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Megan Henderson on virtual healthcare and the Ontario cannabis retail roll-out

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Megan Henderson is the Director of Marketing and Business Development for HelloMD in Canada, a role which she recently took after helping create and launch TheGrowthOp.com, Postmedia’s editorial brand on cannabis where she acted as Executive Producer.

A well-known and much respected figure in the Canadian cannabis industry, Megan has brought her knowledge and expertise to play on many an industry panel over the past year or so as she worked to develop the cannabis advertising guidelines used at Postmedia, and acted as the main compliance lead for all cannabis advertising. A supporter and friend to many in the industry, Alpha Woman reached out to ask a few questions we had on our minds.

AW: Tell us about your professional journey, and how you ended up working in the cannabis industry.

My marketing career started client side with a role at Child Find Ontario which was a not-for-profit that helped families of missing or exploited children. It’s a difficult topic and the team worked with families who were experiencing something awful. Given that the company worked off of grants, donations, etc. finances were always a tight rope.  But it taught me how to do as much as possible with very little, which is something that has helped me throughout my career.  I also spent some time working at Dell computers on contract but ultimately I ended up in publishing.

That first media job was for Transcontinental who at the time owned many iconic Canadian magazine brands like Canadian Living, Style at Home, etc. I started in a new business that they were just getting off the ground that was focused on custom publishing. Custom publishing was and still is very big in Europe and Transcontinental had partnered with a UK company to jumpstart the business.

It was here that I met one of the best mentors I could have asked for and not to mention one of my all time favourite bosses.

Over the years I worked on various custom publishing projects that typically involved branded magazines for clients like Canada Post, Metro grocers, Dove and many others. I also started working in campaign strategy and larger production execution.

My goal was always to have a well rounded resume. If you know all of the areas or pain points in the process its better to see the bumps in the road when strategizing for a client.

When I landed at Postmedia in 2016, I had just finished working on the re-launch of the Canadian Tire catalogue for Rogers. So my role began in the custom content world for Postmedia. But as time went on I moved into National Media Strategy and eventual took over leading that team.

But in late 2017 I started to hear rumblings that Postmedia was accepting cannabis advertisers. I immediately wanted in! I had been enjoying cannabis since my late teens and was keen for legalization. I had already started my own cannabis content website with a friend but it had fizzled out and as a result I had a wealth of knowledge about key players and the audience and no where to put it.

As time went on I began to help the sales teams and legal teams with sussing out a sustainable compliance strategy. Eventually the yes’ and no’s of who ran on the network became my 2nd job and I loved it. I realized I had a real affinity for the compliance aspect of this new industry and I wasn’t afraid to make decisions. Even if they weren’t popular.

Then in early 2018 Postmedia decided to launch a new brand dedicated to all things cannabis. This was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. With years of experience developing content brands for clients and an understanding of the audience I felt there was no one better qualified for the role of bringing the brand to life. Luckily Postmedia agreed and I began my new role as the Executive Producer of The GrowthOp.

But the more I worked with my team, reporting on the industry, the more I realized I wanted to be right in there working in it. So after over a year of working on The GrowthOp I left to join HelloMD. A brand focused on helping LP’s and other healthcare partners facilitate medical documents for their patients.

AW: What services does Hello MD provide, and for whom?

HelloMD provides a SaaS platform to LP’s, Clinics and other healthcare providers who would like their patients to be able to access consultations on medical cannabis and who would like to facilitate medical documents for applicable patients.

Essentially we white label the HelloMD service and provide our partners with the ability for patients to get a medical document (if they qualify) and then go right back to that LP or the chosen LP to purchase medical cannabis.

Some of our partners include:

There are a few others in there as well as more new partners joining our service all the time.

AW: What are the 3 biggest problems you want to help solve in your new role as Director of Marketing and Business Development at Hello MD?

  1. I want to help patients understand there are reliable, rigorous telehealth options out there that they can use and get support from like HelloMD
  2. I want to help ensure patients have timely access to healthcare practitioners they can talk to about medical cannabis without experiencing the stigma that has often plagued patients when approaching their healthcare team.
  3. I want to help our partners find ways to speak to patients and make them more aware of their options through compliant marketing programs.

AW: As a virtual provider of (cannabis) healthcare services, Hello MD is ahead of the curve, particularly in Canada. What advantages does virtual healthcare provide to both patient and provider, and what do you think needs to be done to encourage adoption?

