It is no secret that the Cannabis plant has taken the world by storm. The plant is being used for so much more than just recreational purposes and Duane Boise is blazing the trail. Duane has taken his love for helping people, his entrepreneurial mind and everything else in his life that has lead him to this point, to create a life-changing capsule that will alter the future of Multiple Sclerosis and Hutchinson’s disease. Read our interview with Duane below to learn about his successful career as an entrepreneur, how he is going to change people’s lives with a THC and CBD capsule, and how real estate plays into this career path.
- What did your professional journey, pre-MMJ consist of? What is your background?
It’s funny you should ask that, because I always say that it is everything in life that leads you to an end-point of a journey. I believe it is pre-destined. So, I must say that it is all the experiences in my life that have led me to this multi-faceted, legally very complex environment of cannabis on the federal side. So, to answer your question, I have been in the medical business, the emergency evacuation business, real estate finance, and a lot of the medical experience lends into the vertically integrated MMJ companies that we have developed over the last seven years.
- The Cannabis industry is intriguing, trendy, lucrative, and slightly taboo. How did you find yourself here?
I had an emergency evacuation ground ambulance company in Jamaica. We were integrating an electronic health records system back in 2010/2012. In 2015, Jamaica, as a country, legalized marijuana. What we had done is taken the technology and transferred it from an electronic health records system to basically a cannabis platform with the thought process that we would connect international patients traveling to Jamaica to source medicinal marijuana for whatever chronic disease or ailment they had. Then we would be connecting strain specific data and matching it up to the chronic disease, then to the results. One day I got a call from the president of the Northern Caribbean University which is a Seventh-day Adventists University. They are very large in Jamaica and the meeting surrounded emergency evacuation because, you know, when you have an accident there on the island, you are likely dead unless you can find a way off the island. So, he was interested in our services for his faculty and students. When I opened up the technology and demonstrated it to him, he looked and his head cocked and he goes, ‘Can you put us in the marijuana business?’ I looked at him and flippantly said ‘Yes!’ thinking it would be a million dollar or so spend type of situation only to learn that it was much more than that. With that, we scheduled the meeting and executed an Memorandum Of Understanding. He took me out and showed me two square miles of land that they owned at the foot of the Blue Mountains which was absolutely beautiful. We proceeded to have meetings and yeah… that’s how it all started! The problem with the university is that it is religious based so some of the professors internally had a negative view. So, when we were down there presenting, several of the professors got up and walked out because they viewed this as an addiction thing and younger kids were going to be smoking pot and having negative results and so on and so forth. The president of the university said this is the Lord’s plant and it has multiple potential cures and as an academic institution, we want to get to the bottom of this so either you’re in the program or you are out and I will fire you. That’s how it started. So, I knew coming out of Jamaica that I needed the support of universities and researchers and scientists in the United States. In order to become federally legal for a lot of reasons, we know the 280E doesn’t apply to us, the banking issues don’t because we have federal license. So, our longer trajectory and path is really to get these federal licenses. Now here we are seven years later!
- What came first? A love for medicine, an entrepreneurial spirit, a passion for the benefits of cannabis, the want to make a difference, or none of the above?
Actually, all of the above! You know, I’m an advocate but I get very frustrated with the far left coming out saying that that the federal government is going to legalize this, it’s going to be recreational, it’s going to be medicinal, and blah blah blah. That is craziness. The Food and Drug Administration is not doing it, the President in December of last year signed a Marijuana Research and Expansion Act which falls strictly into our lane for pharmaceutical development, clinical trials and research and development. As an entrepreneur with several successes over my career, I always like to do things where it isn’t money that is the primary objective, but really it is helping people. Money comes, right? We started by filing an investigational new drug application with the FDA involving Multiple Sclerosis and Hutchinson’s Disease and invested in Orphan Designation back in 2019. It’s a great thing to help a lot of people so I am very certain that we are going to have a lot of success here.
- How did you narrow your focus on a gel capsule for specifically MS and Hutchinson Disease research?
We knew early on that the FDA would not approve a delivery method of smoke inhalation. While we know smoke works, it has a lot of other side effects, you know, lung cancer and other things like that. So, after multiple meetings and assessing, first what is the FDA familiar with as a delivery method, and second what are our chances of getting this past the FDA science aspect and getting approval for a final dosage form delivery method as a pharmaceutical medicine. So, the past years we have been developing a soft gelatin capsule, similar to an Ibuprofen. Somewhat similar in color as well but with a highly concentrated dose of THC, CBD and, I’ll say other actives. We will be the first company to market with, hopefully an FDA approval, that insert actives into humans in clinical trials. Which is huge because nobody else has that. We are a whole plant, natural extracts into the gel capsule and full spectrum natural cannabis extract, predominately THC and CBD. It is a lot more complex than that but that is just the 1,000 foot overview created. Our gel cap, once approved by the FDA may be used by researchers in other clinical trials. Our strategy is to execute and get through the system sooner rather than later. The reality is that whenever we pull the trigger on any one of these trials, we’ll still be 24-36 months out because we have to go through the phases that are mandated by the FDA. We feel very confident that we are going to have a success. I can tell you, what we don’t know, and what a lot of people don’t know, is what’s the dosage? We aren’t going to learn that until we get into the clinical trials. Some people may be 4 pills, some may be 10, we don’t know! But we have designed these protocols in the studies to learn that through the process. So, we are excited and anxious to get into these trials.
