“You’ll have never worked so many 16-hour days in your life”. Those were the words of Max Simon, CEO of GreenFlower, a company that offers a range of cannabis online training courses, and one of the key influencers I met during my time at MJ BizCon Int’l in August 2018. He was right. Cannabis is easily the most intense and fast paced sector I’ve worked in and I’ve spent time in technology start-ups in the height of the dot com boom. It’s insane! There’s a phenomenon in this industry of being on cannabis time, where a day equals a week, and a week equals a month. Things move at warp speed. Being at MJ Biz Con Int’l in Toronto during my second week on the job was in some ways, a huge gift. I had a chance to meet many of the industry movers and shakers, learn more about the industry at various talks and panel discussions and, the highlight of my trip - get up close and personal with millions of dollars in cannabis.
David Purcell, Director at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, a post-secondary leader in the cannabis space, became my new conference pal. David is a pioneer in the cannabis space and he’s a frequent attendee and speaker at cannabis conferences worldwide. He knows everyone and made sure I met the key players. I learned a lot from the many speakers at the show and in particular, was super inspired by Brendan Kennedy’s vision for Tilray (wish I had bought stocks back in August!). It was also during this show that Constellation Brands announced its $5B dollar investment into Canopy. I felt like a real industry insider being in an intimate room of 200 people as Canopy’s CEO, Bruce Linton, shared some of the details the day following the big announcement. Bruce is a rockstar CEO, a Steve Jobs of cannabis. Yet, despite this iconic stature, he was pretty darn accessible, graciously holding court in the lobby after the session to answer questions. That’s one of the special things about this industry, people are really supportive of each other.
However, in true cannabis industry fashion, I couldn’t fully disengage from the office. I was taking client calls between sessions and following up on a myriad of email requests. This was August, just a couple of months before legalization and we were slammed with requests. People in the cannabis industry needed training and they needed to hire more people – all before October 17th. People outside the cannabis industry were also realizing they were not fully prepared for cannabis in the workplace and wanted training as well. Everyone wanted everything right now!
On my last day in Toronto, my boss arranged a tour of MedReleaf, a licensed producer based just outside Toronto. My first clue about the level of security in cannabis was not being able to find the address for the facility on their website. I called the contact I was slated to meet to get the details. When my cab rolled up to the address, which was an innocuous looking warehouse in an industrial complex, for one brief moment, I wondered if I was in the right place…until we were met by two security guards. That confirmed things – I was in the right place! My tour started with some security protocols and then I was met by my tour guide, Andrew Hand, Director of Cultivation Science for MedReleaf. Andrew is the first Plant Molecular Biologist that I’ve had the pleasure to meet. He knows plants and specifically, cannabis, at a level that’s hard for the average person to comprehend. After we got suited up in the requisite, jumpsuit, booties, mask and gloves (I felt like I was ready for surgery), we made our way through several secure, in some cases airlocked spaces to see the cannabis. I’m not sure what I was expecting but this definitely wasn’t your average “grow op”. Not even close. It was more akin to being in a laboratory. Everything was carefully monitored and controlled. The lights, irrigation, feeding and care of the plants – it was all very precise. Andrew was incredibly generous with his time and it was easy to see why he excelled in his role. He’s super passionate about the cannabis plant. I have to be honest and say, at this time, the scientific explanations were mostly a blur. I have come to better understand more of the terminology that Andrew first introduced around terpenes, some properties of cannabis plants, the grow cycles and other aspects of the plant but it was all a little overwhelming. One of the things that surprised me, as someone only familiar with the smell of “skanky weed” was the different scent profiles of various strains. Some of the cannabis was incredibly fragrant in a good way. That’s the terpenes!
I had a chance to see different stages of plant growth, to see the trimming teams harvesting the bud, to check out the drying process and see the product through to packaging. It was a really amazing experience. From a recruitment standpoint, seeing a licensed producer of this size in action helped me better understand the staffing needs and requirements for a cannabis facility at a much deeper level.
Next month…. the madness continues as we head towards legalization, try to launch our retail training offerings in the face of marketing regulatory challenges and...the details on how we spent legalization night. More about all of that in part four of the Cannabis Career Diaries.