The Business of Cannabis: Midas Letter

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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:

James West

Publisher/CEO, Midas Letter

Toronto, Ontario

Tell me about your company. We invest in and operate assets relative to the cannabis industry across media, cultivation, extraction, consumer packaged goods, medical research. I’m a CEO of a few of the companies. I’m on the advisory board of some of them. I guess I’m the founder of several of these enterprises. I’m the CEO of Midas Letter Media Corp that produces Midas Letter Live on Youtube and midasletter.com, its companion website.

How have you seen the industry change since you’ve been involved with it? Well, cannabis became legal! I’ve had a lifelong involvement with cannabis. I was such a cannabis enthusiast from a teenager forward, to the point where I was an active participant in commercial operations pre-legalization.

Have you seen radical changes in terms of a complete shift of those who are participating, or are you seeing a lot of people such as yourself that were maybe involved pre-legalization continuing to ride the wave? There’s a tonne of people who are still involved who were involved pre-legalization. The biggest sort of funny, interesting, noteworthy change is that people who were formerly extremely vocal opponents to anything to do with cannabis are now suddenly actively advocating, investing, and/or operating assets. The best-case example would be former chiefs of police [i.e. Bill Blair, of Toronto’s Police Services] who are now senior management of cannabis companies.

What would you like to see change in the future, and how are you personally and your companies contributing to that change? The Canadian situation is great, but there’s too much government interference in the industry. For example, it is absolutely untenable that cannabis companies are not permitted to advertise or sponsor events or promote themselves in any way, shape, or form while alcohol companies are. If cannabis is such a superior medicine to opiates and a superior recreational product to alcohol, how can we escape the hypocrisy that prevented us from recognizing these realities as long as we continue to cling to these hypocritical constructs?

What do you see as other particular roadblocks? Bureaucracy is a primary limiter.

Even more than negative perception? Perception has always been limited to the people who are in charge, government types or the elite. It first went legal in the United States for medical purposes because the young Charlotte Figi was having 200 epileptic seizures a day. It’s unfortunate that it takes the suffering of a child to pierce the veil of hypocrisy, especially in the context of all of the people who have died prematurely or had a less than stellar end-of-life experience because cannabinoids weren’t available.

To play devil’s advocate here, you’ve already noted that there have been restrictions in terms of research. Should this liter- ally be the Wild West? In other words, what do you see as appropriate regulation here? You’re contrasting it with alcohol, but maybe it isn’t that there should be cannabis advertising – maybe the answer is that there shouldn’t be alcohol advertising, for example. The lesson of cannabis prohibition should have been [that] it’s better to let people experiment with what works for them individually and then evolve policy from those experiences, rather than prohibit access to experimentation on moral or unscientific grounds. If that [were] the case, then we would have started with opiates and would have realized that, OK, these things are really bad, let’s make them harder and harder to get because people tend to become addicted to them. With cannabinoids, we should have said, let’s not restrict them, let’s learn from the people who are actively using them and study them, and we would have concluded that these things don’t make you lazy and unambitious. We should look to replace reliance on opiates with cannabinoids, which is where we’re going now. In the context of advertising, from the perspective strictly of what is fair, it’s either yes, no advertising for any intoxicant, or open season for all intoxicants that are deemed legal.

What do you still see as the biggest misconception? I think there’s two misconceptions: on the pro-cannabis side, that cannabis is a miracle drug cure-all, which I think is extreme and not supported by science. There are actually clinical studies underway right now studying the costs, whether cannabis causes lung cancer when you smoke it all of your life. On the anti-cannabis side, there’s still reports drawing massively distorted conclusions from data suggesting that Colorado’s rate of traffic fatalities [are] a result of cannabis consumption [being] at an all-time high since legalization. There are institutions generating misleading data that is based on self-serving, self-interested interpretation of data.

What do you see this industry looking like in five years? This is the second inning of a very long game. I think we’re looking at a future where every man, woman, child, dog, cat, and horse has a requirement over its lifespan to access cannabis for a wide range of reasons yet to be determined by science. I think that the largest exponential value creation exercises are yet in front of us, and it’ll make the last five years look like a warm-up for what’s to come.