Opinion: Bad actors hurt the cannabis industry and medical patients are the ones suffering

Jul 30 2019, 6:02 pm

Written for Grow by Robert Galarza, CEO of TruTrace, a company that specializes in using blockchain ledgers to create a trackable system for regulated cannabis.


The latest transgression in the Canadian cannabis industry may have left shareholders lamenting losses, but the true victims are medical cannabis consumers.

With CannTrust putting 12,400 kilograms of cannabis on hold and halting any further sales at this time, patients are left without medicine in a market that is already suffering from lack of access.

Furthermore, bad actors discredit the industry at large which is detrimental to Canada’s first-mover advantage. All eyes are on us to set a precedent and establish an honest, functional industry, but these types of setbacks serve as fodder for the naysayers and anti-cannabis activists.

A new industry is never without its imperfections, but it is imperative that we hold ourselves accountable and do better at setting an example.

Some people are looking for the cannabis industry to fail, and right now — in some respects — we are.

Building trust

Canada’s medical cannabis market has been legally operating since 2001, with 342,103 patients registered with a licensed producer (LP) as of September 2018.

In that same time period, only 18,086 health care practitioners across the country reported having ever provided a medical document for a client registered with an LP.

Prior to legalization, the Canadian Medical Association had been vocal about its lack of support for medical cannabis. A lack of randomized controlled trials and limited education about cannabis and the endocannabinoid system play a large part in this, however, irresponsible behaviour on the part of the cannabis industry can also further this type of anti-cannabis sentiment.

Although the pharmaceutical industry is not without its own faults and has certainly faced scrutiny, cannabis is fighting an uphill battle slicked by nearly a century of prohibition and propaganda.

When trying to get people on your side, it does a disservice to the entire movement if we can’t establish trust.

Despite the fact that medical cannabis has often been reported as an effective treatment for illnesses ranging from pain management to Parkinson’s, there is a chasm between the medical and cannabis communities, and it is our job as industry leaders to bridge that divide.

The unfortunate reality faced by the cannabis industry is that medical professionals do not trust us yet, and recent issues, which ultimately leave patients without access to medicine — only exacerbates that divide.

Feeling the pressure

Legalization is ultimately a positive thing, but perhaps the steep timeline has posed challenges. No industry can develop and become structured and operational in the timeline we’ve been given, which has resulted in undue pressure to succeed.

The stakeholders of our industry, from investors to producers, as well as Canadian society — which runs on immediacy — have created an environment of accelerated competition and capitalism that is not sustainable. Effective regulation cannot be expected to be managed by the operators within the industry themselves, especially when there is the expectation to grow and profit every day.

Market pressures can and do, unfortunately, lead to bad conduct. 

Although we’ve seen this in many other industries, the consequences are more dire for cannabis, as it is an emerging market that is already burdened by stigma.

The cannabis industry also suffers from not yet having the proper infrastructure in place to manage compliance. CannTrust, as well as Bonify, were caught due to internal whistleblowers, an obligation employees should never have to face.

Relying on whistleblowers also isn’t a failsafe. Employees who are treated well, paid well, or fear putting themselves and their colleagues out of work likely won’t call out bad practices, nor should they have to.

Traceability software, management infrastructure, and regulatory oversight are key for creating trust, accountability and sustainable practices.

Moreso, cannabis companies need to continue to step up and help create a thriving market if they want to secure a successful market.

We can help facilitate this by engaging with medical professionals in a way that brings value to them and their patients. This will expand into the rest of the industry including clinical trials, patient studies, and establishing the consistency and efficacy of cannabis as medicine.

As physicians and practitioners become more comfortable recommending cannabis to their patients, the market will grow and there will be more opportunity for everyone — and more importantly, improved access to effective treatment for patients.

This needs to be a collaborative effort between the cannabis and medical industries, but first, physicians need an industry they can trust.