'Be Passionate About What You Do': An Interview With Tjalling Erkelens of Bedrocan

Bedrocan International is perhaps the oldest medicinal cannabis producer in the world. Founder and CEO Tjalling Erkelens has been at the head of the company for more than 30 years. 

What makes your company different from others in the cannabis space?
I think we can honestly say that we are the oldest and most experienced legal medicinal cannabis producer in the world. Our oldest varieties go back to 1994.

Bedrocan started as a horticultural family company, whose roots go back to 1984. We developed standardized cannabis starting in the mid-nineties and became the sole supplier of pharmaceutical grade cannabis to the Dutch government in 2003. In 2017 we were the first company in the world that became GMP approved on our entire production process from clone-making via flowering, to whole-sale packed products. Our unique process of standardization ensures that the entire chemical composition of our cannabis is always the same from batch to batch already since our products were measured in an independent laboratory back in 2002. This is crucial for physicians and patients to ensure a consistent therapeutic effect over time, and for researchers to enable the comparison of findings from different clinical trials and studies across time.

How did you get into the cannabis space?
Beginning with daylight-less indoor production of white vegetables, such as chicory and white asparagus, we started experimenting with HPS lighting in 1991 for the production of kitchen herbs (such as parsley) in small containers. Somewhere in early 1992 we became acquainted with a small company that was specializing in the production of cannabis seeds and we became interested. In spring of 1992 we started growing our first crop of cannabis in what is now our oldest facility in a tiny one-street village near Veendam in the northern part of the Netherlands. That was where it all started…

Walk us through a normal day.
I'm up around 7 am, and checking e-mails from breakfast till about 9 am. After 9 am, I have various meetings with management in different departments of the company, mostly C-Suite and R&D. After lunch, most of my afternoons are filled with diverse external meetings - and more e-mails of course. I go to bed between 10 and 11 pm.

What has been your biggest lesson about working in cannabis, and in business in general?
Never ever trust people that show up at your doorstep (either in person or by e-mail) that tell you that they love what you do, and that they want to be part of it in the most altruistic way. They are either after your product, your money or even yourself.

What do you see as your biggest opportunity?
To become the first global leader in the true medicinal cannabis space. It’s ambitious, I know. But as our experience goes back more than 25 years, with products that are now available in more than 13 countries worldwide, we are definitely spearheading the pharmaceutical space of herbal cannabis compared to the rest of the bunch.

tjalling

Bedrocan founders Wupke Bruining and Tjalling Erkelens.

What sets you apart to make you a potential leader in cannabis?
Again, our long-lasting experience and the way we have achieved full standardization of our flowers in various chemical compositions. Aside from that, we have been a profitable company from our inception and we have found the sweet spot between high quality products and a low cost of production.

What is the most frustrating aspect of the cannabis industry today?
The ignorance of people that only value money and growth of the company and don’t show any passion for patients and their interests/problems, nor for the real science that is dearly needed to make cannabis a true medicine.

What would you say to those who are considering investing in your company?
Hey buddy, you’re going for a long-term relationship with a company that values quality of life over money, and will not accept ignorant and/or reckless financial behavior that will endanger or disrespect the company and its founders and investors. Our most important characteristics are: strong corporate governance, a drive for quality with a strong focus on research and continuous improvement.

What are the biggest challenges of being a publicly offered cannabis company?
To stay at the wheel and not get distracted from your original mission and vision by prioritizing money over real value (quality and brand recognition).

What advice would you give to anyone looking to get into the cannabis space?
First of all: study aspects of the business including how to run one. Second: be passionate about what you do. Last but not least: don’t care about money - only take care that you have enough to fulfill your passion.

What are your biggest tips for branding cannabis?
Be creative, think outside the box, create something unique, don’t focus on what others have done in the same space; accept that you have to learn and educate yourself on how to do things better.

Do you see any big changes coming in the future of cannabis?
Yes. All cannabis production globally will be regulated within 10 – 20 years. However recreational/adult production and sales will and must be under a rigorous regulatory framework to avoid harm to our kids. I do expect that we'll have learned from our experiences with tobacco and alcohol when we start regulating cannabis in full.

Do you consume cannabis? And if so, what's your favorite way to consume?
I tried Bedrocan once a long time ago, just out of curiosity. But because I do not have a medical condition there is no reason for me to use cannabis. I do have advice for patients: Vaporizing is the safest and most efficient way of administration. Avoid smoking as it is not healthy.

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