Q and A: GC Redler ’91 discusses steering cannabis company into new era of legalization
Helping a company and industry navigate “a global paradigm shift from a state of prohibition to legalization” drew a Coca-Cola veteran to a Canadian cannabis producer.
Dara Redler never imagined that cannabis would figure into her career in corporate law, but helping a company enter a market that didn’t exist until a year ago provides a certain thrill. “What I’m really excited about,” says Redler, who in January became general counsel and corporate secretary of Tilray, Inc., “is having the opportunity to play a part in shaping the future of an entire industry from its very early stages.”
Tilray, a five-year-old cannabis company based in Nanaimo, B.C., was already established in the medical sector with a line of therapeutic products marketed internationally. On Oct. 17, 2018, when Canada became only the second country to legalize adult recreational use nationally, the company’s wholly-owned subsidiary, High Park Company, celebrated by launching five recreational brands and an array of products.
“We’re witnessing a global paradigm shift from a state of prohibition to legalization,” says Redler, who is based in Toronto. It’s one, she notes, that demands navigating an evolving federal regulatory landscape, differing access rules that are set by individual provinces and territories, and the strict laws and regulations of the ever-growing number of countries legalizing medical cannabis.
Redler had spent the previous 17 years in-house at The Coca-Cola Company, where her responsibilities over time included supporting its food service business and restaurant customers, its national retail customers, its chief digital officer, the bottling system, and leading a legal team supporting the marketing of flagship brands of sparkling beverages. “All of these roles helped me learn about customer-first support, which I’m able to leverage in my current role,” she says. “I feel I am bringing my 28 years of diverse and global legal experience to bear to help guide a new company in a new industry.”
Redler spoke with Duke Law Magazine about some of the opportunities and challenges she faces in her new role, and how lawyers might prepare to enter a growing corporate field.
Duke Law Magazine: What new legal and strategic issues are you facing in the cannabis sector, and how do they differ from those you dealt with in the food and beverage industry?
Dara Redler: While there are similarities between the cannabis and consumer packaged goods industries in terms of our adult recreation business in Canada and Tilray’s CBD — cannabidiol — business in the U.S., cannabis also has an important role in the medical space, which is a completely new industry for me. The cannabis industry faces extensive, evolving regulations globally, which bring with them a wide set of legal considerations affecting every aspect of our business.
The laws around cannabis differ from country to country. In Canada specifically, cannabis only recently moved out of a state of prohibition where rules and regulations are evolving as the industry matures. However, our adult-use business in Canada is just one facet of our organization. Tilray product is currently available in 13 countries across the world for medical use with more countries looking at legalizing medical cannabis. Each market we enter presents a new set of regulations and industry best practices around what product we can make available, how we import our product, how we distribute to patients, our packaging, how we engage with stakeholders, and more. So our legal team is incredibly tuned in to every business line in our company to ensure complete compliance, which is daunting but exciting.
DLM: What are the key commercial opportunities and challenges?
DR: On the medical side, we’re seeing more and more countries across the world legalize cannabis for medical use. This presents a massive opportunity for us to expand our global reach and help more patients in need. Tilray is currently participating in seven clinical studies in an effort to open up potential life-saving treatment options for patients and increase the credibility of medical cannabis in the mainstream medical community. To help support this opportunity is a gift.
On the adult-use side, we have an opportunity to help shape an evolving industry from the ground up. Since Canada is the first G-7 nation in the world to legalize cannabis at a federal level, we are well-positioned to be become global market leaders as more countries move towards legalization.
High Park’s five recreational brands include whole flower, pre-rolls, and oil products. We anticipate that alternative form-factors such as edibles and cannabis extracts for vaporization present an even bigger opportunity to lead the market, while also bringing forward new challenges from a regulatory and compliance perspective. The Canadian government is rolling out new legislation to regulate and introduce these new form factors to market.
Unlike the food and beverage or CPG industry, we don’t have 100+ years of manufacturing, packaging, processing, and distribution experience under our belt. We have to be very agile, adaptable, and innovative when it comes to launching products and brands.
The current laws are largely in place to protect underage people from being exposed to cannabis, eliminate the illicit market, provide people with access to quality-controlled and safe cannabis products, and enhance public awareness of any health risks associated with use. As such, the current laws around cannabis in Canada put limitations on branding, promotion, packaging and labeling, selling and distribution, etc.
DLM: What issues are you encountering on the medicinal/therapeutic side?
DR: One of the challenges we face on the medical side is the legalities around importing our products into new markets. Additionally, despite the growing popularity of medical cannabis, which is now legal in over 40 countries, this is still a stigmatized treatment option, and, as such, is governed by highly restrictive regulations around marketing and branding. This creates challenges in educating patients, health care providers, and the general public about its therapeutic potential, and often leads to unique obstacles around branding and marketing of cannabis-based medicines.
DLM: What are other cross-border challenges facing the industry?
For example, the regulation of CBD and hemp extract in the United States is a tangled web of federal and state laws, regulations, policies and guidance. The recent enactment of the 2018 Farm Bill removed concerns over the possible treatment of hemp and CBD at levels of .3% THC or lower as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. Suddenly we could look at doing business in the U.S. with hemp extract and CBD from a federal perspective while still watching state laws. There are vast differences in how individual states currently handle the regulation of CBD and hemp extract.
Through our subsidiary Manitoba Harvest, we recently launched broad spectrum hemp-extract CBD products in the U.S., opening up a new market for Tilray. We took our experience from the medical side to bring trusted CBD products to the U.S., and will continue expanding with different form factors including ingestibles and topicals.
DLM: What is your advice to lawyers interested in serving the cannabis industry — in the U.S., in particular?
The opportunities in the cannabis industry are vast across many sectors. For legal professionals specifically, this is an exciting time to navigate a new industry. You see many law firms now establishing cannabis practice groups to be able to handle the demand of work coming from this industry. Since most attorneys in the cannabis field are learning side-by-side with you, there is great collaboration and thinking on how best to navigate.
An ideal candidate would be adaptable to the evolving business demands, regulatory changes, and shifting legal framework of this industry; be able to provide strategic and legal guidance on marketing, advertising, and product claims for new brands and products where none existed before; and provide practical business-oriented advice and counsel on interpretation of laws and policies across multiple jurisdictions. I tell my legal team they are “trailblazers” in the legal profession, and that is absolutely true.