Corporate Canada warms to marijuana industry

Corporate Canada warms to marijuana industry
Corporate Canada warms to marijuana industry

Snappy business suits and crisp white lab coats aren't what immediately pop to mind when one thinks of marijuana. But as high-flying professionals decamp from established industries for the promise of a Canadian green rush, jeans and T-shirts may be on the way out as the official workplace attire of the cannabis industry.

Over the past year or two, lawyers, scientists, marketing professionals and the denizens of C-Suite Canada have been moving into the industry, which is hungry for talent and filled with expectations of profit. With medical marijuana legal and the country preparing for recreational legalization next summer, there's a need for a vast range of expertise.

"It's one thing to hire a guy growing plants in his mom's basement, and another thing to hire a guy with experience growing 20,000 square feet," explained John Prentice, chief executive officer of the seed-to-sale software company Ample Organics Inc.

Take Canopy Growth Corp., for example, the first TSX-listed cannabis company to break $1-billion in valuation. Its top management team includes former executives at BlackBerry Ltd., Pfizer Canada Inc., the Molson Coors Brewing Co., Labatt Brewing Co. Ltd. and Vodafone Group PLC.

"This is an insanely competitive space with new competitors selling very similar products entering on a near weekly basis. The recipe for our success has been largely based on hiring great people with relevant experience to do the jobs," Jordan Sinclair, Canopy's director of communications, said in an e-mail.

Increasingly, cannabis companies are led by well-known figures from corporate Canada. To name just a few: Vic Neufeld, CEO of Aphria Inc., ran vitamin maker Jamieson Laboratories Ltd.; George Scorsis, CEO of Liberty Health Sciences Inc., was previously general manager of Red Bull Canada; and Barry Fishman, CEO of ABcann Global Corp., was formerly CEO of the pharmaceutical company Teva Canada Ltd.

Their interest is hardly surprising, as it has become clear just how much money there is to be made. A 2016 study by Deloitte estimated that "marijuana sales alone could be as high as $8.7-billion a year, similar to sales generated by wine," and the industry more broadly could see close to $23-billion in annual economic activity.