the tweed vault  Mar 25


Inside Tweed

MedCann Founder Talks Tweed In Germany

Pierre Debs is a funny guy. He has wild curly hair and eyes so evidently wired to an overactive brain they sort of bug out when he speaks. He moves through a room like an Italian Gregory Hines across a Broadway stage, and cracks jokes like comedian John Turturro, if he’d died and came back as a scientist. Sneaky, sneaky!

From an undergraduate degree in philosophy, he launched an academic career that kicked off formally, if improbably, as a lab tech at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. One day he was sitting in class having a serendipitous conversation with a cardiac anesthesiologist he barely knew. The next he was working as a genetic engineer at Columbia, training in the labs of Nobel laureates.

His trajectory in life and work has always, it seems, been marked by an unorthodox quality. Even when his days were spent in the lab, he played on stage three nights a week, rocking an axe alongside his bandmates.

The pursuit of wisdom that characterized his early journey stayed in tow as the nature of his work shifted from high science to academia. In 2003, he completed a PhD in biology at the Free University of Berlin, where his specialization – studying how DNA replicates in human cells – hit home.

In 2008, he flew back to New York to be by his father’s side as the elder battled prostate cancer. The treatment, Debs remembers, was “destroying him.” Not one to sit idly by and watch the injustice of cancer paint an inglorious picture of his loved one, the son turned his attention back to his research. This time he was possessed by the prospect of a grave loss.

He poured over publications, ripping into any literature about the endocannabinoid system. That well quickly ran dry, he says. “Why is there no good data on extracts and oils and treating people with illnesses?” he questions, still. “The whole thing was just a big black box, so I was very intrigued.”

As his father battled the cancer with an assist from medical cannabis, Debs’ fascination with the endocannabinoid system, and how the sativa plant modulates it, grew wild. After more than 25 years in academic research, he was faced with an existential question of philosophical proportions – stay in the lab, or try his hand in this new industry.

In Germany, he was one of the first people to see and seize a growing opportunity.

Within a few months of leaving his role on campus in 2015, he co-founded MedCann with a goal of making extracts to sell to pharmacies. While that plan changed a bit, his company became a key player by importing and distributing medical cannabis flowers. In July, MedCann was the first company to import dried cannabis into German pharmacies from Canada.

As the medical cannabis industry has evolved at the pace of a revolution in Deutschland – from a handful of licenses in 2013 to 550 at the beginning of 2016 and 1,004 by the end of that year – Debs believes full legalization is on the horizon. The country, he says, is taking cues from Holland and Canada on the medical front and watching very carefully how the recreational markets develop in North America.

“The movement for complete legalization has gained a tremendous amount of traction. There is a large and growing portion of the population in Germany that want complete regulation like they see in Colorado and what they see coming in Canada,” he says. “You can’t stop the momentum now – it’s just a matter of time.”

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