This week’s Trailblazer is Jenna Valleriani, Director of Social Impact & Advocacy at Canopy Growth Corp, a leading global cannabis company.
Questions with a Cannabis Industry Trailblazer
When did you first become involved in the cannabis industry and why?
I first became involved in 2012 as a researcher who was interested in youth using and selling cannabis, and later evolved my PhD research to focus on medical cannabis access and the emerging commercial medical cannabis market, looking at both legal and illicit entrepreneurs in this shake up. I spent a lot of time in the older medical cannabis dispensaries doing research, talking to patients and other industry leaders. I later went on to do my post doctoral fellowship at UBC Medicine working with individuals who used drugs, and how cannabis was helping them reduce, manage, and even eliminate their more harmful substance use.
Since the medical market opened up I also have tried to write and communicate as much as I could about it, especially since it was a very confusing time for patients. Between that and twitter cannabis policy talks, my role has evolved from research and policy work – mostly in the non profit space – to social impact work in the cannabis space. I worked with organizations like the National Institute for Cannabis Health and Education, Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and more, in a lot educational and policy driven work, as well as consulted both nationally and internationally on developing cannabis policy. This has taken my belief in the legal industries responsibility to contribute to undoing the harms and legacy of cannabis prohibition to a reality, where I manage a full social impact strategy across social justice, community reinvestment and cannabis education for Canopy Growth.
What has been the biggest marketing challenge you have faced when working with cannabis companies/brands?
The challenges in the cannabis space talking about and marketing activities is certainly no secret, but there is a bit more nuance when we’re talking about social impact activities which is often broadly captured under the prohibition of sponsorship activities. It’s challenging because there’s some really great work and partnerships being done that have significant impact in communities and through effective non profit partners, but there has to be creative and compliant ways of talking about it and getting the word out there.
If you could change one of the current Canadian or American marketing restrictions on cannabis, which would it be?
I would love to see companies be able to speak more directly about their social impact work, tied to brands, and how they are reinvesting into communities and people impacted by the war on drugs. There’s a very fine line between authentically telling those stories and supporting true social impact work and the organizations who lead this change, vs seeing companies “leverage” cheque-writing activities for marketing, but I think it’s important that the industry is collaborating with the public and academic sectors for a purpose that serves society and shows how cannabis can be a force for good.
In your observation, what marketing techniques or channels have been most effective for cannabis companies looking to connect with consumers?
As a social impact leader, our partners have helped tell that story of change and impact, and for us, being much more focused on our approach and impact data has been a game changer. Focusing on education and spotlighting the amazing work community organizations we work with has been an effective way to connect with consumers and patients. Additionally, CGC released our inaugural Environmental, Social and Governance Report (ESG) and gives us the opportunity to spotlight our social justice and community partnerships, and talk about the strategy and data that underpins our approach to impact – this has been such a valuable tool communicating across a wide range of stakeholders.
Are there any other Trailblazers in the cannabis industry that you follow?
I follow so many. I’ve always been inspired by women like Amanda Reiman, Shaleen Title, Ashleigh Brown, Toi Hutchinson, Ziva Cooper, Roz McCarthy and so many more.
What is one tip or piece of advice you would give to people looking to enter the cannabis industry?
Establishing an impactful social impact strategy is necessary to grow your brand – not only do we have a responsibility as companies in a legal space that has historically targeted equity deserving communities, but brands and companies with a social purpose energize employees and consumers. And passionate employees will knock down walls to solve problems and find creative ways to succeed.
A big thank you to Jenna 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.