Cannabis and corporate finance and banking industry executive Tej Virk recently joined African medical cannabis company Akanda as CEO, where he will be leveraging his wealth of experience to disrupt the UK and European cannabis market.
Tej Virk has joined Akanda as CEO from Khiron Life Sciences, where he was President and Managing Director for Europe, establishing Khiron’s medical and consumer packaged goods business in the European cannabis market. Prior to this, Virk was Managing Director for Europe at Canopy Growth Corporation, where he was responsible for driving the multinational expansion of Canopy’s European operations.
Although not currently involved, Virk is also one of the first executives to push for and fund Europe’s largest medical cannabis patient registry, Project Twenty21, for which he was an advisor – driving the opening of the medical flower market in the UK.
The appointment of Virk comes as vertically integrated multinational cannabis company, Halo Collective recently announced the reorganisation of its international assets, Bophelo Bioscience & Wellness Pty. Ltd, and Canmart Ltd., into the newly formed Akanda Corp.
Akanda is currently a 100% owned subsidiary but, as Virk highlights, is independent within Halo. The first assets pulled into the company in the UK is its distribution business, Canmart, which is fully licensed by UK regulators and working with multiple LPs in order to import EU GMP medicines, as well as distribute them to clinics and patients in the UK. It will also be utilising the scaled production capabilities of Bophelo, Halo’s Lesotho-based cultivation and processing site, which is located in the world’s first Special Economic Zone (SEZ) containing a cannabis growth operation.
“That is a rare business within the UK, and has so much potential to scale. With my unique capabilities I’m in a position to do so,” says Virk. “Pair that with the absolutely massive grow in Lesotho – which has the potential to be the world’s largest cannabis grow as it is currently licensed for 200 hectares, which is a massive amount of land – over 700 football pitches. Lesotho is a beautiful, pristine country with all the natural sunlight needed to bring quality medical cannabis to the market at a very attractive cost point.”
By utilising Halo Collective’s ecosystem, Akanda has positioned itself to disrupt the UK, European, African, and other international markets. Virk highlights that as a combined company, the focus was split on two markets – recreational and medical.
“I think the focus was split on two markets which shared a similar product – they are sort of the same thing at the end of the day, but with some very important differences when it comes to regulations within international markets – Europe and Asia Pacific medical markets are highly regulated.
“Europe must follow and comply with all of the same types of regulations that you would see with any sort of over-the-counter medicine in a pharmacy or behind-the-counter medicine. This includes safety standards and testing, it is about creating an incredible consistent product within a very tight range of variables – they must be shelf life stable and almost the same quality you would attribute to box of paracetamol. So, while products have these regulations attached to them, in the US and other markets, where you have adult use recreation, it is a different business, probably closer to consumer packaged goods business.
“Lesotho will provide the start of the supply chain and provide high-quality dry flower for inhalation and flower for extraction to create medicines, then we have the distribution business in the UK. So, we are going to be taking flower from Lesotho and importing it to the UK. We have already seen the first medical cannabis coming from Lesotho from a competitor about a month ago, so this pathway of bringing cannabis from Lesotho to Europe is open, which is a massive de-risking for us. In terms of expansion we will be focusing on distributors in other markets that would help us get to market faster, and looking for distributor partnerships in the near term.”
Leveraging HALO’s heritage to disrupt European cannabis market
Akanda will be providing medical cannabis products for patients worldwide by leveraging award-winning genetic strains from Halo, DNA. Combining this with ideal conditions for outdoor and greenhouse-based cultivation in Lesotho, and the country’s low energy cost and competitive labor market, Akanda will be able to produce high-quality medical cannabis with ultra-low production costs.
“We are leveraging our heritage of being part of the Halo collective and what Halo has done is incredibly well is grow cannabis for the recreational market at scale. I think they have won the war of attrition on the US West Coast – there was a big pricing war from which Halo has emerged victorious, and, in doing so, has established relationships with some of the top brands in California and West Coast markets.
“Those brands and strains are the ones that have survived really difficult markets with some of the most discerning consumers and patients in the world – so, we are actually leveraging those relationships and growing those strains in Lesotho,” commented Virk.