  1. You can do it from anywhere you have an internet or wifi signal – so if you have mobility issues or want a private way to get a consultation done this is the method for you.
  2. You can have a consult and potentially have a medical recommendation for cannabis in under 30 minutes if you use a virtual consult service like ours.
  3. I think a lot of people think virtual consults or telehealth isn’t as rigorous as in-person consults and I would say that perception is outdated. We already know patients are interested in digital healthcare – they just need to know it’s available and for what.
  4. The advantage to patients is privacy, ease of use and lots of customer support from us and our partners. The advantage to partners is low resource lift, no on-going overhead to have their own practitioners on staff and streamlined on-boarding of patients. We also offer partners access to our patient demand acquisition experience to help them reach new patients.

AW: What are the roadblocks (if any) of adoption of virtual healthcare services?

Roadblocks include:

  • Stigma around telehealth/virtual consults – sometimes they are seen as not as involved or just an easy way to get your medical document. This isn’t the case. They can be more thorough than an in-person visit depending on the service.
  • Awareness – not everyone knows they can go through a service like this because they don’t realize they exist. So we need to get the word out to patients that they can access healthcare practitioners quickly.

AW: What do you think are the roadblocks to people exploring and/or asking for medical cannabis from their medical practitioners?

I think most people are afraid to ask. It’s been made clear by the Canadian Medical Association they don’t want this medical cannabis regime and right now the education of practitioners is not a priority.

Patients who are brave enough to ask often get rebuffed by their GP or healthcare provider as the practitioner is either completely against medical cannabis or is just uncomfortable prescribing due to a lack of knowledge.

Lastly I think people are still fighting their own bias. We spent nearly a century telling people this plant was evil. But even now that its legal we need to come to the table with clear medical evidence that continues to fight the stigma and show the medicinal value of this treatment. People will come around. We are seeing that all the time. Every conversation about medical cannabis is an opportunity to change someone’s mind and bias. So we need to keep talking to patients.

AW: If we could have a do-over and you were controlling the retail rollout in Ontario what would your strategy be?

I think folks who have been actively working for legalization and who clearly demonstrated that they were working within the confines of the law like Abi Roach should have been first in line for a license in this province. People who were running dispensaries in the legacy market and shut down prior to Oct. 17th should have also been first in line. They have the experience and understanding to successfully roll this out.

Why are we trying to reinvent the wheel here? There are competent and experienced retailers out there who just need a license. Why are we denying them?

AW: You’re an expert in compliance with regards to Health Canada regulations around communicating and marketing cannabis in Canada. What are your feelings about the regulations and how would you evolve them – to help consumers?

I think the regulations serve a purpose and by no means do I think this should be unregulated. I certainly have a better appreciation for the Cannabis Act now that I’ve been doing more US marketing and have been dealing with the patchwork quilt that are the various state regulations there.

But honestly, consumers and patients are not children. If they can see a Budweiser ad while watching the superbowl than they should be able to see a cannabis ad too. We need to adjust the regs so that they are in-line with alcohol. If a bottle of booze doesn’t need a child resistant cap then neither should cannabis, etc.

AW: Do you see any trends in the cannabis industry in the US that we should pay attention to?

I think we tend to mirror each other but Canada is usually a smaller scale for obvious reasons. We are experiencing the same CBD craze but the product isn’t as prevalent as it is in the US market. I think it will be interesting to see if consumer buying habits shift with the rollout of Cannabis 2.0 in October like they did in some of the legal US states.

AW: Do you have any words of wisdom for other women/people who are thinking of joining the industry?

Firstly it is one of the most inclusive industries I’ve ever had the pleasure to work in.  For the most part everyone wants everyone else to succeed. But its not a money machine, that is to say…do not join thinking you are going to be a cannabis millionaire. This is hard work and a lot of hustling. But it is a work hard, play hard industry too so you should have a lot of fun along the way.

AW: If you could smoke a joint or vape some flower with anyone on the planet (dead or alive), who would that be, and why?

Such a good question. I’ve had the pleasure over the last few years to smoke with some of the folks I truly admire in this industry. But I would seriously love to get high with Barrack Obama. I feel like he would be super chill.

AW: What excites you most about the next 5 years of the cannabis industry?

Honestly, this is the tip of the iceberg right now. In 5 years this industry is going to look a lot different. Something Jeanette Vandermarel has said several times always pops into my head when I think about this….in 10 years people will have cannabinoids in their vitamins, their cereal and possibly even in their deodorant.

I also think that young kids who are 4 and under right now will never remember a world where cannabis wasn’t legal. That is huge.

This industry will continue to mature and in 5 years, could be more widely incorporated into retail and consumers daily lives.

That to me is exciting.

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Leslie Andrachuk

As a bilingual pioneer in global digital publishing and marketing, Leslie is happiest when creating new things and inspiring her teams. She is passionate about changing biases that hold women back from realizing their true power and is grateful that at this point in her career she has the skills to make real change.

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