Why does the woman behind a new CBD brand want to see products available on the NHS? Founder of Medrar Wellbeing, Jo Cunliffe reveals why cannabis is more than a money-making opportunity for her.
In 2011, Jo Cunliffe was given the news that every daughter dreads. Her dad had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.
When he was admitted to a hospice in August 2012, doctors told the family to prepare for the end. But Jo wasn’t ready to say goodbye.
“They told us to prepare ourselves, that he was going to die imminently – I wasn’t ready for that to happen,” she says.
Jo had heard of Rick Simpson cannabis oil being used to treat cancer patients in America, so she contacted the producers, but her dad was too sick to travel to California.
“There were so many hurdles, I couldn’t risk it, but speaking to them made me feel less alone and actually I could do this myself,” says Jo.
She risked criminalising herself to source cannabis illicitly and make her own oil which she administered to her dad in the hospital.
“After two weeks he was sitting up, after four weeks he was walking and after 10 weeks they discharged him as no longer terminal,” she says.
“The only thing we changed was giving him the oil.”
But the rest of the family were concerned about what the repercussions would be if they were found out.
“I would have gone to prison to save my dad, to me it didn’t matter, but my family didn’t want to be a part of it,” says Jo.
“They were scared that now he was in our care if anything happened and they found out about the cannabis oil we would get in trouble.
“In the end I couldn’t battle with them anymore and had to stop giving him the oil, but it was obviously really upsetting and caused a bit of a rift in our family.”
Jo’s dad passed away in January 2013, aged 60.
Since then she has been campaigning for wider knowledge and understanding of the benefits of medical cannabis – particularly for cancer patients – approaching MPs and lobbying leading organisations such as Cancer Research UK.
Now, after years of research and testing products, Jo is launching her own CBD brand.
The first product available from Medrar Wellbeing is a CBD balm, used by customers to help ease pain relief, insomnia, anxiety.
It won her investment and a mentor from the Westmont Enterprise Hub University of West London in London and she has been working with them since to launch her brand – albeit slightly slower than hoped due to covid.
But this is not about making a quick buck. Jo is using it as an opportunity to collect much needed data and evidence of the efficacy of CBD.
When consumers buy the balm online they have the option to sign up to a membership page, where they can record when they used the product and what results they saw.
“There is not enough research being done and the Government is not going to fund it, so it’s up to the producers to step forward,” says Jo.
“People have been taught this dark perception of what cannabis is and we need to spend some time reeducating people about the benefits of it.
“I could have sold the same white label products as everyone else but I want to do this differently, launching one product at a time and proving that it works.”
She then plans to submit the findings to researchers at the University of West London, in what she hopes could be the first steps to having CBD classed as a medicinal product and made available to patients via NHS prescriptions.
“CBD is such a powerful product that can help so many people, I’d like to see it proven that it is medicinal and available on the NHS, ” she says.
“The Government could issue licenses to producers and support them to step up and do this research.”
However, she recognises that this won’t go down well with everyone in the industry.
“I know some companies won’t like it because they are scared that something they have put time and money into will be taken away from them, but we have allowed CBD to become this massive white label product, which has diluted the market,” she adds.
“We live in a world where everybody just wants to make money, but there are few of us who just really care about people.
“I wouldn’t be how I am today if I hadn’t seen first hand how medical cannabis helped my dad and the difference that it can make.”
Molson Coors brings first CBD beverage to US
Mega brewer Molson Coors has announced its new line of non-alcoholic, sparkling CBD beverages in the US and it expands ‘beyond the beer aisle’.
The joint venture between brewing giant Molson Coors Beverage Company and Canadian cannabis firm HEXO Corp has announced its first US CBD drink will hit the market this month.
Launched by Truss CBD, Veryvell is a new line of non-alcoholic, sparkling CBD beverages, available exclusively for consumers in Colorado.
It marks the company’s first entry into the American CBD market since its inception and is another example of Molson Coors’ moves to cultivate the company’s beverage offerings.
