There are a lot of high hopes as we await Canadian legislation legalizing cannabis this summer. As everybody knows, in the United States, structural biases favoring white men have resulted in the disproportionate exclusion of women and people of color from the highest positions in the cannabis industry (even if there is a higher percentage of female leadership in cannabis than in other industries.) Canada’s cannabis industry is no different. Even so, there are women way-makers forging a path toward a more inclusive future. Here are 10 women leading the way in Canada's legal cannabis industry.
Gill Polard is the Communications Manager at the Lift Resource Centre, a medicinal cannabis clinic offering cannabis education and medical assessments, private consultations with medical professionals, assistance with Canada’s medical patient registration system, and on-going care.
Polard is also the founder and editor of The Her(b) Life, a blog that celebrates all things women, cannabis, and entrepreneurship. She also hosts High Friends Podcast, in which Polard and her team spend each episode talking about the evolution of cannabis culture or interviewing a different woman about her relationship with cannabis. For Polard, creating a variety of spaces where women’s stories can be heard is the best way to empower women entrepreneurs as Canada transitions out of prohibition.
Alison Gordon was recently appointed CEO of 48North, one of Canada’s licensed producers. Before entering the cannabis industry, Gordon founded Rethink Breast Cancer, an advocacy group with the mission of empowering young people all over the world who are affected by or concerned about breast cancer. When a close relative was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Gordon was floored by cannabis’ therapeutic efficacy. “I was amazed at how the cannabis helped with so many of the horrible symptoms she was experiencing,” she said to Notable Life. In 2014, she decided to leave Rethink Breast Cancer to pursue a new passion in cannabis, and that decision has led her to where she is today.
Queens County, Nova Scotia is trudging through the economic challenges that come when industries die out. The pulp and paper mill that county residents once relied on for a stable income shut down in 2012. But the despair of job insecurity began to diminish in 2017 under the leadership of Myrna Gillis, the CEO of Aqualitas, a Novia Scotia-based aquaponics cannabis producer. Central to Gillis’ company’s values is the community where it has laid down its roots. While Queens County residents didn’t expect cannabis to take over the pulp and paper mill jobs they’d relied on for so long, they’ve got nothing but gratitude for the opportunity Aqualitas has brought their community.
As Director of Patient Advocacy and Education for Canopy Growth, a Canadian licensed producer, Hilary Black offers her extensive knowledge about cannabis and patient care to help shape policy and physician education. Black is a well-known pioneer in Canadian cannabis—in 1997, she founded the British Columbia Compassion Club Society (BCCCS), the first medical cannabis dispensary in the country. Since then, Black has worked tirelessly to make cannabis accessible to medical patients. For her significant contributions to Canadian society through her advocacy for medical cannabis, Black was awarded the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Award.
As a cannabis activist, Lisa Campbell has worked with policymakers and businesses to lay down the foundation responsible for the billion-dollar industry cannabis in Canada is predicted to become. Most recently, Campbell has joined the team at Lifford Wine & Spirits as Cannabis Portfolio Specialist.
In that capacity, she will work with craft makers and licensed producers as they navigate Canada’s strict regulations. The role allows Campbell to play a part in shaping a niche market—those who are interested in cannabis beverages, an exciting alternative for consumers who want to enjoy cannabis without smoking it.
Hiring legal counsel is par for the course when you become an entrepreneur. Industry-specializing lawyers play an enormous role in helping business owners comply with regulations. In Canada, Brazeau Seller Law’s Trina Fraser has become the go-to attorney when it comes to finding a place in the rapidly maturing cannabis industry.
From the beginning of Canada’s privatization of cannabis production, Fraser has been fielding calls from entrepreneurial clients who saw the business opportunity presented by the emerging industry. Even though most law firms were reticent to publicly advertise advisement on cannabis law, Fraser boldly chose to take on the challenge. As a result, she is widely regarded as the most sought-after cannabis business legal expert today.
Jamie Shaw has been a cannabis advocate for almost 20 years, serving as Director of the BC Compassion Club, President of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries, and co-founding Canada’s first chapter of Women Grow. But this was a path she never thought she would have traversed before she took her first steps into the world of cannabis. Her doctor recommended she use cannabis to treat her debilitating anxiety, and Shaw’s initial reaction was shock.
However, after experiencing frustrating side-effects with other therapies, she took his advice and hasn’t looked back since. Today, Shaw is Government Relations Director for MMJ Canada, a position that allows her to help ensure that regulations are reasonable for cannabis businesses.
Since 2004, Tracy Curley has been working in cannabis as an advocate for increased access. Her extensive work for the cause in Toronto gained her recognition as ‘Best Marijuana Activist of the Year’ in 2007 by Now Magazine and as one of the 300 most influential women in the cannabis industry by Skunk Magazine in 2015. In addition to her political advocacy, Curley creates avenues for dignified cannabis consumption for patients by teaching them how to infuse cannabis into their foods.
Most well-known to Canadians for her role as a venture capitalist in the series Dragons’ Den, The Big Decision, and Under New Management, Arlene Dickinson is the CEO of marketing agency Venture Communications, and social network for entrepreneurs, YouInc.Com. In early 2018 and in her role as CEO of Venture Communications, Dickinson entered into a partnership with Nuuvera Inc., a licensed cannabis producer in Canada.
"Canada is blazing the way in this fast evolving market," Dickinson said. "With its mission to lead industry innovation by creating high quality, consistent and safe products, Nuuvera is perfectly positioned to capitalize on the opportunity – in Canada and around the world."
In most cases, activists are ahead of their time. In some of those instances, that is to their detriment. Jodie Emery and her husband, Marc Emery, were well known in Canada as the Prince and Princess of Pot for their development of Cannabis Culture, a magazine and web of semi-legal cannabis dispensaries. Though she operated outside of the law, Emery’s work played a major role in redefining the stigmatized brand cannabis had acquired.
However, in early 2017, Jodie and Marc were arrested for trafficking and conspiracy charges, many of which the couple plead guilty to in December of that year. While a government that plans to legalize the very things for which the couple were convicted effectively dethroned the pot princess, she continues to advocate for continued legal change. Most recently, she has focused on banks that discriminate against cannabis businesses after a childhood account she held with Royal Bank was closed for reasons she believes are based on her association with cannabis.