“The ones we are starting with are DNA Genetics – which has won over 200 awards and is the same company that Canopy Growth partnered with in Canada when they launched into the adult use markets. What I like about DNA Genetics is that these are well known strains that have well observed outcomes – yes they are recreational market position, but a lot of the outcomes are medical, which we can see from self reporting of patients and consumers citing same sort of the effects for patient.
“Anxiety and pain relief two are indications in the medical market, so we are taking the data and well known strains and bringing that to the European market as you cannot export to international or European markets because of the federal legality, so we have bridged that gap. We have leveraged the incredible climate which is really like California but with little to no pollution, and we are growing those strains at scale and delivering that at a great price point.
“Europe and Asia Pacific are the first two core regions we will disturb, and really, any market which does medical cannabis which is in our remit. We are trying to narrow our focus on those two, but if we were to sum up all medical cannabis markets we would have an addressable market of over $70bn, so there is quite a lot of potential – including the UK.”
Committed to ESG practices
Akanda’s commitment to environmental, social, and governance practices broadens its potential investor base, while advancing Lesotho’s and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
“We are committed to ESG principals – if there were three things to hone in on, it would be the medical focus within international markets, the high quality that comes with scale, and the way we are defining quality through those trusted brands,” said Virk.
“I think we are uniquely positioned to take some of the best practice in the cannabis space and wrap them in ESG, so part of it starts with our social equity initiative in Lesotho, which is a developing country with a small population. This industry has the chance to bring massive change to the community there in the Mafateng province. We are helping to uplift and install resilience in that local community and this is partly thanks to the initiative of executive chairman, Louisa Mojela, who is a most accomplished business woman having sat on the board of Southern Africa’s top companies, and really brings with her a background of working with charitable organisations.
“We are bringing this industry to people in a region where there is a lot of unskilled labour and teaching them skills in cultivation of cannabis and taking that through to advance roles. We are seeing some people go from working as a grower to working in more complex roles such a regulatory compliance – there are real success stories there.
“The environment is another impact area we are really focussed on such as having neutral carbon footprint, so we have some initiatives around that and zero-carbon cannabis is something that we think is is within our grasp. We are also trying to achieve as many of the UN Sustainability Goals as we can which includes everything from ending hunger to improving education. As a company, we are probably able to achieve 12 of the 17 of the goals, and we are at eight right now. We cannot do all 17 as some depend on government, but as a single company I think we are doing an amazing job.
“We have a charitable trust attached to our subsidiary in Lesotho which is dedicated to donating 10% of our profits to the Mophuthi Matsoso Development Trust which goes towards uplifting the community, building schools, providing education and helping to develop proper programmes. We have already built one school which is incredible to see and it is having a real impact on peoples lives – it is really a driving force for change and a win-win situation for all, benefiting the community, the patients with constant quality medical products and the shareholder because the returns are there.”
Virk added: “I’m really excited to join Akanda – it is probably one of the most exciting companies to be a part of in the space, which I say with some objectivity as I am still new to the role – with this particular company there is so much potential.”
Colombian-grown cannabis flower reaches Switzerland
The shipment follows updates to Colombia’s cannabis export policy.
Allied Corp has shipped 1728kgs of Colombian-grown commercial cannabis flower to Switzerland.
The shipment has been made as a part of the previously announced export approval of 7100kgs of Colombia-grown cannabis. This shipment of 1728kgs to Switzerland will be followed by 1500kgs weekly until the 7100kg threshold is met.
After the enactment of Colombia’s new legislation allowing for the legal export of dried cannabis produced in Colombia in April 2022, Allied submitted several applications for export.
After receiving approval for export, Allied’s first export was shipped in June 2022 and the second shipment was in July 2022. This latest recurring shipment in August 2022 is now turning into a weekly cycle of 1500kgs.
This makes Allied Corp the first company to ship commercial cannabis flower from Colombia to an international market.
CEO and Chairman of the Allied Corp board, Calum Hughes, commented: “We are the first company ever to ship a Colombian commercial shipment of dried cannabis to an international market – now we are not only duplicating our shipments but are doing so at a commercial scale.
“This is the largest known legal shipment that we know of out of Colombia. This accomplishment speaks to the quality of our team, and most importantly our product.”
Allied has said that it has multiple strains in the production pipeline including over 15,000 THC plants created for multiple batches to fulfil its 2022 quota.
