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July 15, 2021updated 22 Jul 2021 1:18pm

Steven George on the changing landscape of medical cannabis

Just ahead of the Future Cannabis Strategies North America on 18th August, I spoke with Steven George, former Alliance Manager – Europe, Middle East & Africa at Tilray (the global producer of medical cannabis) on access, the changing landscape for medicinal cannabis and how he got started. Here’s what he had to say…

Steven George is clear on his main message. “There should be no place on earth where someone doesn’t have the ability to access medical cannabis to help their disease,” he states.

An advocate for global cannabis access who writes and speaks to the public about the developing industry, George encourages patients, regulators and families to work together to make medicinal cannabis available globally.

Where did this interest stem from? “There were a couple of things. In 2008 in my home state of Michigan they passed laws for medical cannabis, and I became certified and began to supply local dispensaries in Kalamazoo Michigan.

“I was also interested in the story of Charlotte Figi. It was the first story that broke and really got covered well. It helped to cement my interest in medical cannabis.”

Figi was born in 2006 and had her first seizure at 3 months. Diagnosed with Dravet Syndrome, an extreme form of epilepsy, by the time Figi turned five she was having 300 grand mal seizures per week, was in a wheelchair, had difficulty speaking and had repeatedly gone into cardiac arrest.

Charlotte Figi with her father Matt Figi

After trying everything else, in 2012 Figi’s mother Paige began searching for marijuana oil. She finally found a doctor who would prescribe it and the oil brought the seizures down from 300 per week to 2-3 per month.

Said Paige Figi on the results, “It’s helped everything. She has over 99% seizure control. She doesn’t use her feeding tube anymore, she was 100% tube fed before and now she’s talking. It’s been a totally life changing experience.” Charlotte also no longer needed a wheelchair.

Changing Legislation in Medical Cannabis

By 2013 Figi had attracted worldwide notice and was the subject of Charlotte’s first of two CNN documentaries- her story helped inspire and support US legislation on medicinal cannabis, including a medical marijuana bill signed by Florida Governor Rick Scott in 2014 allowing the use of cannabis to treat diseases such as epilepsy.

Meanwhile Steve George had moved to Tennessee to pursue a career in finance, but he continued to help support people who had questions about the industry and remained committed to the cause.

In 2017 he arrived in Lisbon Portugal to complete an MBA and ended up staying in Europe to work within the medical cannabis industry. George contacted Tilray and began working for them as a Business Development Manager, then became the Country Manager for Portugal and Spain. His most recent role in 2019 has been as European Alliance Manager, handling external partnerships and all B2B relationships with other medical cannabis distributors and licensed producers.

“There’s currently a lot of interest coming from North America into Europe and the medical model in Europe is completely different. We had been working with regulators in Portugal to introduce the first product into the market, which Tilray successfully got approval for in February 2021.”

Medical Cannabis Making Strides in Great Britain

Meanwhile the medical cannabis industry has continued to make headway. In 2020 British baby Oscar Parodi became the first in the world to be given a cannabis-derived medicine to prevent seizures in infants.  Parodi was born with neonatal hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), a condition that can lead to brain damage.

Infant Oscar Parodi, first globally to receive cannabis derived seizure medicine.

After receiving permission from his mother, he became part of the first phase of the trial in which a cannabis-derived medicine has been tested intravenously in human babies.

Steven George is clear that the existing protocol for medical cannabis access and oversight is entirely different in the US and in Europe, which is one of the things that’s important to note when working in the industry.

“Treating medical cannabis like any other controlled pharmaceutical is key to its legislation”, according to George. Meanwhile, he continues to pursue his mission.

“I believe that medical cannabis will change the medical landscape moving forward. That’s the day I sleep well at night- when everyone across the globe has the ability to access it.”

Steven George will be at Future Cannabis Strategies North America on 18th August 2021, presenting on ‘Overcoming Industry Barriers for a Golden & Green Cannabis Industry’.

Interested in hearing from him and other leaders in the industry speak about strategies, regulations and market trends for cannabis products? Places are being reserved quickly but you can still register here.

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