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Meet the Minnesotan behind LeafLine Labs – one of MN's medical marijuana providers

Dr. Andrew Bachman explains why he left his ER job for the medical marijuana business.
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Dr. Andrew Bachman didn't go into the family business, but he still works with plants.

Bachman is the co-founder, CEO and chairman of LeafLine Labs, one of Minnesota's medical marijuana providers (the other being Minnesota Medical Solutions). The two companies grow and sell all of our state's legal cannabis.

And yes, he's one of those Bachmans – the Minnesota family behind one of the largest traditional floral and nursery operations in the world. Andrew is the great-great-grandson of Henry Bachman Sr., who started the flower company in 1885. 

Additional members of the Bachman family provide financial backing for LeafLine Labs, but the company has no involvement with the medical marijuana industry, and Andrew Bachman didn't enter the space because he was familiar with the ins and outs of a greenhouse – though he admits his history blends well with his current mission. 

So how does a Minneapolis kid end up in the weed business? 

"I can't say that this is something that I would've drawn up as what my career was going to be when I was 18 years old. I can assure you that a lot of my high school classmates would be shocked to see what I'm doing now, relative to the Eagle scout background that I had at the time," Bachman told GoMN. 

"But it's just simply chasing my passion, and a passion for doing what's right for a state that I love."

Horticulture meets healthcare

Bachman calls his passion "horticulture meets healthcare." Before LeafLine, he spent 11 1/2 years as an emergency room doctor, where he witnessed firsthand the shortcomings of traditional Western medicine, specifically the negative effects of opioids. 

"It was that frontline experience that actually gave me the background and, in retrospect, was training for my real calling, which is what I'm doing now," Bachman said.

From 2000 to 2015, more than half a million people died from drug overdoses, according to the CDC. As the opioid epidemic grew, Bachman became more interested in alternative and complementary options to Western medicine, including medical cannabis.

"I like this quote by Maya Angelou that sort of governs my life really, and I would say is why LeafLine Labs is here. She said, 'Do the best you can every day, but when you know better, do better.' It was just that simple. I couldn't go to work anymore knowing that one out of every 550 opioid prescriptions – and we write a lot of them in the emergency room – results in an opioid-related death," Bachman said.

"As far as I'm concerned, that's a game of Russian Roulette, with a bigger barrel," he added. 

Once he decided to really pursue medical cannabis, Bachman had to act fast to get LeafLine Labs off the ground.

LeafLine Labs is founded

Gov. Mark Dayton signed Minnesota’s medical cannabis bill into law on May 29, 2014, giving applicants about four months to send in their applications. 

On Dec. 1 that year, LeafLine Labs and Minnesota Medical Solutions were awarded one cultivation and four dispensary licenses each. 

They had until July 1 of 2015 to get medicine on the shelves – giving LeafLine just seven months to build a grow operation from the ground up, develop medicines, and be ready to care for patients. 

GoMN got a chance to visit LeafLine's headquarters, a 42,000-square-foot production facility in Cottage Grove, which looks nothing like a greenhouse. It's completely indoors with no windows, and is equipped with high-tech security features such as retinal scanners. 

The grow rooms are immaculate (Bachman said that's key for producing consistent, reproducible medicines), and also not as full as one might expect. That's because the building was designed with plenty of room for expansion. 

And Minnesota's medical cannabis industry is growing. According to the latest medical cannabis program update from the Department of Health, there were 7,022 patients actively enrolled in the registry as of Sept. 28, 2017 – an increase of 4,216 from the total enrolled on Sept. 29, 2016. 

Patient numbers were boosted when intractable pain was added to the list of qualifying conditions last August. Minnesotans are advocating for other conditions to be added – such as autism and dementia – which means more people could be eligible for medical marijuana in the coming years.

Bachman said Leafline has blossomed from 11 employees to 70 in less than 2 1/2 years, and now cares for nearly 150 Minnesotans every day. The company has four patient care centers.

But neither of Minnesota's medical cannabis programs are profitable yet. The Associated Press reported in May the two companies lost a combined $11 million in their first two years of sales.

Bachman is OK with that. He said it's something his team expected and budgeted into the business plan from the very beginning. You can learn more about the financial aspects of the business in his profile in Cannabis Business Times.

Above all else, Bachman said it's the patients, not profits, that come first at LeafLine Labs. You can read some patient stories here.

Q & A

What's it like working in a controversial industry? I quit working in the emergency department because that was controversial, as far as I was concerned, knowing the leading cause of preventable death is prescription drugs. 

I think it's important for people to understand the history of Western medicine is actually a relatively brief one. Medicinal use of cannabis, in addition to many other herbal medicines, dates back millennia. First medicinal use of cannabis documented on ancient Chinese scrolls is over 5,000 years ago. They were using it for pain, for GI symptoms, etc. And in that 5,000 years of use, zero deaths have ever been recorded due to a single overdose. It's fascinating, and people say, "There's no data, there's no research."

Describe LeafLine Labs' mission. Patients first, always. It's that simple. We come back to those three words all the time; every decision we make runs through that filter. If it's not for the patient's benefit, if it's not something that is creating access and providing more options, if it's not easing the day of someone suffering, it's not something that we pursue.

Is it difficult to become a medical marijuana patient in Minnesota? It's becoming less difficult every day. I wish it was as easy as it can be and will be. I've always like the term "complementary medicine," not "alternative medicine." This is not an alternative medicine, we are just caring for people.

I would say any barrier at all is one we want to break down, because we want this to be truly integrated, and not in any way apart from medicine. ... It shouldn't be, it isn't in most of the world, and we're responsibly demonstrating that here in Minnesota with the work we're doing, the research we're doing, both as a state and as a company here at LeafLine Labs. So I can see those barriers coming down quickly.

What's the most misunderstood thing about medical cannabis? Medical cannabis is so vague in its application – in some states that might mean smokeable flower material or edibles, things along those lines. In states like Minnesota, it means gel caps that are precisely dosed, and even topical medicines. 

It's just a very different approach, and Minnesota went to that end of the spectrum to be as sure as possible that this is safe and effective before more broad applications were available. So I think there's still a misconception that medical cannabis means smoking and plant material.

What can Minnesotans do to help foster the medical cannabis industry? It's listening, it's educating yourself, having those discussions, and being open to what this is, not just basing things on perception, on stigma, on doubt. Because the reality isn't that scary, it's quite the opposite. 

The reality is what I dream about healthcare becoming again, and that is a patient and a provider having a human connection and promoting wellness best for an individual.

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