Article by High! Canada
High! Canada Magazine recently had the opportunity to speak with Derek Ogden – President of Obsidian Consulting and also the president of National Access Cannabis. Derek has been in the news a lot recently in regard to a recent deal National Access Cannabis had entered into with prominent Canadian coffee supplier – the Second Cup.
Tell us about who Derek Ogden is and how you got into the cannabis space?
I was in the RCMP for a number of years. I worked in British Columbia for about 20 years mostly in drug enforcement and major crime. Eventually, I transferred to Ottawa and was in charge of the National Drug Enforcement Program. At the time of my retirement, I looked after Drug Enforcement, the specialized Organized Crime task forces, Undercover Operations and the Source Witness Protection Program.
Now how that ties into the cannabis file is that cannabis was never a driven file from the government it was always driven through the courts. So each time the courts would make a ruling, the policy makers would have to react to that ruling. Health Canada had to rewrite the rules to accommodate the direction provided by the courts. Law enforcement had to work closely after each change with Health Canada to figure out how to work under the new guidelines.
From the early stages, I saw the evolution of that file and it was really evident, even early on, that in order to properly regulate that system, they would have to come up with a way they could narrow the number of people that had licences to produce even under the old system. The old designated grower system was very difficult for Health Canada to properly regulate. Larger scale commercial production allowed Health Canada to put the bulk of production in the hands of fewer people. This made the system much more manageable from a regulation and enforcement view. The larger scale production also required Health Canada to put a greater focus on security and anti-diversion measures. I think that was the way the current licence producer system evolved. They saw that putting it in the hands of fewer people imposed a lot of stricter regulation.
Can you tell us a little bit more about your shift over to the cannabis space?
Initially when I started Obsidian Consulting, Obsidianconsult.ca we worked on mostly on sensitive government files. Then I was contacted on a cannabis file and from there it was basically cannabis 24/7. There was just so much of a need for the services on the cannabis side. Initially, I started doing security protocols for licensed producers across the USA and Canada and then from there I became more meshed into the cannabis industry.
Tell us about your time with National Access Cannabis?
National Access Cannabis was really the brainchild of a gentleman in Victoria, named Alex Abellan. He had the vision for where those medical services could be provided. He actually opened up a store in Victoria and it was after the opening of that store that I was first introduced to National Access Cannabis. The whole idea at that time was to be able to provide services to patients, help them navigate that system so they could get properly authorized and they could actually access tested and regulated cannabis. Obsidian Consulting designed a card system for National Access Cannabis so that medical cannabis patients could easily demonstrate to law enforcement that they had proper credentials to possess medicinal cannabis. I outlined that system to the Chief’s of Police, Drug Abuse Committee and with different agencies that we work with. I also became a shareholder of National Access Cannabis because I really liked the team they had. Eventually, I went in and became more and more involved in the company. First the senior consultant role and then the president role. I was based out of the Ottawa office, it was a great experience. For about six months I worked in the back of the clinic and I really got to interact a lot with the patients coming into the store. It was great for me because I really got to hear their stories personally about how cannabis had helped them.
Recently, VICE magazine came out with a list of 10 most hypocritical people in Canadian cannabis. When it came into our office we noted you were listed as #6 and it gave absolutely no relevant information except for what you did in your role as an RCMP officer and what you are doing now in the cannabis space. We want to give you an opportunity to address that. What did you think of the Vice list when it came out?
I appreciate the opportunity to be able to talk about that. I understand the perspective from VICE magazine – it was good copy and it draws eyeballs and I understand that. I also understand why some of the activists view people from law enforcement as being hypocritical for being involved in this industry but it was essential that law enforcement become more involved in this industry. If you look back at the history of it, as we moved to the large-scale licensed producer system, the government had two really key concerns and those concerns were security and diversion. Where better to find somebody that can satisfy those concerns than from law enforcement. That is essentially what I think Health Canada wanted to see. If you were an investor and you put yourself in the shoes of an investor – you’re going to spend millions of dollars on an operation – I think you would be crazy not to bring in somebody that has a reputation and the ability to ensure that the security protocols that they want to have in place are in place. For me it didn’t seem like a strange fit, it seemed like a perfect fit.
Can you tell us about what is happening with National Access Cannabis and Second Cup?
National Access Cannabis has been very active; I think people are starting to understand our story. What we’re developing is two distinct lines for the company. One will be very focused on medical patients and we’re soon to launch our new rec name and we will go under a different banner and completely different marketing approach on the recreational side. I think people will be very excited when they see that. So the whole idea behind the Second Cup deal is that they have a really nice footprint across the country. What we wanted to do was partner with them. We want to be able to evaluate their store locations and where we see the synergy a real good fit what we would like to do is a total conversion of the store. It won’t resemble Second Cup it won’t sell coffee it will be a total conversion of our recreational brand a version of National Access Cannabis. We are very excited for that. In Ontario, they have 135 locations. I know that recreational sales through privatized sales are not allowed at this point however I am hopeful. If the conservative government comes in they have indicated fairly strongly that they believe in privatization. Even if it doesn’t go that way we’re still hopeful that there will be some regulations around vape lounges that allow people who live in areas that are high density to go somewhere else and consume legal cannabis in a fashion that doesn’t upset their neighbours. We think there is a lot of opportunities. It was a really strategic alliance for us I think a lot of the attention went to the Second Cup side but really what Second Cup sees from National Access Cannabis is that they might have the opportunity to really up their revenue stream at certain locations across the country.
How do you feel about the craft industry of cannabis in Canada?
On the Obsidian side, we’re doing a lot of work on the micro-grow side for sure. What we’re doing is we’re working with a company right now to develop a one-step solution to micro-grow. We have a professionally designed grow operation from start to finish and that module can be put in any location across the country so that modifications don’t need to be made. I think that we have the optimal growing system, we have absolutely the top subject experts in the field from there it will be the introduction to proprietary strains. Working as a collective so that we can provide the industry with very high-quality products.
Wow, it seems like you have a lot on your plate between Obsidian and National Access Cannabis, what are you most excited about in the upcoming months?
The way the industry is changing so quickly I mean I’m working now with a firm that is doing an AI in robotics so that they can actually do a really advanced monitoring of production. Not like what we’re used to seeing now, I know there are different systems out there now that monitors humidity and temperature. On the artificial intelligence, it’s basically one plant talking to the next plant, they’re learning as to what creates the most optimal growing environment for all of the plants and they just keep getting better and better. The system actually teaches itself, it’s just unbelievable the stuff that’s going on.