“Last year we redefined ourselves as Molson Coors Beverage Company and in doing so, laid out a clear vision of leveraging the competitive strengths of our storied foundation in beer to grow in new spaces beyond the beer aisle,” said Pete Marino, president of the emerging growth division for Molson Coors.
“Truss’ entry into the CBD market in Colorado and the launch of Veryvell, a brand we believe will resonate well with Colorado consumers, is another example of Molson Coors’ expansion into new beverage categories.”
Veryvell has been described as having a crisp taste, containing zero calories, zero sugar and comes in three distinct varieties, each infused with 20mg of hemp-derived, non-psychoactive CBD and adaptogens.
These include, Focus, a combination of grapefruit and tarragon, Mind & Body, a blend of strawberry and hibiscus and Unwind, a mix of blueberry and lavender with ashwagandha and L-Theanine.
Jane Armstrong Hockman, Truss CBD USA general manager commented: “Whether you’ve dabbled in CBD before or are curious to try something new, Veryvell invites a moment of self-care to your day through a refreshing and balanced mix of hemp extracts and natural flavours.
“Each beverage in the product line offers a unique blend of CBD and adaptogens, giving consumers the freedom to pick the combination that best meets them in the moment. We are thrilled to bring our beverage expertise and commitment to quality to this emerging wellness category.
Veryvell is produced and distributed exclusively within Colorado, following the state’s established regulatory framework for hemp-derived CBD in food and beverages.
The diversification of the Molson Coors portfolio also includes an exclusive agreement with The Coca Cola Company to manufacture, market, and distribute Topo Chico Hard Seltzer in the US as well as an expanding roster of non-alcoholic innovations.
This includes a new energy drink being launched by a multi-faceted team of fitness, health and beverage industry change makers including Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Follow @liveveryvell on Facebook and Instagram or visit www.trusscbdusa.com/
US cannabis veteran launches pure CBD range
Cannabis entrepeneur, Jason Navarrete, who has almost two decades of experience in the sector, has launched a range of highly bio-available CBD products.
After selling his multi-million cannabis empire, US businessman, Navarrete has announced the launch of his new CBD range.
Navarrete is well-known in the industry having built a huge cannabis conglomerate in Southern California over the last 18 years.
Worth more than $250 million, the 120,000 square feet facility, across three industrial warehouses, focuses on high-tech hydroponic indoor cultivation, manufacturing, distribution and retail.
He sold the empire in early 2020 and transitioned from cultivating cannabis to creating what he claims are the purest CBD products on the market with his newest venture, Pure Craft CBD.
Pure Craft products are 90 percent bio-available, where most of those on the market are no more than 18 percent.
The company says being highly bio-available means Pure Craft products enter the body at a much quicker rate and are more effective than other products because they are broken down into particles that the body can absorb immediately.
Navarrete worked closely with MIT researchers to cultivate the cannabis and develop the line that includes nano-optimised broad spectrum water-soluble CBD tinctures along with soft gels, vegan gummies, CBD pet tincture, CBD broad spectrum oil and CBD with melatonin to promote sleep.
The team is also working on a full line of nano water-soluble tinctures from 600 – 3,000mg, in peppermint, tropical, strawberry mojito, orange cream, blueberry and vanilla flavours.
Navarrete believes the CBD industry is lacking the experience of cultivation experts, such as himself.
“When it comes to CBD, a lot of companies online are looking at the money aspect of an emerging industry,” he says.
“I’ve been cultivating cannabis for eighteen years. This industry is sorely lacking cultivation experts. That’s why scientists have reached out to work with me in their research.”
Navarrete explains a key factor in how he oversees his “seed to sale” process.
“We only partner with farmers that understand the importance of genetics and science in regard to cultivating premium hemp biomass.
“Our products are made following the strictest guidelines and quality control measures, allowing us to call them pharmaceutical grade.”
He is also sharing that wisdom with young entrepreneurs as an adjunct professor at the Center for Entrepreneurship at California State University, Fullerton, where he teaches young entrepreneurs about business basics.
“I’ve learned these lessons the hard way,” he explains.
“Teaching these young students the insights, skills and tricks of the trade makes me feel as if I am contributing to their entrepreneurial dreams to help them become more successful faster. The way I look at it, everything is a game and how much money you make is how you keep score.”