Hughes added: “From decades of production expertise, manufacturing and supply chain quality assurance, regulatory expertise and logistics coordination – the team has performed.
“The three years of genotyping and phenotyping followed by the regulatory knowledge needed to execute the export have proven successful.
“We can now boldly claim that we are not only the first to pull it off, but we have been able to duplicate the orders at commercial scale; the largest that we know of.
“We have now done it for three months in a row and are tightening this cycle to now ship 1500kgs every week.”
Whitehouse remarks on “wrongful detainment” of Griner for Russian cannabis charges
The basketball star has been sentenced to nine years for allegedly smuggling cannabis medicines into Russia.
American basketball player, Brittney Griner, aged 31, has been sentenced to nine years in prison in Russia after she was caught in possession of cannabis.
As well as a nine-year sentence for possession of vape cartridges containing cannabis, the WNBA star and two-time US Olympic champion has also been ordered to pay a fine of ₽1m (~£13,745).
Some reports have suggested that the development could see the US and Russia negotiating over a prisoner exchange.
President Joe Biden’s office released a statement on the sentencing of what it describes as the “wrongfully detained” Griner, who has been detained since February,
Biden stated: “Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney.
“It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates.
“My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.”
Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, said the star was being used as a “political pawn”.
Today’s sentencing of Brittney Griner was severe by Russian legal standards and goes to prove what we have known all along, that Brittney is being used as a political pawn. We appreciate and continue to support the efforts of @POTUS and @SecBlinken to get a deal done swiftly[1/3]
— Lindsay Kagawa Colas (she/her) (@kagawacolas) August 4, 2022
In a press briefing by White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and NSC co-ordinator for strategic communications John Kirby, Jean-Pierre stated: “We have repeatedly called for Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates.
“Under President Biden’s direction, the US government continues to work aggressively, pursuing every avenue to bring home Brittney, Paul Whelan, and every American held hostage and wrongfully detained around the world.
“As you all know, we have made a substantial offer to bring her and Paul Whelan home. We urge Russia to accept that proposal.
“I’m not able to share more publicly at this time, but we are willing to take every step necessary to bring home our people, as we demonstrated with Trevor Reed. And that’s what we’re going to do here. I can assure you this is something the President and our national security team are focused on every single day.”
Griner has 10 days to appeal the verdict.
Flora Growth partners with Colombia’s largest indigenous tribe in joint cannabis venture
“We are honoured to be given the opportunity to work hand-in-hand with the Misak people,” said Luis Merchan, Flora’s Chairman and CEO.
Flora Growth has entered an agreement with one of Colombia’s main indigenous tribes to process and distribute cannabis products.
Flora Growth has entered into a joint venture agreement with Pharma Indigena Misak Manasr Sas, the largest indigenous tribe in Colombia, on the development of cultivation best practices, manufacturing, export and marketing of cannabis and cannabis-containing products.
Under the agreement, the outdoor cultivator, manufacturer and distributor will provide Manasr regulatory advice, technical and business support related to product development and distribution, promotion of products to be marketed under the Flora brand portfolio, and cannabis derivatives to complete product production.
Additionally, Manasr will work closely with Flora in developing cannabis pharmaceuticals and products and help advance the approvals and authorisations required for exports of cannabis from Colombia.
“We are honoured to be given the opportunity to work hand-in-hand with the Misak people,” said Luis Merchan, Flora’s Chairman and CEO.
“Through this partnership, we will collaborate with the tribe on the processing and distribution of their Colombian-grown cannabis while offering Manasr a powerful platform for product distribution. In return, Flora will be able to leverage the tribe’s unique regulatory positioning to expedite exports and increase global market penetration of Colombian cannabis goods.
“We look forward to a long-standing relationship with such a powerful community partner.”
The initial term of the agreement is three years, however, the intention is to create a “lasting and mutually beneficial relationship for the foreseeable future”, the company said.
This announcement comes two weeks after Flora Growth’s CEO Luis Merchan met with Colombian Senator Gustavo Bolivar, the author of a new bill to legalise recreational cannabis.
Bolivar, the key author of the bill, and Merchan discussed the top tenants of the bill, the bill’s implications for companies such as Flora in Colombia and what legalisation means for the country’s burgeoning domestic and international cannabis markets.