Medical marijuana CEO has sights set on global expansion

NANAIMO – Former pharmaceutical executive Greg Engel takes over as CEO of Tilray from Brendan Kennedy.

Tilray’s new chief executive officer wants to make medical cannabis as commonplace in Nanaimo “as maple syrup and hockey” to people outside of Canada.

Greg Engel, a former pharmaceutical executive, took the reins of the Nanaimo-based medical marijuana company in January, with a vision to not only meet patient demand in this country, but also look at potential global expansion.

Tilray launched its first product out of Nanaimo last year. According to Engel, it quickly saw patient demand outstrip its ability to supply product, but lacked full approval by Health Canada for all of its grow rooms.

The authority had been limiting production of licensed producers.

Today, Tilray has 34 of its 40 rooms approved and should be in position come April or May to supply the market based on near-full capacity.

It also looks to spend up to $75 million to expand its operations on nearby properties, which would boost its capacity for growth, packaging and research and development.

Tilray has also applied for a medical cannabis licence in Uruguay with an eye for global expansion.

Health Canada does not currently permit the export of medical marijuana, so Tilray would be looking to establish in other marketplaces, Engel said.

The idea is to hone skills in Canada and ensure the company is delivering the best product possible under guidelines and then take that expertise elsewhere globally, he added.

“We are seeing a real shift in the market as medical cannabis becomes much more widely accepted,” he said. “There’s additional data, additional research ongoing that’s really moved it from kind of the background … into the forefront as a treatment option and we expect the market will continue to open up for that.”

Uruguay presented an opportunity with guidelines that looked favourable about how companies would operate and what the licensing process would look like but it’s still in the early stages for Tilray and its decision to set up.

Despite the aim to establish beyond Canada’s borders, Engel said the goal is to put Nanaimo and B.C. on the map in terms of its global headquarters.

“It’s still our flagship and will continue to be so. Our goal is to make medical cannabis in Nanaimo as commonplace as … maple syrup and hockey, to people outside Canada,” he said, adding he’s confident the company is in the right place and position for growth.

Engel comes to Tilray with a background that includes positions as former general manager of Forest Laboratories Canada and chief operating officer of Northern Therapeutics. He says the idea all along was to bring in a Canadian CEO.

Former chief executive officer Brendan Kennedy remains the CEO of Tilray’s parent company, Privateer Holdings, based in the U.S.

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