Pure Craft CBD offers 16 different cannabis products, which all come with third-party lab COAs (Certificates of Analysis) so consumers know exactly what’s in them and how they were tested every time.
Out of Africa: Halo Labs’ CEO on Lesotho’s budding cannabis industry
Cannabis Health speaks to Kiran Sidhu, CEO of Halo Labs, about the African cannabis sector, the impact of COVID-19 and his predictions for 2021.
According to BDS Analytics, the data partner for the US National Cannabis Industry Association, Halo is the top company in the state of Oregon for sales of cannabis flower, number three for concentrates and pre-rolls.
The growing company has expanded to the UK (with the acquisition of CanMart) and Lesotho, a small country located just south of Johannesburg. Lesotho is the first African country to legalise the cultivation and manufacturing of medical cannabis and one of the world’s most sought-after locations for cannabis production.
Halo’s cultivation site in Lesotho is operated by Bophelo Bioscience, a holder of one of a limited number of licences issued in the country.
Following a series of high-value acquisitions – including the UK’s CanMart and Oregon-based company, Winberry Farms – the company has experienced a rapid growth in sales in 2020. This week, the company reported a 32 percent year over year growth in the state of Oregon, with retail sales reaching $89.9 million in November 2020.
Sidhu tells us about the origins of Halo Labs, the company’s expansion to the UK and its growing operations in the African cannabis sector.
CH: Tell us about the origins of Halo Labs and your journey as a company.
KS: Halo labs started in 2017 in Andreas Met’s [co-founder of Halo] chicken coop. At the time, we were known in the industry as blasters, so effectively we took raw cannabis, put them in butane and then through that process we made vaporiser cartridges.
Now we span four countries, the UK, Lesotho, the United States and soon Canada. We make about 10 products in the state of Oregon and we’re growing in California – we’re working on building a very large cultivation site, which is the largest in Northern California.
In Lesotho, Louisa [Mojela], our chairperson, founded Bophelo Bioscience, which is arguably one of the largest grows in the world in terms of licensed space.
I view Halo, in a strange way, as two distinct businesses. It’s one that is North American, which is much more recreationally focused and it’s one that is outside North America, which is what we call a seed to sale distribution system, from Lesotho to Malta and then from Malta onward into the UK.
CH: What are some of the main challenges of working in the cannabis sector?
KS: A lot of people look at cannabis as this sexy business, like something technological. But really, at the end of the day, cannabis is a bricks and mortars, manufacturing, cultivation business.
It’s extremely working capital intensive without the ability, at least in the US, to access bank lines because banking isn’t available to us.
In a strange way, we work in the shadows, even though we have a legal business. There’s a lot of cash movement as you’re not allowed to use credit cards in the United States. Mainstream banking, like Santander or Barclays isn’t available to us so we tend to work with local credit unions. Even if we move money across state lines, that’s a violation of federal law.
CH: Why is Lesotho such a hotbed for cannabis manufacturing?
KS: Our roots as a company in the United States are in the Emerald triangle, an area north of Napa Valley, to the south of Grants Pass in Oregon and up and down the spine of what’s known as the 101 Highway.
This is where 90 percent of all cannabis in North America was supplied prior to legalisation. What the Carolinas are to tobacco and the Great Plains are to wheat, the Emerald Triangle is to cannabis
Lesotho, which is the Emerald triangle of Africa, has always been the place where cannabis has flourished. It has always been the breadbasket of cannabis in Africa.
A couple of years ago, the deputy prime minister [of Lesotho] said that when they were fighting apartheid, they said, ‘give us our land, our freedom and our cannabis’; that was their cry.
And they were one of the first states in Africa to INCB [International Narcotics Control Board] certification for exportation of cannabis. A lot of large companies piled in after that. I remember the valuations were preposterous and it became very hot.
CH: What drew you to Lesotho and working with Bophela Bioscience?
KS: We have a gorgeous site and arguably one of the largest sites in the country, but what really attracted us to Lesotho was our chairperson, Louisa Mojela, who’s such a force for social good.
