Halifax cannabis conference puts spotlight on women
Event organizer dedicates day to women growers and consumers
November 6, 2017, 9:33 pm ASTLast Updated: November 9, 2017, 4:06 pm AST'
Dianne Smirl wants women to be leaders in the fledgling cannabis industry, so she made them the focus of half of her two-day conference.
“There won’t be an old boys’ club that takes over,” she said.
Smirl organized the Connect with Cannabis conference in Halifax on Saturday and Sunday. Next July, a new consumer market will open when recreational use of cannabis becomes legal; it is expected to increase the corporate appeal of cannabis.
Smirl said women are curious about medical cannabis because they make most health-care decisions for themselves and their families.
One exhibitor at the event, Aqualitas, kept a tally of visitors to their table: 65 per cent of visitors on the first day were women, said Aqualitas CEO Myrna Gillis. Her company is based in Bedford, N.S., and is awaiting a cannabis production licence.
Compared to the people Aqualitas saw at their table, corporate cannabis looks a little different.
Alison McMahon said legal cannabis production is a “male-dominated industry.” She is founder and CEO of Cannabis at Work, a cannabis-specific staffing agency with offices in Edmonton, Vancouver, and Toronto.
Earlier this year, The Canadian Press analyzed data on all publicly traded cannabis companies in Canada and found that women hold only five per cent of board seats in those companies.
McMahon said it’s because so much money is required to enter the current market. New licensed producers need “millions and millions of capital to invest,” she said.
“Typically, we see that it is men that are involved in capital intensive markets,” she said.
Toronto-based Tweed was one of the licensed producers at the conference. Tweed’s community engagement manager, Shega Youngson, said women want to know the “brands they’re engaging with support them.”
Youngson said she was hired by a woman into a team of mostly women. She described her colleagues as a diverse group and “probably equally split between women and men.”
Tweed is owned by Canopy Growth Corp., the largest publicly traded cannabis corporation in Canada. According to its website, their top leadership positions—directors, CFO, CEO and president—are all held by men.
Women like Gillis are an exception in the industry. She said that women occupy at least half of Aqualitas’ board and key positions.
“We’re outliers and we know it,” she said.
But Gillis said it isn’t too late to change the status quo. She supports other women in cannabis through mentorship and by participating in Women Grow, an organization with chapters in the U.S. and Canada that supports female leadership in the cannabis industry.
Smirl’s Connect with Cannabis expo will visit Montreal, Winnipeg, and possibly Gatineau next spring. Women will be featured at the conference in each city.