We've talked to a number of pain management specialists in Atlantic Canada where our plant will be based, and there's a real openness and willingness to be educated and work with us on an ongoing basis.
Interviewer: Now you'll have to forgive me because I'm a little bit ignorant about some of the laws in Canada, can only the flower or the bud be sold, or can the oil be sold as well?
Greg: No you're right. Only the dry product at present is allowable to be produced and sold in Canada as per Health Canada's guidelines.
Greg: And so the oil we actually have to dispose of as waste.
Interviewer: Oh no.
Greg: Yeah. It's tough to do and it's actually not in the best interest of patients because of course the oil in a concentrated form is very therapeutic and patients are demanding edibles and infused products because for some of them it's a more therapeutic form of taking the medicine and also some you know don't want to smoke or use a vaporizer. So we do see those laws changing, hopefully soon, and when they do change, there's going to be a product development opportunity to bring in other forms of ingestion be it trans dermal patches, or sprays, or creams, or edibles and infused products so that product development area is another sort of area that we're working with AltMed on and that we've got plans to co develop products in that area so that when Health Canada does allow other forms of ingestion we'll be in you know a leadership position to take advantage and lead the way in providing that to patients.
Interviewer: Very cool. I get sad, I think about all that orphan oil out there I hope at least they can, you can find a way to store it maybe or something until that law changes because that's so valuable, hope that changes soon.
Greg: Yeah, it's pretty clear. We actually have to dispose of it, we have to pay to dispose of it and there's very strict guidelines on how we dispose of it so at present we're not able to store it.
Interviewer: Okay. Where do you see the cannabis industry in 5 to 10 years, I know it's a very tough question and you're not an oracle but I mean it is just changing everyday and every time I think that hey I think I have a handle on this, this seems like it's growing exponentially, what do you think we'll see in 5 to 10 years?
Greg: Well, you're right. One constant will be change. And we see a number of changes coming. Higher levels of quality assurance and quality control, we do see the medical community over time becoming more comfortable as they become more educated with prescribing medical marijuana, we see a national dispensary system to replace the current system of delivery through mail or courier.
Greg: We see product development with other forms of ingestion. And we also see the emergence of a few dominant brands emerging certainly in Canada. We feel it's a huge opportunity for Vida to create a dominant national brand that's synonymous with quality and professionalism.
Interviewer: Gosh I agree with you, I mean right now even just looking at the dosage problem, people come here to Colorado and they eat a whole candy bar and then they have a strange afternoon, there's just no consistency, there needs to be maybe a Coca Cola of the cannabis industry or something where people have a consistent feel and experience over and over so I wish you well with that. I know you have a background in the precious metals industry and finance, and I think there might be some similarities in that precious metals there's definitely a big supply and demand dynamic, in precious metals there's mining and in cannabis there's growing. Do you see a relationship at all between the two?
Greg: You know certainly there are some parallels that you pointed out. The more I learn and work in the medical marijuana market, the more I prefer that market especially in Canada given that it's a federally approved program.
Greg: In an industry where I see just tremendous opportunity for growth and development and the ability to help people. So it offers rewards in many different ways.
Interviewer: I agree. Well Greg as we close, can you tell listeners how they can learn more about Vida cannabis?
Greg: Yes certainly. Our website is vidacannabis.com and I encourage your listeners to visit us regularly because we are in the process of a major revamping of the website and so if you keep sort of looking regularly hopefully you'll see the development of that revamp and the results of the repositioning.
Interviewer: Well, thanks so much for the interview Greg, we really appreciate it.