The Business of Cannabis: Aphria Inc.

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By Jason Gorber

As part of our Business Talks with Canada’s top cannabis CEOs, we had the pleasure of speaking with:

Irwin Simon

Chairman/Interim CEO, Aphria Inc.

Leamington, Ontario

What does your company do? We are a grower and producer of cannabis that sells products throughout Canada and internationally.

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How have you seen the industry change over the last several years? I have seen where the industry has gone from a black market to a legalized market, with potentially a five to six billion dollar category just in Canada alone with regards to recreational, medicinal, and other ancillary products.

What would you like to see further change, and how are you and your company contributing to that change? [We’d like to see] the legalization of vaping and edibles in Canada. We’re working on product lines, both on the vaping side and on the edible side, for when it takes place and it becomes legal. I think the biggest thing it has to ensure, too, is when you make claims for the product from a medicinal point, whether it’s sleep, whether it’s pain, that it’s not hocus pocus but that the products really work and really have [the] effects that you suggest they do.

What do you see as the challenges or roadblocks to actually have the greater maturation of this industry? That’s the big thing, that it’s a real industry with real products, with real results, and that comes from investment into [Re- search & Development] (R&D), investments into clinical trials, investment into building brands, and investment into products that really have a purpose.

Are you seeing the better companies thriving, or is it still a ‘gold rush’ mentality? I think in every industry, there are always bad actors. It’s not our job to police; it’s my job to make sure that Aphria is known as ‘best in class’ in everything it does. Health Canada or consumers will ultimately decide who’s not real, who’s ultimately not coming out with the right products.

So, regulation continues to be a double-edged sword, both setting the rules and providing fairness while also at times restricting innovation? Regulation is good because it forces those that are not going to comply out of the business category. It’s no different than food, with the FDA regulation out there. The big thing, out there, is the industry continues to gain credibility... If you drink a beer, you know you’re drinking 5% alcohol. If you’re having an edible, you [need to] know exactly what you’re ingesting or you’re inhaling or you’re using, and you’ve got to make sure that product information is correct.

Is the advantage of the Canadian market simply that we are first or is there something specific about the nation's regulatory agencies and business community that actually promises in the future the country will continue to not only be a pioneer but a leading voice in the industry internationally? If Canada is allowed to continuously grow, continuously develop different products that are shipped in the U.S. or around the world, I think it’s going to be a big opportunity for Canada. If Canada, ultimately, is limited to everything Canadian, there’s going to be some ceilings on the growth because of your 36 million people and the size of the market.