'I often describe it as 'running through the forest at night'" - Hexo's Terry Lake on building a cannabis empire

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Terry Lake is the Vice President of Social Responsibility at the Hexo, a licensed cannabis producer based in Quebec, Canada, writes Nick Hilden. 

What makes your company different from others in the cannabis space?

We have taken a very deliberate and measured approach to our growth strategy by focussing first on Quebec and then on the rest of Canada and now looking to international markets. We have resisted the temptation to throw a lot of stuff at the wall and see what sticks, choosing a longer term and well-researched strategy.

How did you get into the cannabis space?

As British Columbia Minister of Health for four years, I had some exposure to medical cannabis but it was my daughter Stephanie who is doing her PhD at the University of British Columbia who was responsible for peaking my interest. Stephanie presented on cannabis use and impacts on HIV treatment at a cannabis conference in New York and I went along as a proud dad. I was fascinated by the science behind the plant and the huge public policy challenge of legalizing adult use in Canada. When I left politics Adam, who was a friend from his BC days, called me and invited me to join the company which was known as Hydropothecary at that time. The rest, as they say, is history.

Walk us through a normal day.

Like many in the cannabis industry, there is no typical day. As VP responsible for corporate social responsibility and communications, I have a very varied schedule from dealing with issues management, proactive external and internal communications, interacting with existing and future partners in the nonprofit space and attending and speaking at conferences about cannabis and the opioid crisis.

What has been your biggest lesson about working in cannabis, and in business in general?

I think the biggest lesson has been developing patience and nimbleness at the same time which seems like a paradox but in this highly regulated industry we have been waiting with baited breath for legislation and regulation while at the same time having to change our approach in a moment’s notice once the policies have been set out.

What do you see as your biggest opportunity?

In everything I have done, I always look for opportunities to learn and the cannabis industry has been no exception. From the history of pre-prohibition to the reason for prohibition to the present day destigmatization of cannabis, there is a lot to learn. There is also a lot to teach and for the average Canadian who knows little about cannabis, this is a tremendous opportunity to pass on evidence based information so that people can make informed decisions about cannabis.

What sets you apart to make you a potential leader in cannabis?

My ginger hair.

What is the most frustrating aspect of the cannabis industry today?

I think the most frustrating part is the uncertainty. I often describe it as “running through the forest at night”. This is particularly true in Quebec where the provincial government has been reticent to embrace legalization and has created a regime that makes it difficult to talk about your company and even the support given to health and social agencies in the province. Interpreting the regulatory regime is very challenging,

What advice would you give to anyone looking to get into the cannabis space?

As always, do your homework. There is a lot of BS out there – companies that have great websites but nothing substantial behind them. Get to know the people involved and make a choice based on their character.

What are your biggest tips for branding cannabis?

Go to Oregon or California! Just kidding (sort of). It is very difficult under the Canadian regulations to differentiate among brands so we will have to do a good job of educating the provincial distributors and retailers (B2B) as we cannot talk directly to consumers in any extensive way. Earned media is an opportunity to get your name out there but media have a lot of choices as all companies are competing for this. Adam and his team have done a marvelous job of marketing the #staycurious tagline in which we have presented all kinds of interesting and entertaining events in age-gated venues. Necessity really has been the mother of invention.

Do you see any big changes coming in the future of cannabis?

I see a huge shift in the perception of cannabis from a “stoner” perspective to one in which people will look at cannabis for medicine, for wellness and for heightening their senses and that may mean different uses on different days.

Do you consume cannabis? And if so, what's your favorite way to consume?

I have consumed cannabis while in Washington State and Oregon but, to be honest, in my limited experience I haven’t yet become a fan. I think CBD will be something I want to try in an effort to keep my creaky body running and biking. Meanwhile, I love a good IPA.

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