This week’s Trailblazer is Erik Fonseca, VP of Sales at Detonate, a creatively modern print and design company that grows great ideas by working with brands and retailers in the cannabis space nationwide.

Erik Fonseca Detonate

Questions with a Cannabis Industry Trailblazer

When did you first become involved in the cannabis industry and why?

I started my career in the Cannabis industry in February 2019. However, like many of my peers, my cannabis origin story starts much earlier. I had experimented with Cannabis in high-school and quickly was enamored with the mystery and culture of the plant. Eventually, I evolved my thinking to understand that legislation surrounding cannabis use in Canada was reflective of social-control policies prompted by anti-cannabis rhetoric like Reefer Madness.

Throughout my high school career, I would often write research papers about the benefits of legalization to both the economic and social well-being in society. These papers, while often graded highly, were the subject of numerous classroom-wide debates, with many of my teachers rejecting my position on the subject outright. On several occasions my passion for my beliefs got me sent to the principal’s office. That always stuck with me, serving sort of as a “chip on my shoulder.” So, when discussions around the legalization of cannabis began to stir, I realized this was my chance to vindicate 15-year old Erik’s beliefs… to prove to all the naysayers, “I was right!”

Kidding aside, joining the cannabis industry gave me a chance to get involved in something I’ve been passionate about, believe in, and dreaming of since I was a teenager.

What has been the biggest challenge you have faced when working with cannabis companies/brands?

Wow, that’s a good one.

I guess the best way to describe it would be, it’s sort of like trying to master the art of skydiving, but while sewing the parachute at the same time. Which I know, is an overused analogy, but completely accurate. I mean, every nascent industry has its natural growing pains, but in cannabis, that challenge is compounded by regulatory uncertainty, public scrutiny, and political pressures.

In my day-to-day, I work with clients who are trying to develop strategies and plan their next moves. They face an evolving environment in cannabis, and every decision must be ready for a pivot at the drop of a dime. Essentially meaning, that our clients aren’t certain or don’t know what’s the best way to plan for the future. Our role in this industry is to hone our skills in understanding how we can best advise them and then execute under extremely tight deadlines. It’s a hard skill to master, and one I find myself focused on improving every day.

A former mentor of mine once shared an ancient saying, which at the time, I thought was complete bullsh!t. Since working in cannabis, I have learned wisdom comes with time, he was entirely correct, and I now embrace the adage – “The only constant is, change.”

If you could change one of the current Canadian or American marketing restrictions on cannabis, which would it be?

Relaxing the restrictions surrounding the free and open dialogue about Cannabis and its effects. Unlike most of the other products we consume, cannabis interacts differently with respect to each person’s own endocannabinoid system, and thus each person’s experience is different. Now, add the fact that we are constantly discovering new effects, and you can see why it’s important to have free and open conversations about cannabis, and its potential effects on each user.

So, I believe that the current restrictions related to cannabis communications would serve us better if they were structured to promote deeper discussions about different products, their potential effects, and associated risks or benefits. The fantastic people working in the retail landscape are heavily restricted in what they can say. It is a huge deterrent and obstacle to having a great customer interaction and ultimately, this is a fundamental change that can be made to ensure the industry continues down the path of destigmatization, necessary for each person to uncover their own personal truths about cannabis.

Both the public and the industry stand to benefit greatly as this kind of free exchange of knowledge and ideas would certainly accelerate our understanding of cannabis and help us identify areas where our knowledge is lacking for further exploration. Albeit, I do understand that this is easier said than done. There is a need to ensure this information is accurate, but I still believe we have swung the pendulum too far in the directions of silence, making misinformation more difficult to dispute.

In your observation, what marketing techniques or channels have been most effective for cannabis companies looking to connect with consumers?

In the early days, I would see large portions of marketing budgets spent on things like experiential marketing efforts, trade shows, events, out of home, and digital, which all had varying results. Frankly, it was difficult to justify and quantify ROI on many of these investments, often calling into question the impact of such outlays. A common occurrence in new industries.

Today, considering the current restrictions regarding communications my suggestion is, savvy marketers need to understand that the place to put their dollars has shifted to the final stages of the consumer journey, that means both in-store, and online. Interactive educational tools in-store, online menus, and other things that support the rise of “Click and Collect,” or deliveries. Anything digital that helps support consumers, directly at the point of purchase is worthy of your investment.

There’s a lot of really exciting digital platforms out there worth serious consideration. More obvious examples include Detonate’s One to One platform, and online menu, and interactive education platforms like dutchie or buddi.

Are there any other Trailblazers in the cannabis industry that you follow?

There are so many that come to mind, but here are just a few that I have personally interacted with, and in fact, worked for.

First off, I would have to say both Imraan Khan and Tyler Sookochoff, and I hate to be the guy who says their bosses. But, they are both true trailblazers in the space and the main reason why I chose to work at Detonate. They are both amazing entrepreneurs and leaders who took great leaps and risks in the Cannabis space, and it’s no secret that I joined the Detonate team for the opportunity to work with and learn from these two visionary leaders.

Two other people who have been of great influence on my career, and who I have learned a lot from are Nick Pateras (Materia Ventures), and Shahbaaz Kara-Virani (dutchie) both from my days at Lift & Co. They have contributed heavily as thought leaders, and represent two great minds in cannabis, whom I am lucky to call friends.

What is one tip or piece of advice you would give to people looking to enter the cannabis industry?

NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK. Like the real estate adage, “Location, Location, Location,” I feel the best advice I can offer to people who want to make their passion for cannabis into a career is, start making connections. Get out there and make yourself known in the space, think of it as an internship in getting into cannabis. You won’t get paid money for this legwork, but you are going to learn what’s important to decision makers in this space, stay abreast of current trends, best practices, and sometimes you get to make a like-minded friend (maybe for life). Stay positive, align your attitudes with behaviours that reflect your intentions and you’ll continue to make positive gains in your efforts. It’s not easy, but if you’re passionate about this space, it will pay off.

In fact, I recently helped a friend break into the industry. They had been trying to join the industry for several years, and every attempt was met with rejection. But, after a short bout of cursing, he would always sit back and reflect on the process to understand how he could apply any lessons learned to better his chances next time. He kept his nose to the grindstone and continued to learn, in hopes of landing a job in his dream industry. After two years of struggling to break into cannabis, I proudly promote that my good friend Myles Chang has just landed a role at a great organization in the space.

Lastly, don’t stress. We are still a burgeoning industry with lots of room and opportunity for growth. If you’re passionate, knowledgeable, and keen on getting into this industry, just remember, there exists more than just LPs for employment opportunities. Consider ancillary industries that support the legal cannabis market such as software, logistics, marketing, technology, control boards, agricultural material suppliers, and the like. Go out there and get to work, and be sure to reach out when you do, I’m always open to making new friends. Just remember, everyone has to start somewhere.

Cannabis Marketing Trailblazers

A big thank you to Erik for participating as this week’s Trailblazer! Stay tuned for another interview with a cannabis marketing Trailblazer next Thursday in the ADCANN blog.

Interested in working with one of these talented cannabis marketers? Check out our Agency Directory for a list of all the agencies that specialize in working with cannabis companies.



ADCANN is a digital publication and content creation team that showcases the most creative concepts in the cannabis space.