THE new Managing Director of the Cannabis Trades Association says it’s time for a re-set as she looks to to put its house in order.
Siân Phillips’ appointment followed the departures of Chairman and Managing Director Mike Harlington and Compliance Director Tom Whettem.
A retired session musician, with her own Oxford-based hemp business – Fiddler’s Elbow Grease – Miss Phillips is looking to a brighter future after a bruising few months for the UK-based Cannabis Trades Association (CTA).
As the deadline for compliance to Novel Food fast-approaches it’s fair to say its relationship with UK regulators the Food Standards Agency (FSA) could have been better.
‘Brilliant’ Meeting With FSA
However, we spoke the day after Miss Phillips and fellow members of a transformational CTA board had undertaken their first face-to-face with the FSA.
“It was a two-hour bridge-building meeting and they were absolutely brilliant. My predecessor hadn’t exactly enamoured the FSA, and as a result communications had broken down.
“We went in open-handed, saying, ‘I work in a different way’ and the communication channels are now open between us,” she says.
Miss Phillips has hit the ground running and it appears she’s now reached the point where instead of looking behind, she’s looking ahead.
CTA – Not As Large As Thought
Never short of a colourful metaphor Miss Phillips says: “If you use a jagged blade to cut, you don’t get a clean cut. If you use a razor you’re going to slash straight away, make a clean cut and you have a new place to start.”
The CTA is still Europe’s largest cannabis industry body – although it is not as big as has been previously reported.
Miss Phillips say it has almost 400 affiliate and associate members less than half the 1,000 trumpeted by her predecessor.
She says many would ‘drop-out of the authorisation and compliance process. “Many refused to be compliant to our UK authorities’ standards and guidelines that the CTA endeavour to follow.
“We want to be open and honest with our members and the industry. While we may have had around 1,000 member applications and registrations, we have almost 400 members.
“Yes, we are still the largest cannabis organisation for the trade and it would be nice to remain that way, but a few things will have to change.”
In the last month changes have taken place in the boardroom with the appointments of strategic marketing expert Marika Graham-Woods, Tim Henley and Damien Bove of Adact Medical.
Mrs Graham-Woods is Vice-Chairman of the Hemel Hempstead Conservative Association, effectively number two to local MP Sir Mike Penning – one of the Parliament’s leading cannabis advocates.
“Marika’s a well-connected business expert, she’s also a bit of a whirlwind and by getting the two of us together, the place will get ‘a new makeover’,” she chuckles.
Changes are also under way in the way the organisation’s membership is structured.
Many see it as penalising the larger firms with an opaque and complicated fee structure, based on revenues. It starts at £50 a month and rises up to around £1,000.
She says she wants the large firms to pay a more ‘sensible’ amount, while developing new relationships with its associate members; those who provide the support services such as; packaging bottling, legal, distribution, PR and transport.
Miss Phillips says she hopes the changes under way with help secure the jobs of the CTA’s six staff.
As she plots a future path for the CTA it will be done in a methodical way. “I’m not one for knee jerk reactions. We will sit back and mull over our options and seek to consult with partners and members.
“We will examine the facts and as a board look to make well-informed and collaborative decisions. Over the last few weeks there’s been much to discuss and disseminate and now we must look the future and develop long-term plan.”
New CTA Advisory Groups
Other recent changes include the formation of a raft of new advisory groups including; Novel Foods, Medicinal Cannabis, Hemp & Farming, Inhalables, Cosmetics & Topical and, finally, Strategy & Policy.
She said: “Many of our members love the idea. Some have said they were going to leave but are now reconsidering, as it all seemed to be all about novel foods, but that doesn’t affect many of our members who are in cosmetics, topicals and the inhaled sector.”
Back on to the issue of CBD as a Novel Food and the last week has also seen Miss Phillips meet up with senior members of the European Industrial Hemp Association, which is taking a twin-track approach to compliance.
This will see it look to spend up to £3m delivering on four Novel Food SKUs whilst also continuing to pursue a challenge with the European Union over CBD’s ‘Novel’ status.
CBD Is ‘Not A Novel Food’, But …
She says the CTA is for the whole plant and cannabinoids. “The CTA are of the opinion that whole plant extracts should not be novel but we are taking a practical approach to enable our members to avoid potential future enforcement by working with and not fighting against the FSA.
“It’s not a novel food – but we are not in a position to spend that sort of money at present.”
“We don’t need or want to fight battles that cannot be won. The FSA are the authority in the UK and they are the authority for our UK members. We are building a relationship with them and we need to learn from each other.
“We are working together, they are opening doors and will help our industry with their submissions. Novel Food is complex and we will be continuing our discussions with the FSA at a meeting next month.”
Miss Phillips sees the primary responsibility for compliance – including toxicology testing – falling on the CBD manufacturer while the secondary producer/mixer will need to deliver their own data on product stability for their carrier oils and flavourings.
“Whilst time is not on our side, we are now working with them and developing good communication channels. They want to help our members and we want to help them,” she adds.
Time To Clean-Up CTA House
You get the feeling talking to Miss Philips that interim position may well be a long-term one and to any critics she has the following riposte. “People can call me what they want. Yes, I was put on the spot but I’m building bridges for others to reach me, and to help me reach them.”
Miss Phillips began our conversation with the following: “It (the CTA) was somebody else’s baby, well the baby grew bigger and now I’m the foster parent. I have different ways of doing things and it’s my house to clean now.”
And what does Sian’s house look like?
“Sian’s house is fair, balanced and everything has a place. It’s not quite OCD, but it has to be clean and clear and everyone needs to know the rules’ and what is going on.
“Even If I don’t know what is going on in every corner, this is where the advisory groups will feed back the information I need.”