Meet Canada’s cannabis ‘spokesman’

The Globe and Mail (Prairie Edition) - - LEADING EDGE - FRED LUM/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

I ’ LL GO FIRST

Cannabis le­gal­iza­tion has been a long time com­ing, but Bruce Lin­ton is look­ing much fur­ther into the fu­ture than that.

The founder and co-chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Canopy Growth Corp., based in Smiths Falls, Ont., imag­ines a day when cannabis-in­fused drinks are on shelves next to the vodka. “The next wave of prod­ucts are go­ing to be mas­sively more in­ter­est­ing and pop­u­lar than the first ones,” he says about Canada’s cannabis mar­ket.

Now, a few days be­fore the Oct. 17 le­gal­iza­tion of recre­ational cannabis, Mr. Lin­ton talks about hang­ing out with Snoop Dogg, teach­ing his sons about his com­pany’s prod­uct and spark­ing in­no­va­tion over the next year or two.

Mr. Lin­ton was in­ter­viewed for I’ll Go First, a new pod­cast se­ries about en­trepreneurs pro­duced by The Globe and Mail.

So let’s get this out of the way first: Have you ever smoked cannabis?

Yes, I have. It was when I was in uni­ver­sity. I think, like many peo­ple, I’m not nec­es­sar­ily a fan of com­bust­ing things and in­hal­ing the re­sult. Rather than un­der­stand­ing what I was get­ting into, I jumped right in the deep end with peo­ple who con­sumed a lot of cannabis. The ef­fect was that I be­came the en­ter­tain­ment for the next hour or two be­cause I was dis­pro­por­tion­ately stoned com­pared to them. I give you that de­tail be­cause I think a big part of the co­hort who are go­ing to be in­ter­ested in cannabis in Canada likely would pre­fer to get it from a sta­bi­lized, re­spon­si­ble sup­plier. We’ll call it a “mod­er­ate on-ramp” for them. You don’t want to try and pre­tend you’re Snoop Dogg be­cause I be­lieve, hav­ing hung out with Snoop now sev­eral times, he would have been just fine with the prod­uct that I used the first time, and I was not.

How of­ten do you see Snoop Dogg?

He came out to Smiths Falls, Ont., re­cently. Smiths Falls is es­sen­tially three hours east of Toronto, one hour south­west of Ot­tawa, three hours west of Mon­treal, so in the mid­dle of nowhere. Each year in or­der to ap­pre­ci­ate the com­mu­nity, we put on a show on our front lawn. If you live out­side the com­mu­nity you need to pay 20 bucks and we take all that money and ded­i­cate it to cre­at­ing a bet­ter com­mu­nity.

The open­ing act is my two boys and their band, they’re the ripe old age of 15 and 17 now. Any­way, this year Snoop Dogg did a whole one-hour-plus set, and it was amaz­ing. It was also amaz­ing be­cause this was in that town I de­scribed, which had also been re­ally quite down­trod­den by Her­shey de­part­ing, as well as most of the other em­ploy­ers. So the town hadn’t had many re­ally great things hap­pen the last 15 years un­til a mar­i­juana com­pany oc­cu­pied the big­gest build­ing and then ul­ti­mately brought Snoop to have a party on a front lawn and do a great set on a Satur­day night.

Tell me a lit­tle bit about be­ing a fa­ther.

There are some ad­van­tages and dis­ad­van­tages of hav­ing me for a dad. The dis­ad­van­tage list is rea­son­ably long – I work fairly hard, I’m very busy and I can’t al­ways make it to ev­ery­thing. The ad­van­tages list in­cludes get­ting to open for the shindig each year.

How do you talk to your chil­dren about cannabis?

We have a vis­i­tor cen­tre now at the Smiths Falls fa­cil­ity, and peo­ple, in­clud­ing their chil­dren, can learn about the his­tory of cannabis, the science of cannabis, and see cannabis plants in var­i­ous states. And I re­fer to that as sort of like swim­ming lessons for cannabis. And my kids have had a lot of swim­ming lessons for cannabis, which means they’re un­likely to come to harm re­lated to cannabis be­cause they com­pre­hend why you’d have to be com­pletely out of your nog­gin to just buy a bag from some­body you don’t know.

