When did you first become involved in the cannabis industry and why?
Canada has been at the forefront of a historic shift in public perception, consumer behaviors, corporate interests, and regulatory frameworks around the legalization of a plant that has a long and stigmatized history. For me, the incredible complexity and unique challenges that come along with this shift present a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a foundational member of an entirely new industry. When I completed my CannSell certification and started as a part time budtender in 2019, I could never have imagined the incredible growth and leadership opportunities a career in cannabis would bring. Launching a cannabis career has granted me the opportunity to develop a successful chain of retail stores, grow one of the largest LPs in the country, coordinate with government boards across Canada and, now, lead the development of the same program that started my career.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced when working with cannabis companies/brands?
The lack of consistency in adherence to rather ambiguous regulations, especially when it comes to the illicit market, poses a significant challenge from both a retail and an LP perspective. Companies that sell products without excise stamps, edibles without THC limits, and untested cannabis by the gram operate in every major Canadian city. These businesses challenge legitimate operators that must adhere to the regulations or risk being shut down. A level playing field is necessary to foster a healthy, inclusive, and competitive market in such a nascent industry.
If you could change one of the current Canadian or American marketing restrictions on cannabis, which would it be?
I would change the strict packaging and labeling regulations for cannabis products. These regulations are aimed at protecting public health and preventing access to underage consumers with mandated child proof packaging. While the intent of the regulations is good, in practice they have led to some unintended consequences. There is an incredible amount of environmental waste produced to bottle or package a single gram or joint and oftentimes they are prohibitively difficult to open. Cannabis producers have found creative solutions and packaging designs to minimize this issue, but by and large the excess waste produced in this industry is excessive relative to other regulated spaces.
In your observation, what marketing techniques or channels have been most effective for cannabis companies looking to connect with consumers?
Educational programs and campaigns targeted at budtenders have been the most effective marketing channel from my experience. A well thought out program increases brands’ visibility and arms budtenders with the language they need to communicate unique brand propositions to customers. Consumer studies have shown that budtenders effectively influence 70% of buying decisions for customers. As the front line of the industry, keeping budtenders engaged and aware of your product features is key to driving brand awareness and success.
Are there any other Trailblazers in the cannabis industry that you follow?
There are so many talented people in this space, but if I were to highlight just a few:
Tamara Lilien – Her passion for the plant is matched only by her passion for education.
Abbey Bortolotti – A must-follow if you are a data nerd like myself.
Jazz Samra – A thought leader with consistently interesting insights and articles.
Ika Washington – A much needed voice for diversity and inclusion in cannabis.
Shahbaaz Kara-Virani – One of the best community builders in the industry.
David Lobo – Launching very exciting initiatives with the OCS.
I also have to mention Greg Lawson, Chad Murray, and Chris Lloyd, who were all personal mentors of mine and are the reasons I am here today. Each of them is a trailblazer in their own right.
What is one tip or piece of advice you would give to marketers looking to enter the cannabis industry?
My advice is this: understand the regulations, and don’t be afraid to push boundaries. Despite the regulations, people have come up with creative solutions and innovative products that genuinely resonate with and delight their customers. While they don’t always work, they still move the needle in the right direction. We have not even scratched the surface of what this industry will look like in the next twenty years.