Interview With Health Canada’s Dr. Andrew Waye
Dr Andrew Waye
As we all know, Bill C-45 will legalize cannabis use in Canada, making our country the first G7 nation to do so. Recently, Cannabiz Social had the opportunity to interview Andrew Waye, PhD, Senior Scientific Evaluator, Cannabis Legalization at Health Canada – here is what he had to say.
Cannabiz Social (CS): Can you tell us about your professional background and how you started working as the Senior Scientific Evaluator with Health Canada?
Dr. Andrew Waye (AW): I am a biologist who ended up getting a significant amount of training in plant chemistry and brain chemistry during my doctoral work at the University of Ottawa in the Arnason and Trudeau Labs. Dr John Arnason specializes in ethnobotany and natural products chemistry while Dr Vance Trudeau works in ecotoxicology and neuroendocrinology. Ethnobotany is the study of the use of plants by humans for medicinal purposes and neuroendocrinology is how the brain controls the body’s hormones – with plant chemistry and toxicology, what better blend of skills could there be in the field of cannabis science? This interdisciplinary training equipped me with a very relevant and transferable set of skills to enter the cannabis space. The regulations that allowed for the development of a cannabis industry in Canada, the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations, had come into force earlier in the year that I was finishing my doctoral work and I was able to enter the cannabis biotech sector in late 2014.
In the private sector, I worked as a Project Lead at Medipure Pharmaceuticals where I helped design their planned laboratories and research programs in the development of cannabinoid-based pharmaceuticals. Cannabinoids are the main bioactive chemicals in cannabis. To date, there are around 120 cannabinoids described in cannabis, including THC and CBD, the two that most people are familiar with.
In 2016, I had the opportunity to join Anandia Labs, a leader in cannabis science and founded by recognized cannabis expert Dr Jonathan Page. Dr Page was the first to sequence the cannabis genome and the company already had several patents to their name. When they got their licence to work with cannabis, I was hired to help implement and lead their Plant Analytics division to do quality control testing for licenced patients and legal cannabis producers (known as licenced producers, or LPs) and support internal research and development. Under the help of my leadership, Anandia Labs was recognized as “Top Cannabis Testing Lab” in 2017 and runner-up in 2016. It is this expertise in cannabis products and quality control that made me a good candidate for the newly-assembled Cannabis Science Office at Health Canada’s Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Branch. The Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Branch is tasked with the legislative and regulatory work to legalize and regulate cannabis for non-medical and medical purposes. The office I work in provides scientific support to all of the activities of the branch.
CS: What exactly do you do as a Senior Scientific Evaluator? What does your typical day look like?
AW: As a Senior Scientific Evaluator at Health Canada, I apply my expertise in cannabis chemistry, contaminants, and quality control to the development of policies that regulate legal cannabis. I also use my knowledge of quality standards and cannabis products to liaise with Health Canada inspectors to provide input on quality control issues in the regulated cannabis industry. The cannabis science team of which I am a part widely and actively engages subject matter experts and participates at conferences on the science and innovation in the cannabis industry. We are tasked with staying current on cannabis scientific literature and issues as they emerge, and use this knowledge in our duties as cannabis subject matter experts.
“Canada has one of the highest rates of cannabis use in the world, particularly among youth and young adults. In 2015, 21% of youth and 30% of young adults reported using cannabis within the last year.”
CS: Did you ever think when you were working on your PhD that you would have a job like this?
AW: If you had asked me five years ago where I thought I might be, I could never have anticipated being a cannabis expert. In 2013, the regulated cannabis industry didn’t even exist in Canada and if you asked my friends, family, or colleagues, I would never have been characterized as a “cannabis person”. What is so interesting about it all, is that cannabis science and the cannabis industry is all so new and Canada has emerged as a world leader. The timing was perfect since the skills in plant and brain chemistry that I acquired before cannabis was a “thing” were directly transferable to be successful in this space. My passions and expertise were the environment and natural products and how toxicologists could help advance issues I felt important to better the quality of life and health of people. Now that I’m an expert in cannabis, I am able to engage my interests in a way I could never have anticipated and feel that I am able to positively impact the welfare of Canadians by playing a part in the development of a whole new industry.
