Interview: Christy Zhou, Legal CounselHow did you first get involved in medical cannabis?
In early 2014, I was working at a Toronto law firm within its the health regulatory group, and we began to get more and more questions around medical cannabis. So my practice expanded to include medical cannabis in addition to traditional pharmaceuticals, and that eventually led to my moving to Nanaimo to join Tilray.
What is your primary function at Tilray?
I am responsible for all legal and compliance matters for Tilray Canada. I help ensure that we are compliant in our day-to-day activities, and oversee the legal and regulatory aspects of other projects like imports and exports from start to finish.
What was your first impression of Canada’s Cannabis industry, from the perspective of a Licensed Producer?
I saw it as an area with amazing potential – where a lawyer can easily develop a specialty and have an unprecedented opportunity to collaborate with regulators and policymakers towards the formation and evolution of a new regime.
What has surprised you most about working within the ACMPR?
How young and dynamic the regulatory landscape is – it has a tendency to change just as you think you’ve figured it out. There is no precedent for anything.
Another thing that surprised me is how much operations knowledge I needed to have to do my job effectively. The ACMPR regulates almost every aspect of our business, and to advocate effectively for Tilray, I needed to be able to anticipate and communicate the effects that any regulatory change (or regulatory interpretation) would have on the day-to-day running of our business. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to learn so much about a business, especially one as interesting as this.
What do you find most challenging?
Bringing multiple perspectives together in a cohesive way – for instance, the perspective of the business and the perspective of the regulator. Helping the business understand our regulatory requirements, and helping the regulator understand our business constraints.
If you could change one thing about the ACMPR, what would it be?
From a patient perspective, I want to be able to offer more product formats. From a business perspective, I think some of our current security requirements can use some streamlining. And marketing will probably want me to say that the rules around public-facing communications should be relaxed.
What do you wish other people knew about Licensed Producers?
The people behind it. So much of our staff truly believe in what we are doing, and you don’t see that with every company.
Tell me about some of the people you’ve met while working here?
I joined Tilray back when it was still a start-up, so I’ve had a chance to work shoulder-to-shoulder with staff at all levels. One person that I especially admire is our patient services manager Katrina Marquez, who deals with an endless array of endlessly diverse situations every day and somehow manages to still get some sleep and go to school.
What would you say are some of your strongest beliefs about medical cannabis?
That we are improving lives. We filling an unmet need by providing medicine to patients who otherwise would not be able to access it legally or safely.
What’s your personal philosophy on what should be done about cannabis access in Canada?
I want to see barriers to entry lowered—for both patients and businesses—in a safe and responsible way.
When your friends and family find out that you work in medical cannabis, what do they say or ask?
In 2014, I got a lot of questions about why I would leave a good law firm job to join a cannabis startup. Now my law school/law firm friends want to know how they can specialize in cannabis, and my non-law friends and family want to know how they can invest in cannabis.
Women’s interest in cannabis seems to be growing. Why do you think that is?
I think as we reduce the stigma around medical cannabis, I think we are seeing increased interest all around, whereas the early adopters may have skewed male.
What would you tell someone who is thinking about getting into this line of work?
It’s not often that a regulated industry springs up like this, and participating in it is both challenging and rewarding. You have to be prepared to deal with a lot of growing pains and uncertainty, but in return you reap the benefit of being able to play a role in the creation of something new and extraordinary.
What do you think will change about the industry over the next five years?
The industry will continue to professionalize and may even begin to self-regulate more effectively. The introduction of a recreational regime will shake things up all over again.
If you weren’t at Tilray, what would you be doing instead, or what would your life be like?
I’d be living in a downtown Toronto condo and walking to work every day through the PATH, instead of living on a ranch and driving to work at an industrial park. I’d be wearing statement necklaces instead of an RPIC lanyard. But I’d get roughly the same number of emergency after-hours emails!
As legal counsel, what sorts of trends or challenges do you see facing the industry in the near future?
Broadly, both businesses and regulators will need to figure out where the medical regime ends and the recreational regime begins. Within the medical regime, I hope there will be a greater acceptance by physicians of medical cannabis therapy, and of the difference between the ACMPR regime and the regulatory framework for traditional pharmaceutical products.
How would people describe you?
Food-obsessed and driven! Particularly when it comes to food.
What do you do when you aren’t working?
I’m exploring Vancouver Island with my husband, gardening, or cooking. We recently moved from Nanaimo to an acreage in an even smaller community along the coast, so I’ll probably be busy with house and garden chores for the foreseeable future.