Riley McGee turned to medicinal cannabis in 2006 to treat his PTSD after returning to Canada after serving with the military in Afghanistan. He’s now the president of Abba Medix Corp, the production facility that provides cannabis products for Marijuana for Trauma — an advocacy group dedicated to helping veterans and other people suffering from occupational stress disorders. He is also the director of Marijuana for Trauma's parent company, Canada House Wellness Group.
Civilized spoke to him about his work and the future of the cannabis industry .
This article is part of a series written in partnership with Opportunities New Brunswick, the province's lead business development agency.
Tell us about your organization and what you do in the cannabis industry.
Canada House Wellness Group is the parent company of three subsidiaries: Marijuana for Trauma, Abba Medix Corp, and Knalysis Technologies.
The driving engine behind Canada House Wellness Group is Marijuana for Trauma. We have 11 clinics across the country, over 8,000 current patients, and about 3,000 of those are veterans.
Abba Medix is a licensed production facility in Pickering, Ontario. We received a license to cultivate September 1st, and we’re just completing construction before starting to cultivate in January.
Knalysis Technologies is a software company that we’ve used to create our cannabis patient management software. We use it to operate our clinics, collect data about the efficacy of cannabis, franchise our clinic model across the country, and license in other countries.
What makes you personally excited about being part of this new industry in Canada?
Lots of things. I’ve been a medical cannabis patient since 2006 (I successfully use cannabis to treat PTSD) and to be able to bring that access to Canada, and to be able to help other veterans to treat their PTSD, and get off harmful pharmaceutical cocktails, it gives you satisfaction.
Why did you decide to enter the cannabis industry? Was it a difficult decision?
After I was released from the military in 2007, I became a real estate investor, so I was actually developing a hotel for oil workers in northern Alberta in 2014 when the oil crisis happened. I basically decided to switch gears, and I was very interested in getting into the cannabis industry as a medical patient myself, so we discussed it and made a decision to pursue it all the way. It was something I’d already been interested in, something I was passionate about and very knowledgeable about, and so it's neat, because I’m working in an industry that I’m very passionate about.
The Federal Government plans to legalize adult use of cannabis by July 1, 2018 (or sooner). What does that mean for your company/organization?
I think it means a lot of opportunity for us.
Personally, we’ve always operated completely legally within the medical marijuana framework. We’ve never handled the product, we’ve always helped people get prescriptions and connected them with Health Canada approved licensed producers, so it doesn’t really change our business model. There’s probably hundreds of thousands of Canadians across the country that will need our education, support, and expertise to get what they’re looking to get out of the cannabinoid therapy.
So I think that, if anything, the recreational market will probably bolster our clinic model, our specialty cannabinoid clinic model, but I think it will mean a lot of opportunities for us as well in the recreational market.
What do you think legalization will offer New Brunswick — in terms of economic development as well as NB culture?
I think it will offer it some employment, another industry, potentially tourism, if they embrace it like they’ve done so far. I think New Brunswick is very open to the cannabis thing, they’re embracing it, they’re looking to kind of become a national leader in the production of cannabis and stuff. I think that’s very exciting. It’s good to see them embracing it, I guess, as opposed to some provinces that seem a little scared of it.
What role do you see New Brunswick playing in the larger framework of legalization — both in Canada as well as the world as a model industry?
I think that if they continue to incentivize companies the way they have, I think they’ll have substantial production coming out of New Brunswick.
At the end of the day, though, any market is run by its population. New Brunswick’s population is half the size of Edmonton’s, so you know, I see it as an interesting market and a place to get a foothold and start taking some brands to market, but Ontario has a huge amount of production, as well as the biggest population in Canada.
I think New Brunswick has a lot of possibility worth exploring, but I think that they’re limited somewhat by their population base.
What cannabis spinoff industries do you think we’ll see once see take off after adult use is legalized?
I’m very excited to see all the new products, branding, packaging, etc. You go down to Colorado or some of these other more mature markets, and they have crazy product lines, from drinks to candy to chocolate, a thousand different ways to consume cannabis. So I’m interested to see what people can come up with and what the consumer base gets excited about, because I don’t think we really have that figured out yet.
Opportunities New Brunswick is working to make New Brunswick THE national leader in the cannabis sector. Tell us what barriers/roadblocks to growth your team is facing (or will face) and how ONB is helping.
We’ve had some conversations with Opportunities NB about a few different things. We looked at some of the subsidization for employees and stuff, I believe. We’ve just had a lot going on and it’s been difficult to implement on some of the services and subsidies ONB provides just because of the red tape or the paperwork involved with obtaining those subsidies. But it’s significant that New Brunswick’s been excited about this, and looking for the right information and looking to come up with a plan to put into action. I think that’s great.
Where do you see the cannabis industry in 10-20 years — both in terms of the industry in New Brunswick and Canada as a whole?
I see two completely separate industries. I see a recreational industry that’s very substantial with all kinds of accessories and products. I see cannabis being served like alcohol at events and restaurants. On the other side, I’m expecting close to two million medical patients in the population. I think as time goes on, we’ll find more and more conditions that cannabis will be able to treat. More efficacy will be proven for cannabis, and I think we’ll see a very robust medical market with a huge amount of applications for cannabis.
The entire world will be watching as Canada becomes the first G7 country to legalize recreational cannabis use. Does that sort of global spotlight influence your company’s business decisions?
No, I think some of the other cannabis companies are very excited about the international market. Our goal is eventually to be selling picks and shovels, so I’m very excited to go to other markets and show them how we do things here in Canada.
I see cannabis as one of those products that is produced locally everywhere. So whether there’s going to be huge markets in other countries for Canadian products, maybe for a short period of time, but I think most of those countries will create production facilities to support their own marketplaces, and I’d encourage them to do so.
How will you deal with age-old stigmas surrounding cannabis?
I’ve been fighting the cannabis stigma since 2006. It’s one of my favourite things about being in this industry, and I feel like a year or two ago, the scale kind of tipped, where more than half the people agree with it and are embracing it, and I feel that’s climbing daily. I think we’re well into the vast majority of people in the country that are comfortable with cannabis and understand that there are certain medical properties to it, so I’m very proud of the work that’s been accomplished, and I think we’re almost there, it’s exciting.
The Province of New Brunswick recognizes the significant economic growth opportunities emerging from increased demand and legalization of cannabis in U.S. and Canadian jurisdictions. Opportunities NB (ONB), the province’s lead business development agency, has made cannabis, as well as industrial hemp, priority sectors, actively aligning its efforts to ensure the economic and regulatory portions of these industries connect.
Contact Steve Milbury, Senior Director of Special Projects, to learn more about becoming part of the New Brunswick cannabis industry.