CS: How has Health Canada managed the increased interest in cannabis since adult-use legalization has been announced? What are some of the things that have surprised with respect to cannabis legalization?
AW: Canada has one of the highest rates of cannabis use in the world, particularly among youth and young adults. In 2015, 21% of youth and 30% of young adults reported using cannabis within the last year. Through the Cannabis Act and its regulations, the Government of Canada seeks to better protect the health and safety of Canadians, keep cannabis out of the hands of youth, and keep profits from criminals and organized crime.
Public education efforts are fundamental to achieving the Government’s objective of protecting public health and safety, especially for youth. By disseminating clear, consistent and evidence-based information on the health and safety facts about cannabis, the Government of Canada is enabling Canadians to make informed choices and to better understand the risks of cannabis use.
Since spring 2017, Health Canada has engaged in an ongoing digital and social media campaign focused on reaching youth, young adults and parents. This campaign includes advertising, social media, web content, and local media articles and radio spots.
Since November 2017, Public Safety Canada has been running an advertising marketing campaign on drug-impaired driving entitled Don’t Drive High, which focuses on reaching youth and young adults aged 16 to 24. The campaign was featured on digital and social media platforms, on television, in cinemas and bars, on campuses and on transit.
In March 2018, Health Canada launched the next phase in its cannabis health facts advertising campaign, entitled Your Cannabis Questions, Answered. Get the Honest Facts. This campaign features questions from Canadians and answers by cannabis subject matter experts. These advertisements have been promoted on a variety of social media channels used by Canadian youth and young adults. The next phase of this campaign, with live footage from Canadians and experts, began appearing on social media in June 2018. The campaign encourages Canadians to visit the Government of Canada’s cannabis web portal, Canada.ca/cannabis, to learn more.
As Canada prepares for the implementation of a new legislative and regulatory framework for cannabis, public education campaigns will be expanded to help Canadians understand the new legal framework.
In July 2018, Health Canada launched the Pursue Your Passion interactive engagement tour. This new public education campaign will help youth and young adults learn the health and safety facts about cannabis and encourage them to focus on making positive lifestyle choices. This program has been appearing at popular events like music festivals, fairs and sporting events across Canada.
CS: Canada has a very strong international reputation for it’s regulatory policy – do you foresee our regulatory system with respect to cannabis being duplicated in other parts of the world? Have other jurisdictions been in touch with Health Canada?
AW: The Government of Canada takes its international obligations very seriously. Throughout the legislative process and now in preparation for implementation, we continue to communicate our overall objectives for strictly regulating and restricting access to cannabis to the international community, which includes protecting our society from the consequences of illegal drug use and combating international drug trafficking. The Government of Canada continues to engage in constructive dialogue with our international partners.
Over the years, Health Canada has received a number of enquiries and visits from other countries interested in understanding and learning from Canada’s experience with the regulation of cannabis for medical purposes and the establishment of licensed production. We welcome the opportunity to share our experience and lessons learned.
CS: What advice do you have for people that are interested in getting involved with the cannabis industry? Where do you advise them to go to get the best information to get started?
AW: My advice for those interested in entering that cannabis industry is that there is no better time than the present. As Oct 17th and the coming into force of the new Cannabis Act approaches, the industry is in need of motivated and well-trained individuals who can apply themselves in an effective and positive way. If your skills aren’t specifically in cannabis, think about how what you do know could be applied to the industry. Before 2014, there were very few “experts” and the ability to become one was very limited. All those who are in or entering the cannabis industry now have had to think about how they could use what they knew outside of cannabis and are now quickly becoming recognized cannabis experts in what it is they do.
The industry is still in its early days and needs energetic and well-trained minds in the sciences, law, economics, education… you name it! The useful skills range from chemistry or computer programming, all the way to communications and design so no matter what your previous experience or knowledge may be, there is likely a way to apply it to this emerging sector. Once in, your success will depend on being effective and nimble, given the breakneck pace that everything is moving at as the industry continues to grow and mature.