Advocating for the Science Behind Medical Cannabis: Interview with Josh Crossney

Josh Crossney is the President & Founder of jCanna, Inc., a Maryland based 501(c)3 non-profit organization focused on the advancement of cannabis science, analytical testing and precision medicine, and CEO & Founder of the annual Cannabis Science Conference. He spoke with CBMD about how he came to be involved in the medical cannabis industry, how he’s expanding the Cannabis Science Conference, and why he is focused on the scientific side of medical cannabis.

Josh Crossney is the President & Founder of jCanna, Inc., a Maryland based 501(c)3 non-profit organization focused on the advancement of cannabis science, analytical testing and precision medicine, and CEO & Founder of the annual Cannabis Science Conference. He spoke with CBMD about how he came to be involved in the medical cannabis industry, how he’s expanding the Cannabis Science Conference, and why he is focused on the scientific side of medical cannabis.

CBMD: Could you share a little about your experience in the medical cannabis industry and why you’re focused on the science behind it?

Josh Crossney (JC): I got into the industry in 2015. Prior to that, I had a medium-sized events planning company in Maryland and then ran a staffing and recruiting agency for the analytical science industry.

When I initially came into the medical cannabis industry, I thought since we’d been talking about medical cannabis since the 90s, the science and testing behind it must be super advanced. Then when I peeked behind the curtain, I realized that there was much room for improvement in the science and that the testing wasn’t standardized whatsoever. I would go to people’s testing labs, which were literally a closet in their mother’s basement with instrumentation sitting on the floor. Seeing how unsophisticated it was, I almost felt an obligation to use the skills I had built working in analytical science and bridge the gaps. I had these great relationships with the science sector and really wanted to do my best to bring those experts from the analytical science and the science community into cannabis. We started jCanna, our non-profit, in 2015 to advance cannabis science and help standardize testing. We’re working to help improve the quality of medicine patients are using.

After starting jCanna, I launched another company’s CSC Events, which is the Cannabis Science Conference. We hosted our first Cannabis Science Conference in 2016 in Portland with about 800 attendees and 75 vendors. Then at our second show, August 2017, we switched venues to the Oregon Convention Center and had about 140 vendors and 2,300 attendees. We just wrapped up our third one in August 2018 in Portland and had just under 3,500 attendees, about 175 vendors, and over a hundred speakers, including Fran Drescher, who runs an organization called Cancer Schmancer and has used cannabis as medicine in her cancer journey. We also had several professional athletes speak, including Eben Britton, an NFL player, Riley Cote, who played in the NHL, Cliff Robinson, who was with the NBA, and Anna Simmons, who plays professional rugby. And now, in April 2019, we’re adding another conference in Baltimore at the Baltimore Convention Center. Montel Williams and Ricki Lake will be joining us.

CBMD: What impact do you think the expansion of the legalization of recreational or adult use cannabis will have on the medical cannabis industry?

JC: I think the saddest thing would be if the U.S. enacted federal legalization and said this is a recreational product and it’s not medical. Then you wouldn’t have medical grade products produced anymore. You’d never have insurance cover cannabis for patients, which they don’t now, although some states have started to cover the doctor’s visits, so we’re making progress in that direction. I think if cannabis is just legalized and regulated like alcohol, which a lot of people in the industry would like to see, we’re leaving the patients behind.

One of the things we’ve seen in a lot of states is they’ll have a medical program first and then they’ll eventually roll out an adult use program. They’ll promise, swear to God and swear to their mothers, that the adult-use program will never affect the medical program. Nine times out of ten, within the first year, they’re already trying to essentially do away with the medical program. We’re already seeing issues in California. The same thing is happening in Oregon. There’s still an Oregon medical cannabis program, but it’s very hard to operate in this more expensive and more stringent environment and they’re trying to push more and more people over to the adult use market. I’m not against the recreational market, but I believe very strongly that we need to preserve and protect the medical market and the patients.

CBMD: It’s been a year since cannabis has been available in Maryland to registered patients. What are your thoughts on how that first year has gone?

JC: Maryland is interesting. It was very slow getting things going and I think there are some benefits to that, to taking your time to make sure you’re doing things right. I am very encouraged. I think the patient counts are great. Over 300 patients a day, on average, are signing up to be a part of the program. I think that’s beautiful and as a community it’s our responsibility to help educate these people who are not part of the industry on how to go about that process. There’s been talk of some additional cultivation and extraction processing licenses, so that’ll be great to see. We’re in a legal state running federally-illegal operations. It’s sadly never going to be without its hiccups. But I think overall, it’s been going pretty well. It’s really encouraging to see the community growing and local people utilizing their skills to contribute to this industry.

CBMD: Looking towards the future, what goals do you think the medical cannabis industry should be reaching for and what are some of the potential challenges?

JC: It’s like that slogan “stronger together.” At times, our industry can be so divided. The more we can see eye to eye, the more professional we’ll be. And I can’t stress education enough. I think there are a lot of different gaps to bridge with education. The biggest issue is physician and healthcare provider education. They’re still not learning this in medical school. If there were any other function of the human body that was discovered in the 1990s, we would know way more about it, there would be more studies and it would be taught about more in medical school, but that’s not the case with endocannabinoid system. Patient and consumer education are also important. It’s important to know the potential benefits and potential risks.

We also need to open up the research. Dr. Sue Sisley is the only individual in the U.S. who has a Schedule 1 license to study the effects of cannabis. The problem is there’s only one source of cannabis to use for research, coming from the National Institute on Drug Abuse license the University of Mississippi has had for some time. If you look at a side by side comparison of what they’re growing there to what’s on the medical or recreational market, it’s not the same. It’s sticks and stems. It’s not the same quality.

I’d also love to see Maryland open up out-of-state patient reciprocity and legalize edibles for medical use.

CBMD: In terms of the adult use/recreational bill that’s supposed to be introduced in Maryland next year, do you think it’s going to pass and do you want it to pass?

JC: I think there’s real possibility for that to happen. If it does happen, you’re going to see me knocking on doors, talking to people, making sure that we don’t erase the medical program.

CBMD: Which countries do you think have the best model for research and patient access at this point?

JC: Israel has been a huge hub for research. In the next couple of years in some of these countries that are legalizing cannabis on a countrywide level for either medical or recreational use, like Canada, we’ll start to see a lot of research and innovation coming and hopefully opportunities for U.S. researchers to collaborate with them. Some members of the Board of Directors at CannaKids have a collaborative relationship with Dr. David (Dedi) Meiri and Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology. We share all of our patient data with him. We’ve also worked with CURE Pharmaceutical and CannaKids to fund the next couple years of Dr. Meiri’s research. We’re not just going to sit here and say, “Okay, we don’t have access to cannabis, the NIDA’s cannabis is not good enough to study, so we’re just going to sit here and pout. We’re just going to do these cross-border relationships and collaborations and share the data.

My prediction is that we will see some policy changes in the U.S. within the next year. Our current president was a business person and I wouldn’ be surprised if he looked to the legalization of cannabis to help balance the budget and create jobs.

CBMD: What advice would you share with people who are interested in becoming part of the Maryland medical cannabis ecosystem?

JC: Don’t try to fit into anyone’s cannabis box. It’s more than just growing and dispensing cannabis. Utilize whatever you’re good at now, whatever skills you use to be successful and whatever you’ve done in your career and look for ways to implement that in the cannabis industry. It’s a whole new industry and there’s room for so much, whether it be media, events, non-profits, education, a support service. There are so many different facets to this industry that being yourself and utilizing the skills you already have, rather than try to develop skills you don’t have, is always an easier way to start.