Brendan Kennedy is the president of Tilray – a global leader in medical cannabis production and research serving patients, physicians, pharmacies and researchers in Canada, Europe and Australia. Headquartered in BC, the company employs a team of 120 professionals in five countries.
What was your first export sale? How did that first export opportunity arise?
Our first major export was our Croatia shipment, which took place in June of 2016. Croatia legalized cannabis for medical use toward the end of 2015, and we were fortunate to be in a position where we were able to have meaningful conversations with medical institutions and regulators there.
When and why did you first start thinking about exporting as part of your business?
Exporting has always been of interest to us. The future of the cannabis industry isn’t restricted to one country or continent, and we want to capture those global opportunities and leverage the first-mover advantage we’ve established in Canada to help patients in new markets. As the pace of reform increases around the world, what we are able to accomplish is also accelerating. Croatia legalized medical cannabis near the end of last year and that was when this opportunity began to take shape more fully.
What was your export journey like to get to where you are today?
Because legally exporting cannabis to Europe had never been done before, we had to be creative and resolute in our determination. At times it was challenging, but I’m extremely proud of our team for making it happen.
How has the trading world changed since you started in business?
When I began thinking about opportunities in the cannabis industry, medical cannabis was legal in several countries, but recreational cannabis hadn’t been legalized anywhere in the world.
Today, recreational cannabis is legal in Uruguay and four U.S. states (plus the District of Columbia). With the election of Prime Minister Trudeau, Canada is poised to become the first G-7 nation to legalize recreational cannabis. Country after country from Germany to Australia is pursuing legal medical cannabis. These are huge changes that have taken place over a very short span of time.
One of our major beliefs is that the end of cannabis prohibition, on a global scale, is inevitable. Because we acted on those beliefs and built companies in anticipation of those changes, we were able to have a significant advantage in seizing opportunities when reform did occur.
What is the biggest difference between selling in Canada and selling in another country? How did you adapt to that difference?
In Canada, medical cannabis has been legal at the federal level for over a decade. Patients are certified by a doctor and can order products online, which then are delivered through the mail. In Canada, we’re taking orders from individual patients and shipping directly to their homes. In Croatia, our capsules are being distributed to pharmacies around the country, and then patients with a prescription can access them from there.
The way you talk about medical cannabis to patients is not the same way you talk about medical cannabis to physicians, which is in turn different from how you approach the issue with physicians, pharmacists or government regulators. This is a topic that many people still have misconceptions and sensitivities about, and we need to respect that in every situation we enter.
How has exporting changed the way you market/sell your products/services in Canada? What have you learned from exporting that has benefitted your sales/operations in Canada?
We’re committed to providing Canadian patients top-notch medical cannabis products and first-rate customer service, and exporting our product to other countries will never change that. We hope our Canadian patients appreciate our commitment to serving patients around the world and our commitment to advancing the science of medical cannabis through various research partnerships.
When it comes to exports, what do you know now that you wish you knew when you started exporting?
We knew that the path to this opportunity would be incredibly complex. The path to our next export opportunity, whatever that may be, is also going to be incredibly complex. There isn’t one piece of knowledge or secret tip that lets make everything fall into place: each situation is unique and needs to be approached on its own terms.
What is one characteristic that you believe every exporter should possess?
Every exporter needs a good team. Our historic export to Croatia would not have been possible without the work of so many hard-working and passionate people on the Tilray team, from people working in business development to government relations and legal.