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Having A Fair, Reciprocal Relationship With Patients ‘Isn’t Just The Right Thing To Do, It Simply Makes Business Sense’ 

Mary Biles, author of The CBD Book and host of the podcast ‘Cannabis Voices’, asks whether for all the rhetoric around patient engagement across the cannabis industry, the message has really sunk in.

As the dust settles after Cannabis Europa 2022 and industry movers and shakers have returned home, wallets stuffed with business cards and follow up calls to make, I can’t help but feel that one message that was hammered home throughout the two day’s proceedings has failed to make an impact; the call to create a patient-centred cannabis industry. 

It’s hardly a radical proposal, after all, patients are the end consumers of medical cannabis products and it’s common practice in most sectors to research consumer tastes and needs. 

Not only that, it’s patients, or parents of paediatric patients, who have generated the noise required to change global cannabis legislation, often coming at the cost of their own physical and mental health. And when the change comes, they continue their tireless battle to ensure that the suffering of others can be alleviated by legal access to medical cannabis, often forming patient advocacy groups to support, educate and guide others through the process of getting a prescription.

All of which they do free of charge. 

Session Selector: Patients’ Perspective – Cannabis Europa London 2022

Every person present at Cannabis Europa, or indeed any other cannabis business conference in the world, would not be there without the work and personal sacrifice of the likes of the UK’s Hannah Deacon, Spain’s Carola Perez and Greece’s Jacqueline Poitras, all of whom spoke this year. And more than anyone sitting in that conference hall, they are the experts in the nuances of the cannabis plants, and what works best in their own bodies and those of their children.

And yet, time and time again patients are not consulted and if they are, companies assume they will hand over their nuggets of insight based on thousands of hours of experience for free. 

Or in what feels like a continuation of the long tradition of medical paternalism, they are expected to put up with the often substandard products or customer care they receive from an industry that is there to serve them.

In the UK at least, where an ever increasing number of private medical cannabis clinics compete to attract the slow drip feed of new cannabis naive patients, or retain the relatively low number of early adopters, patients are showing their discontent and voting with their feet; either changing to a different cannabis clinic, or simply returning to the illicit market.

So now more than ever when belts are tightened due to the cost of living crisis, it’s crucial to include patients in the discussion in order to create a robust market. 

Patients Need To Be Front And Centre In Your Business Model

“But we’re not making any money yet, engaging with patients takes time and money we just don’t have,” is the excuse commonly ringing out through the cannabis space. 

As CEO and Co-founder of Chilam, Monique Ellis so eloquently put during the panel I moderated at Cannabis Europa, the patient “needs to be front and centre in your business model. It is sometimes described as a luxury to be able to roll out an R&D programme before you’re profitable or are trying to complete a funding round, but it’s not a luxury, it’s a must-have. You need to invest in it, it needs to be a core dimension to the business plan and you need to make those budget considerations.”

Chilam’s approach, which I hope will serve as inspiration to others, includes having medical cannabis campaigner and parent, Hannah Deacon on their board, consulting patients through paid focus groups and sponsoring patient advocacy events, such as the patient conference in November organised by Drug Science and Medcan Support.  

And as Hannah Deacon pointed out in the panel, recognising the work of patients and supporting advocacy groups doesn’t have to break the bank. Just donating £200 a month can go a long way to paying some much needed bills and ensure groups like Medcan Support and PLEA in the UK can continue doing their much needed outreach work, which after all benefits the industry as a whole. With Maple Tree Consultants and alongside Volteface, Deacon has also set up a scheme called Patients First, in which medical cannabis patients will be paid for participating in professionally facilitated focus groups. 

It really shouldn’t be so hard to grasp that having a fair, reciprocal relationship with patients wherever you are based globally, isn’t just the right thing to do, it simply makes business sense. 

I wonder though by the time next year’s Cannabis Europa comes around will the message finally have sunk in?

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