My kids have been com­ing to the fa­cil­ity from the day I be­gan build­ing the thing, and they un­der­stand it. They’re proud to wear the shirts, they ex­plain to peo­ple the dif­fer­ence be­tween med­i­cal use and oth­er­wise.

Do you find that you have to be a spokesman for cannabis?

This sec­tor does need a spokesper­son, and the per­son has to wel­come the duty of ex­plain­ing it. For ex­am­ple, prob­a­bly 500 times peo­ple have said, “Well, there’s no clin­i­cal trial data.” There is some, but hon­estly do you be­lieve the il- licit mar­ket is in the busi­ness of run­ning clin­i­cal tri­als for some­thing that’ s il­le­gal? It’s a non­sen­si­cal state­ment. But you can’t get frus­trated at that, you sim­ply have to ex­plain.

How do you nav­i­gate be­ing an in­no­va­tor in this new in­dus­try?

You need to be a nerd; that’s very help­ful. I like tech­nol­ogy, I like pub­lic pol­icy. If you’re go­ing to cre­ate some­thing that is go­ing to be heav­ily reg­u­lated, you have to rely on tech­nol­ogy in or­der to make it scale. You have tobe of the view that rules are made to be fol­lowed and evolve but not bro­ken.

What hap­pens if there’s a drop in in­ter­est, or peo­ple don’t pur­chase as much cannabis as pre­dicted?

I think the first wave of prod­ucts are go­ing to be pur­chased be­cause it’s novel. But there is an obli­ga­tion of Health Canada to in­tro­duce new and more ad­vanced for­mats or prod­ucts in the sec­ond half of 2019. Not so that you can have a bet­ter time or I can run a bet­ter busi­ness, but so that we can com­pete more ef­fec­tively with the il­licit mar­ket.

And so that’s when you’ll see things like vape pens, but more im­por­tantly you’ll see things that I would call in­gestibles, not ed­i­bles. Ingestible means you could drink or chew it. And if we then can make bev­er­ages with Con­stel­la­tion Brands [the global al­co­hol com­pany that has made a big in­vest­ment in Canopy], items that are clear, that have no calo­ries and trig­ger a much more pos­i­tive, up­lift­ing feel­ing than hap­pens with al­co­hol, I think that the next wave of prod­ucts are go­ing to be mas­sively more in­ter­est­ing and pop­u­lar than the first ones.

The “stretch­ing ex­er­cise” of the first nine months will have been help­ful but not re­ally in­dica­tive of what’s go­ing to oc­cur over the du­ra­tion of the op­por­tu­nity.

Tell me about your per­fect day off.

No cell cov­er­age.

Favourite Snoop Dogg song?

Drop It Like It’s Hot.

How many hours on av­er­age do you sleep per night?

Four and a half. I sleep like a rock. I wake up go­ing, “That was awe­some.” Ex­cept it’s not awe­some be­cause it’s two-thirty in the morn­ing. So I get up and pa­trol our house. I make sure there’s noth­ing go­ing on in the neigh­bour­hood.

What piece of ad­vice would you tell your younger self?

I think if it were easy ev­ery­body would do it. I have never fig­ured out an easy and di­rect path to any­thing. And my mother has pointed that out to me for about 30 years. But it still frus­trated me ridicu­lously early on – that ex­actly what I thought should hap­pen didn’t hap­pen when I tried it.

If you could do it all over again – cre­at­ing Canopy – what would you do dif­fer­ently?

I would prob­a­bly be a bit more cau­tious at the be­gin­ning. It was such an un­usual re­sponse I got from ev­ery­body that I pre­sented this to. The first three or four peo­ple I asked – what do you think of this idea, do you want to start it with me? – they thought I’d lost my mar­bles. And so then you start won­der­ing: Is this ac­tu­ally a good idea? And so I on boarded a few peo­ple early on just be­cause they were will­ing to do it rather than my usual way, which is I’m pretty de­mand­ing.

The Globe and Mail

This in­ter­view has been edited and con­densed.

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