10 percent of our profits are going to the local people, the land is owned by a trust for the benefit of the people, and Louisa is really big on the empowerment of the disadvantaged. She also operates her own private equity fund, which is for the empowerment of women in Africa.
Louisa and my partner Andreas Met are really driving the charge in Africa.
The concept is to uses good agricultural collection practices to produce cannabis and then take that cannabis and export it into Malta and inevitably the UK.
CH: Would you consider expanding into other regions in Africa?
KS: Our mantra is do one site, do it well, and don’t diversify. But that being said, given the geography of Lesotho [a mountainous region ideal for growing the Indica cannabis plant], you could see yourself looking towards Ghana or Gambia; somewhere more equatorial where you would put up a grow with a genetic bank dominated more by sativa.
I think that’s more of a longer-term view, because you can still grow a good genetic bank in Lesotho.
I’m hearing that Ghana now is legalising, the Congo is legalising, but they have a way to go to get INCB certification which takes a couple of years.
CH: Have you faced any barriers in Africa due to the pandemic?
KS: We are growing and storing cannabis in Africa and we are getting what’s known as Good Agricultural and Collection Practices (GACP) certification. We’re fairly close to it, but COVID has been a little bit of a setback as the whole South African region is under a very stringent lockdown given this new variant that’s floating around.
And the UK, where a lot of our people are based, is also locked down due to COVID. It’s become really difficult. Right now, what we’re dealing with is even though we’re growing, we’re dealing with practical problems.
For instance, there’s not enough steel in South Africa. South Africa typically would import steel but those imports are not as plentiful as usual. We are not able to complete our certifications because of practical issues like this.
CH: How about in the US and Europe?
KS: We’re starting to see tremendous growth in cannabis in the US as a result of COVID, whereas abroad, it’s disrupted supply chains.
Where COVID has been a boom in the United States, it’s been a curse in the UK and has now been derailed to some degree. But I think inevitably, as we all get our jabs, and everything settles down over the next nine months, I think we’re going to start seeing an incredible flourish of international trade in cannabis.
I could envision the Biden regime entering international cannabis trade, too. It’s conceivable within the next two years that you’ll start to see cannabis flowing from Africa into the United States.
CH: What is your view of the UK cannabis market?
KS: We’re one of five licensed medical distributors and the name of our company in the UK is Canmart, which started its journey about two years ago.
One thing that’s interesting about the UK market is that it has a very active black market with high per capita consumption rate of cannabis; one of the highest in the world.
It [the UK] is sort of like California before legalisation, during what we call the ‘medical days’. The UK is starting the medical days right now.
What’s happening is you’re starting to see liberalisation, even under this Conservative government, of medicinal cannabis. The tipping point will come when the NHS starts allowing certain groups to be reimbursed for cannabis. That to me is the point where it’ll become medically available for many different people.
CH: What are Halo Labs’ plans for the UK?
KS: Under the current regime, cannabis in the UK has to be imported, so the goal is to get the Lesotho operation qualified for imports into the UK.
The UK is allowing cannabis to come in from abroad, but that cannabis has to have a certification of cGMP (current good manufacturing practices) which is a medicinal certification. We have a partner in Malta – we import GACP cannabis into Malta and there they make it into Medicinal Products for EU certification, which is then imported into the UK.
It will be interesting to see what happens now with the UK’s separation from the EU.
CH: What trends can you see on the horizon?
KS: Outside North America is where it’s hot right now in terms of cannabis. Brazil is now liberalising, Colombia, Uruguay and Mexico has liberalised and on the African continent, multiple countries are starting to liberalise.
I think you’re going to start to see this flourish of international trade in cannabis.
I also think we’re going to start to seeing more countries develop recreational regimes, and I think it’s going to come faster than people anticipate.
Vice President-elect, Kamala Harris, in her debate with Pence said that one of their initiatives is going to be the descheduling of cannabis so it’s no longer considered a controlled substance.
I could even see the UK’s Conservative government following a US lead over the next year or two. I see the softening of his [Boris Johnson’s] position, so I can see this liberalisation really starting to snowball.
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