CEO of British Cannabis™, Tom Whettem, talks to Cannabis Health about his journey so far
Entrepreneur and CEO of British Cannabis, Tom Whettem, on building a legacy his daughter would be proud of and securing the position of largest manufacturer of legal cannabis in the UK.
“My number one goal is to have my son say I love you. People take that for granted… that people talk and say I love you. That’s all I want to hear my son say.”
These words from Jason David, father of epileptic child, Jayden, rocked the world of medical cannabis in April 2013. He described weening his seven-year-old son off 22 prescription pills a day to be replaced by a small dose of cannabis oil, almost immediately putting an end to the constant seizures from which he had suffered since birth.
“The first day I gave it to him was the first day he went seizure-free in his life,” Jason tells his interviewer in a YouTube video that has since been shared thousands of times.
For another father, Tom Whettem, these words were powerful enough for him to begin a journey that propelled a small British start-up to become the largest manufacturer of legal cannabis supplements in the UK.
It’s a journey that has seen him play an instrumental role in influencing the regulatory direction of ‘Novel Food’ supplements, working with the EU and member states, supporting trade bodies and securing the position of an industry built around the once-controversial substance.
Tom Whettem, CEO of British Cannabis
When Tom was growing up in Berkshire, UK, attending the same school as Dragons’ Den’s Peter Jones, Cannabis was just an illegal substance.
But all that has changed. As of 31 March 2022 Tom’s company British Cannabis™, now manufactures nine per cent of all CBD food supplements legal to sell in the UK, following successful inclusion on the Food Standard Agency’s (FSA) Novel Foods public list.
“It was by chance that I saw that video of Jayden,” says Tom.
“Diagnosed with a rare and catastrophic form of epilepsy, his life was changed overnight by CBD. I saw an opportunity to start a business that could be based on principles I had never experienced before.
CBD by British Cannabis
A path that yielded
Semi-retired aged 30, this natural-born entrepreneur, had a string of successful businesses after turning his back on traditional employment at the age of 20. Eventually, however, he began to realise that money wasn’t the key to happiness.
“The moment my daughter was born two months premature, my outlook on life changed. I was fortunate enough to have financial stability at that point. Overnight I exited my businesses, relinquished everything self-serving and surrendered myself to the pursuit of happiness,” Tom explains.
“I stopped drinking, smoking, and started eating well, and exercising daily. I went through a transformative change from an egocentric businessman to an altruistic human being. My daily mantra became ‘legacy before currency’ and this is when the journey really started.”
He continues: “I dedicated those five years exclusively to raising my daughter. It was just me and her. Looking back, they were the best five years of my life. We formed a lifelong bond.
“While she learned to walk, talk, read and write, I learned that being a dad gave me more life lessons than I had experienced in the previous 30 years put together.
“I wanted to make a difference, to change the lives of people and leave a lasting legacy to make my daughter proud. When I saw the video of Jayden who was suffering from hundreds of seizures a day and then had his life returned after taking CBD, I didn’t hesitate.”
British Cannabis™ was born.
A pioneering spirit
They say that pioneers are the ones with the arrows in their back, and for Tom, the story was no less arduous. He persevered and has the scars to prove it.
“There was no CBD on the market in the UK at that time. I knew that even if I made a difference in one person’s life it would be worth it. Little did I know we would improve the lives of thousands of people over the next seven years,” he says.
CBD as a Novel Food
There was no blueprint for the CBD industry in the UK when Tom started. He began from square one.
“We built the science, the technology and growing methods all from the ground up,” he says.
By far the most monumental challenge has been compliance with the regulatory environment around CBD as a ‘Novel Food’, the classification under which CBD products are now listed in the UK.
Tom and his team went above and beyond to prove the safety and efficacy of CBD, a task that only a company like British Cannabis™ could have achieved. Getting listed by the FSA was a big deal.
“It was like everything I had done in my life up to this point had led me to this,” says Tom.
“I was not qualified, I left school at the age of 15 to work instead of going on to further education. I only achieved two GCSEs in English and Maths. I was told I would never get anywhere in life. I guess that has always been my motivation.”
Some of the British Cannabis team
Novel foods are not just about the law
“I was never interested in science at school, but was interested in developing our primary extraction method, THC removal methods, undertaking the first cannabinoid analysis within the business and developing nearly all of the products we sell today,” Tom continues.
“Building our farm from the ground up and living and breathing cannabis every day all gave me the knowledge to demonstrate the safety of CBD as a Novel Food.”
The personal rewards have been huge.
Tom says: “The business has not only enabled me to help so many of our customers but also it’s been instrumental in securing the future of the industry. If we hadn’t done what we did, many lives would be worse off as a result. My legacy before currency mantra is something that has driven every aspect of my life for the last 10 years.”
“It’s the daily emails and thanks we receive as a team that continue to drive this business.”
He continues: “There is Alfie, a little boy just like Jayden that inspired this journey. We have given him over £50,000 of free cannabis oil after the NHS let him down. As a result of our products, he is now walking, talking and even going to school like a normal child. We have given him the chance of a normal life.
“Then there’s Paul, who had never really met his dad as his father had been struck down with a debilitating illness when he was four. It was only 20 years later when he gave his dad our CBD oil that his father smiled at him for the first time. Imagine that – 26 years of age and it’s the first time your dad smiles and talks to you.”
What sets British Cannabis™ apart from the competition in this emerging market is its dedication to regulatory compliance and professionalism. So where is this business heading?
“I aspire to a world in which we don’t just stand on the shoulders of giants, but we are standing shoulder to shoulder alongside them. I want British Cannabis™ to be a household name,” says Tom, who still has much more to give to this burgeoning industry.
“After years of being self-funded, having no debt and operating a profitable business, we are now looking for investment. The next stage is to enable others to share this legacy with me and help further accelerate our growth.
“Everything I do, whatever it is, is dedicated to continuing the legacy that is British Cannabis™.”
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