- How does real estate play in at MMJ?
The real estate play is really interesting. You have a lot of multi-state operators. It is legal in one state but the issue is that it is federally illegal in those states. So, federally illegal activity in a piece of real estate could obviously do leases, acquisitions, refinances, etc. I know there have been several companies who have innovative properties and look to acquire the real estate then do a purchase lease-back basically. In our place, we have structured it as a lease with an acquisition. So, we have taken warehouse space that has been vacant for a long time and converted it into an analytical lab with federal licenses attached to it. So, the real estate value, if you think about it, has exponentially increased. Based on the fact they have these federal licenses. And it is all site specific because of all these, you know, issues we have had to go through in getting that location approved by the Drug Administration and the security and diversion and what not. So the model that we have is within a very select group with these federal licenses is that we could go to another piece of real estate in another state but we would have to go through all those processes again to get it approved. I say that it increases the value very significantly of the property.
- What is the process around licensing?
Very complex. The federal law is not really known to most people. Most attorneys claim they know it, but they really don’t. We are going through these issues with universities now, as we speak. When we approach them with our DEA Schedule 1 License, they are unsure if they can even move with us because of the scheduling of the substance. Once we move and go through what it actually says, we create a very unique niche to work with these universities and other scientists in development and research. That process took us, in our Westerly, Rhode Island location, probably two years. You know, they vetted every aspect of our project, each team member, the investors that came into it, all security cameras, we had to install a DEA approved bank vault, so there are a lot of hurdles to get through. Now, with the building we are in, the value I would hypothetically say is worth about two and a half million but now is worth about seven or eight million with the licenses we have attached to it.
- Did you just learn all of this as you went along?
Fortunately, I have two retired DEA guys that work with us internally and some of them had their fingerprints on the new regulations that came out in January of 2020, with the final notice coming out in 2021. So, we knew what was going to happen. You have to read the federal law in the United Stated and you have to read the United Drug Convention which was signed in 1961. You need to understand the legal parameters that we can operate in, specifically the manufacturing pharmaceuticals lane. The issues surrounding quota and how you build that out is a little complex, but we qualify for it. Overall, it is really complex, and a lot has gone into this and the development of everything. One of the complexities was when we went to the state of Rhode Island, they thought we were going to be growing marijuana and that we had to be under the view of the Department of Business Regulations. It took us the good part of a year for them to understand that we were under a pharmaceutical license. We now have two pharmaceutical licenses in the state of Rhode Island, one for an analytical lab license and the other is a schedule one license for manufacturing and growing marijuana. Much different from the state operations but again, we are one of the very few that have these registrations, so we are excited about the opportunity and niche that we have created.
- Did you just learn all of this as you went along?
- Has the state of the market impacted your business?
Not at all. We were just at the Benzinga Cannabis Capital Conference down in Miami and it was pretty much doom and gloom. You know, the prices of marijuana are going through the floor… some had projected $4,000-$5,000 per pound and now there are seeing prices at less than $1,000 per pound. So, you know, financial models aren’t working. I was reading an article the other day, in Michigan there are several receiverships being appointed and property being taken back. People defaulting on notes that were taken for four million dollars at 25% interest and now there are no sales to pay the debt back. It’s a hot mess! That was all very prevalent in that financial conference. Now us, as a pharmaceutical company, we could be growing anything to manufacture medicine, but it just so happens to be marijuana. Our prices are north of ten thousand per pound because of the way that we are doing it and the tight controls that the DEA have on us. So, the price isn’t a factor because our market is to researchers and pharmaceutical companies and they are all looking at the biomass of the product to do whatever they want with it whether its extracts or whatever science they are actually doing.
- What is next for MMJ? What are your goals for the company?
Short term, FDA approval for our gel capsules to insert actives into humans. That will be a huge milestone. The second goal would be for the DEA to issue our API Bulk Manufacturing Licenses. That puts us as one, the University of Mississippi subjectively, but out of the other registrants that have been issued, we will be the only one that is vertically integrated. Clinical trials, growing under tight scientific controls, then the lab to do the formulation.