Ray Gracewood is the Chief Commercial Officer with OrganiGram, a licensed producer of medicinal cannabis based in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada. He oversees the commercial aspect of the business, including marketing, branding, and product development. He’s a busy man, but he did make some time to talk to Civilized about OrganiGram and the future of medicinal and recreational cannabis.

(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.

We’ve been in business since 2013 and we started shipping product in April 2014. We’re one of the very first licenses received through the MMPR (Marijuana for Medical Purposes) system, which has now evolved into the ACMPR (Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes) system. At the time, we were the first licensed producer east of Quebec and as of right now, we’re the largest licensed producer within Atlantic Canada and one of the major licensed producers across the country.

What makes you personally excited about being part of this new industry in Canada?

For me, [it is] developing brands in a world where brands don’t exist, working with government to frame up policy, and working with some pretty amazing entrepreneurs and business people. OrganiGram is incredibly excited to be growing at the rate that we’re growing.

Right now our medical business is our first priority, and it makes up 100 per cent of our current business, but we also have a clear line of sight for the adult recreational market, and right now we’re in the middle of a massive, $60 million expansion that’s going to make us even more of a significant player on the national stage.

Why did you decide to enter the cannabis industry? Was it a difficult decision?

I joined OrganiGram about two years ago, and previous to that, I spent 12 years with Moosehead Breweries doing a lot of marketing, brand development and product development. The reason that I made the choice [to move] was that I thought that working for a New Brunswick-based company that was going to play a role in shaping the future of the cannabis industry in Canada was a pretty incredible opportunity.

Ray Gracewood

Ray Gracewood of OrganiGram

The Federal Government plans to legalize adult use of cannabis by July 1, 2018 (or sooner). What does that mean for OrganiGram?

It’s a massive opportunity for us. We see our business being two-fold as of next July, between both medical and adult recreational cannabis. I think the thing that excites us the most is being a major player as the federal government decides what kind of product types will be available to cannabis consumers across the country. Right now, dried cannabis and cannabis oil are the only two formats that we’re allowed to produce and to sell, but we’re very excited that within the first 12 months, there’s been a commitment to extend that to include edibles and extract products, as well as vaporizable oil products.

What do you think legalization will offer New Brunswick — in terms of economic development as well as NB culture?

In New Brunswick, we operate our business in a province that’s been incredibly progressive and bullish on this file. So I think the cannabis industry presents an incredible opportunity for the province, and the fact that New Brunswick has been so proactive and supportive of fostering new business opportunities is a really good sign for the future economic growth of the province.

Culturally, we are regulating and we are legalizing the product, we’re not inventing it. The reality is that there’s likely only going to be a 10 per cent increase in overall consumption based on legalization. So from a cultural and a societal perspective, I think the only thing that will change is that some people may see the government’s approach to this opportunity a bit differently. But I think if people think for one second that on July 1, 2018, the entire province is going to be more enamoured with cannabis, that’s a significant overstatement.

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?

Right now, New Brunswick is on the forefront of this movement. I think it’s an incredible opportunity for New Brunswick to stand up on a soap box and aggressively pursue what is best in class in terms of operational environments and tax incentives and creating a supportive culture for cannabis business. Whether that’s nationally or internationally, that’s an incredible opportunity for New Brunswick to solidify its place in cannabis history.

What cannabis spinoff industries do you think we’ll see once see take off after adult use is legalized?

I think there’s incredible opportunities in ancillary businesses, such as storage solutions, consumption gear, and also canna tourism. Those are just a few examples of the many spinoff opportunities that will become a reality, but whether you’re a cultivator, whether you’re a research house, whether you’re a manufacturer of packaging, the tail is very long for the cannabis industry.

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 want to employ the best New Brunswickers that we can in our working environment. One of the projects that we’ve worked on with ONB has allowed us to actively target the best employees for our production and cultivation environment, so they’ve been very helpful in creating a program with us that allows us to target those potential employees and bring more employment to the province.

3 Tier

Inside OrganiGram

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 think we’ll start to see a maturity in the market, and we’ll also start to see some significant commoditization. From a product perspective, dried cannabis will start to become thought of as the starting material versus the end result, so the industry will very quickly get to a point where extracts and edible products are more the norm. But I also think that there will be a societal and cultural change, as we continue to do as much as we can to de-stigmatize the product. I think that the more time the industry has to mature and evolve, the closer we’ll get to truly respecting the medicinal value that it brings to people’s lives.

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 don’t think it influences our business decisions. It’s something that brings a lot of excitement and media attention to our business and to our industry, but I think at the end of the day, we pride ourselves on making good business decisions and structuring our organization as one that can be successful in any environment.

There’s an awful lot of pressure on an awful lot of groups to ensure that the country gets this right, and we’re absolutely committed to doing our part there, so we’re focused 100 per cent on innovative techniques and improving the quality of our product. But at the end of the day, we’re doing that for ourselves, and for our patients and future consumers more so than due to any kind of spotlight that the country may have on us right now.

How will you deal with age-old stigmas surrounding cannabis?

We deal with them every day, but I think that’s part of the challenge that we have as educators is to have those conversations, whether it’s with physicians, or patients, or the media or the general public. I would say over the last two years, we’ve seen an incredible rate of growth and understanding, in the different forms of cannabis and the different uses of cannabis.

That destigmatization of the product is happening at an incredible and rapid pace, and part of that is because of the pending legalization of the product from an adult recreational perspective, but I also think it’s due in great part to some of the incredible work done within the medical cannabis industry, not just in Canada but around the world. The more of that that happens, the quicker the product becomes de-stigmatized, and that stigma goes away.

If you were asked to name a cannabis strain after New Brunswick, what would you call it?

We actually do name a couple of our strains after New Brunswick, it’s kind of our naming convention. I’m going to have to go with one of our existing blends, which is High Tides. Which, you know, is 100 per cent due to the respect we give the Bay of Fundy.

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.