How India can become a global cannabis leader: Q&A with Bombay Hemp’s Avnish Pandya

India’s medical marijuana industry will blossom if companies use science to convince regulators that MMJ is an effective medicine.

That’s the view of the country’s only licensed medical cannabis cultivator.

Avnish Pandya, co-founder of Bombay Hemp Company, said the best way to develop India’s medical marijuana industry is for companies to work with regulators to develop and prove the efficacy of MMJ as a medicine within the current medical system.

“If we’re able to scientifically prove results, and provide them with enough statistical data, the (government) will be more willing to fast-track the whole system,” he said.

“The government is also looking at this from a global point of view. If India gets this (clinical testing of MMJ) right, then it means India could have access to a lot of other countries, knowing that cannabis-based medicine is something that has been used in India for a long time already.”

It is legal to grow medical cannabis for scientific purposes in India, with licenses handed out by state governments. But there is no way for patients to access it.

Still, the potential in India is enormous, even if MMJ is used for limited medical applications,.

Bombay Hemp Company already has the backing of some high-profile investors, including Ratan Tata, chairman emeritus of Tata Sons, and Google India Managing Director Rajan Anandan.

Marijuana Business Daily spoke with Pandya about the potential of the medical cannabis market in India and overseas.

How is cannabis classified in India?

Cannabis is defined in totally different ways in India:

  • Hemp, which is less than 0.3% THC.
  • Bhang, which is the leaves of the cannabis plant. That is already being used in medicine and, in some cases, as a recreational drink. The government has authorized bhang shops to do this.
  • The medical cannabis version that we know of globally – the buds, flower, the stems, the bracks. This is what was under contention.

What does your MMJ cultivation license allow?

Currently the license allows us to grow plants within one acre of land, whether it’s indoor or outdoor. We’re doing both.

Cultivation is regulated by the state. We have a license from the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Currently we are cultivating 20-odd strains we have collected around India.

What’s the advantage in leading with science?

Rather than fighting the system, we’re working within it. We cannot expect the government to drop their system completely and say, “Start growing cannabis and start selling it to as many people as possible.”

Because the government is asking questions about administration, dosage, formulation, how to make sure the product doesn’t get into the wrong hands … these are all sensitive questions any logical person would ask.

What stage are you in?

We’ve submitted two proposals for trials: one is in the neurological area, and the other is in the oncological area. We should be receiving the answers within a couple months.

At the same time, we’re going basic extraction and standardization of our product as well.

How much support does Parliament member Dharamvir Gandhi’s legalization bill have?

The bill is not yet available for public viewing. I believe the bill will be introduced into the Parliament this year.

Dharamvir Gandhi was a member of the Aam Aadmi Party, which was a fringe party as far as its political standing in the central government. He now … sits as an independent, which makes his political position even weaker.

What are its chances?

What the bill would need is for one of the members of the ruling party to champion his cause.

… If the ruling party comes into the equation, then it might change. But otherwise it looks more like a bill that would not go very far.

What opportunities do foreign cannabis companies have in India?

I segregate the cannabis industry into two segments:

  • Those who want to do things big, fast and cheap. I don’t think India is the place for them.
  • Companies willing to work long term and work within the regulatory process.

For companies willing to work long term and within the regulatory process, there are definitely more than enough opportunities to do well in India.

We have received a lot of queries from the bigger Canadian companies, including Canopy and Tilray. But we spoke with the founders of those companies and we realized that their approach, their mentality and what they mention in Western philosophy, which is the hustle, that hustle might be too much for a place like India.

Maybe there are opportunities for international companies to sell pharmaceutical grade active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) for product development.

If they have standardized products, India is the perfect place to do preclinical and clinical testing, as India is also the pharmacy of the world. India develops, manufactures and does clinical testing for most global drugs, so you already have the ecosystem present.

What’s the potential market in India?

India has 15 million-20 million cancer patients, and within the neurological segment, as far as we’re looking at epilepsy, upwards of 1.5 million. We’re looking at an addressable market for specific symptom management of around 22 million-25 million people in India.

This is only for identified conditions we have in these areas, such as cancer therapy-induced nausea and vomiting, as well as palliative care, which is more like symptom management.

When?

It will take a little longer. We have 1.2 billion people, so we will have a lot more sick people who are in need of these medicines.

Realistically speaking, I don’t think we will be selling commercial products for 1 1/2 years. All our product will be in R&D and will be sampled out to medical institutions for trials and testing.

I don’t see us making the medicine available to the public through the medical for at least 1 1/2 to two years.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Matt Lamers can be reached at [email protected]

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