“The hemp market has immense potential”. Interview with the COO of Canopy Rivers

Hemp is on everyone’s lips, all over the world. Hundreds of large companies have understood the potential inherent in this plant and in this market and are investing money and knowledge in this sector. Among these, the Canadian Canopy Rivers, which, among other things, has invested heavily in Italy. We interviewed the operational director (COO) Olivier Dufourmantelle. Here’s what he told us.

Canopy Rivers is one of the largest and most structured companies in the world operating in the cannabis sector. How has the perception of cannabis changed in the last few years around the world?

Over the last three years, we’ve seen monumental legislative changes signalling a positive shift in the perception of cannabis. In North America, recreational cannabis is legal in Canada and 33 U.S. states have legalized either (and in some cases both) medically or adult-use recreational use cannabis.

These positive changes are spreading to the European market as well. Germany’s medical cannabis patient group is growing, and the United Kingdom and France – two countries which a few years ago completely opposed any legalization – are beginning to talk about regulating medical cannabis. We also see areas such as Italy, Malta, Greece, aiming to become bedrocks of cannabis cultivation and extraction, specifically around pharmaceutical grade CBD and hemp wellness products.

What are the main problems that persist? Are there still cultural obstacles to overcome?

The primary challenge is that of instant gratification. While we would all enjoy overnight change, changing perceptions around any social issue is a challenge. Change occurs incrementally rather than radically.

There are several factors that contribute to this incremental change:

·         Governments have a responsibility to manage the safety and efficacy of cannabis for their citizens. This isn’t a small or easy task.

·         Academics conducting research on the therapeutic effects of cannabis need time for their studies to complete, and the results to be validated. While this can take years, it’s critical that this is done right to aid a medical cannabis market that is full of potential.

·         Businesses are playing catch up, learning how to grow a plant that has been prohibited for almost a century. Plant science has come a long way. A century ago, you could only buy strawberries in May, but now they’re a year-round fruit because of our scientific understanding. There’s so much we’ve yet to discover about the cannabis sativa plant.

·         Finally, it’s going to take time to move away from the stigma that cannabis is an illicit drug. This has been a key message for years, and it will take time to change minds.

Cannabis is proving to be a land of great economic growth potential. In your opinion, what are the margins of growth and how long will it take for awareness to be spread at all levels, from the political to the financial level?

Given the political, industry, academic, and cultural considerations, it’s difficult to predict margins of growth. We know it will be years, not months, but everything we’ve seen tells us there’s a lot of potential. In Europe right now, we’re seeing this opportunity in the pharmaceutical grade CBD and hemp wellness markets.

Your company has invested heavily in Italy, financing a company like Canapar, which operates mainly in Sicily. How was this project born and how is it going?

Our investment in Canapar is based on our overall outlook of the European hemp market. Additionally, Italy, and Siciliy in particular, has a long tradition in hemp cultivation given the region’s favourable climate and agricultural expertise

What really stood out to us about Canapar was the company’s CEO and founder, Sergio Martines. Sergio is a successful, repeat entrepreneur and his background in developing products for the cosmeceutical space stood out to us. When we first met Sergio, he came to us with a one-year business plan and ideas for hemp wellness products. This includes Canapar’s hemp-based Marishanti brand that is rooted in the Sicilian tradition of living a healthy lifestyle. Our initial investment was $750,000 for one-third of the business.

The traction we witnessed over the first six months of working with Sergio was incredible. In that time, he obtained a licence, formed two university partnerships, and had 20-30 hemp wellness products products in development. We increased our investment to $17 million and our ownership share to 49 per cent. That additional investment makes clear our position on Canapar; we’re excited to have them as part of the Canopy Rivers ecosystem.

You will have noticed that in Italy, especially with the last League-led government, the growth of the cannabis market has been hampered in every way. What do you expect from the new government and how much do you think politics can affect the potential of the sector? 

We see great potential in the European market, and we hope that governments of all stripes see the economic opportunities inherent in the pharmaceutical grade CBD and hemp wellness products market.

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