In May of 2016, we were in Toronto at the Canadian Institute Cannabis Business Conference and had the good fortune of sitting next to the lovely Victoria Dekker. She was from Edmonton, like us, and an early adopter of the cannabis scene. I think it's safe to say we were fast friends.
Over a year later, we caught up with Victoria to talk about her new role as Communications Specialist with New Brunswick based Organigram.
What do you do at Organigram?
I’m a communications specialist. My position touches a myriad of areas (including public relations, marketing, research, analytics, social media, content creation and relationship management), but in a nutshell, I work to develop and execute creative, strategic and effective ways to share our company’s messages and tell our stories.
How long have you worked there?
I joined the team in May 2017.
Where did you work before Organigram?
I’ve been working in North American media for over a decade, primarily as a reporter and editor. I’ve written for dozens of publications and media properties, and my beats have run the gamut from hard news, justice and politics to travel, lifestyle and culture. I’ve been making a gradual transition to the marketing and communications space over the past few years by re-training and working with businesses, individuals and groups (both in and out of the cannabis industry) on content and strategy.
How did you end up working for a cannabis company?
The media has become a very difficult industry in which to make a living. Publications are shuttering in record numbers. Journalists who manage to stick it out basically live in constant fear of losing their jobs and are reduced to fighting over the last boxes of pens in the office. When the magazine I worked for folded in 2014, I started freelancing full-time. It was a serious grind. No security, constant hustle.
Right around the same time, the rules and conversations around recreational and medical cannabis in North America began to shift. I had been a long-time fair access advocate and was actively, albeit, quietly, involved in cannabis culture. I got a prescription, began to deeply explore cannabis as a medicine and began consuming it with intention.
I started to realize and understand the massive potential of the plant, both physically and spiritually, but also on this huge peripheral scale: socially, culturally and politically. I started to become fascinated with and really, really excited about cannabis, something that had been a part of my life for a long time, but suddenly seemed completely brand new. Then Trudeau was elected and cannabis was all over the news in Canada. I saw this gaping hole, a new need for information and storytelling in and around cannabis, so decided to shift completely into the space and specialize on cannabis content and communications. With recreational legalization on the way and the steady growth of the medical market, I knew there would be huge opportunities in the industry and started to build out my network and work with cannabis-focused media properties, businesses and people.
I started by writing a piece on the Cannabis industry in Atlantic Canada for a regional business magazine, and by doing some cannabis culture writing for Civilized.life, a really progressive media property with offices in New Brunswick and California. I attended a few cannabis industry events, including the Canadian Cannabis Business Conference and the Lift Expo in Toronto in 2016. I met a few people from the Organigram team at those events, began building relationships with them and secured a practicum placement in their marketing department to finish a business diploma I’d been working on. At the end of the term, I was offered a position that aligned perfectly with my skill set and the company’s needs.
Did you have any hesitation about working for a cannabis company?
No. I was incredibly eager to work for a cannabis company. I considered it (and still do) an opportunity to do a few really incredible things: help normalize, de-stigmatize and legitimize cannabis consumption, contribute to changing the dialogue around cannabis culture and help break ground in an entirely new, legal industry. How often do opportunities like those come along in one’s professional life? Not very.
What did your friends and family think?
I’m surrounded by a wonderful bunch of misfits and progressive thinkers, so I would venture a guess and say most think it was a pretty obvious shift and natural progression for me.
What do you like most about working in this sector? What is the most challenging? What has surprised you the most?
The cannabis industry is absolutely electric. The people involved in it are, for the most part, a bright, passionate bunch, and there seems to be this mass understanding that we’re on the edge of something enormous.
There’s also lot of misinformation and confusion in the greater public about cannabis. I expend a decent amount of time and energy in social settings clarifying misconceptions, and am regularly disappointed in and frustrated by the demonizing of Licensed Producers I see in the media and online and the needless hysteria about how things may change once cannabis is legal for recreational use. For all the work that’s been done and how far we’ve come as a society, there’s still a long way to go before cannabis is normalized and de-stigmatized – I don’t know if we’ll ever fully get there.
I think it’s surprised me the most (and I’m not sure why I didn’t consider this before), that working an office job in cannabis is still an office job. Granted, it’s probably one of the most amazing office jobs one can do. While Organigram isn’t your run-of-the mill office environment, still had to brush up on my water cooler talk pretty significantly in my first few weeks.
What specialized knowledge have you had to acquire to work in this industry or in your current role?
Again, I went through a period of a few years where I ate and breathed cannabis. I entered this obsessive research phase that’s since leveled out and just become a regular part of my life. I learned, and still learn, as much as I can about the industry, the culture and the people in it. I’m constantly trying to learn more about cannabis as a plant, a product and a medicine.
What makes Organigram a great place to work?
The culture. I'm still new to the company, but there's an entrepreneurial 'can do' attitude that gives the autonomy and resources to actually make things happen quickly. Because our teams are small, everyone has a pretty wide swath of responsibility. Because we all communicate with each other so well and trust in one another’s expertise, the work environment is really geared toward being proactive, assertive and taking initiative. It’s not the kind of place you’d come to work and ask, “What can I do?” It’s more of a, “Here are the challenges or opportunities I’ve identified, and this is what I’m going to do to address them,” office culture.
Because the industry changes so quickly, you need an environment that adapts easily and that really exists here. It’s also an incredible place for a creative person and there’s a real open exchange of ideas. Because cannabis is such a new industry, there are few problems or solutions that are simply black or white; there is no guidebook. It’s a space for grey area thinkers, and anyone working in it needs to be comfortable, and even thrive on, the opportunity to colour outside the lines.
Moreover, it’s clear that everyone in the company is passionate about what they do and excited about the future. That same electric energy that flows through the greater cannabis industry is keeping the lights burning bright at Organigram.
As you look ahead, what excites you most about this industry?
The possibilities. We have really exciting conversations about strategy and vision that makes it clear that Organigram will continue to develop an industry leading position, but also how we can help shape a new industry. Again, from a marketing and communications perspective, there will only ever be a few possibilities to have the kind of impact on an industry.
What advice would you give to someone considering a career change into the cannabis sector?
Learn as much as you can, put yourself out there, and do it NOW. You’ll have to put in some legwork to unearth the opportunities, but everyone who works in the legal cannabis industry – aside from the old-school growers and the few who have successfully made a transition from the grey market – comes from somewhere else. Chances are, if you’re considering a career in cannabis and have any redeemable skills, there’s a place for you.