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Shega Youngson of Canopy Growth: being part of an industry that is shifting laws and improving our society is my sweet spot

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Shega Youngson embraced the idea of civil disobedience that creates social change at a young age, after earning her masters while writing her thesis on gender balance, rights-based policies and the fight against the trafficking of women in post-communist Albania. That, combined with her own health journey, made her eager to throw herself into the cannabis industry despite the stigma and challenges that women face as professionals.

What is your role at Canopy Growth Corp?

I’ve been with Canopy Growth for almost 3 years and am now the Senior Manager of Community Engagement and Events. I work with a wonderful group of people every day that are deeply passionate about this plant, and about creating relationships. We’re accessible, ready and willing to connect with whomever wants to learn more about cannabis.

How do you measure success in your role?

Tweed started as a medical brand, so in 2014 so when we launched it was about creating an experience that made people feel comfortable just having a conversation about cannabis. Now we’re in this new world of recreational cannabis, and things are a little bit different. Recreational consumers are often habitual consumers, or maybe they’re coming back to cannabis after using it at an earlier stage in their lives, or they’re completely new to the plant.

In our retail stores across Canada we’re focussing on creating spaces for people to feel safe, have a conversation and learn about legal cannabis. We want to be a friendly guide for people who have questions. We’re successful when we help people navigate this new market and develop the skills to incorporate cannabis into their lifestyle in the most responsible way.

With the restrictive regulations around marketing cannabis is your team one of the key ways Canopy gets the message out about their products?

Yes, face-to-face marketing is important. My team is in key national markets, and anyone who reaches out to the organization can engage with us: we’re as visible as possible. We have a super informative website with a lot of resources that anyone over the age of 19 can access. Also, having facilities where we grow cannabis across the country makes a difference to local economies. Building trust with these communities leads to fruitful conversations and deeper relationships with our consumers.

What is Canopy doing to bridge the gap between medical professionals and consumers with regards to cannabis?

The best practices we developed with Tweed as a medical brand are still alive, and important to our DNA. Now that Tweed has shifted to accommodate the recreational market, we have developed a new medical marijuana brand called Spectrum Cannabis. Spectrum is leading the way when it comes to educating physicians around cannabis. We have collaborated with different educational institutions to develop courses for physicians and have a team of professionals that spend their days just connecting with physicians, helping them understand the therapeutic potential of cannabis.

Our chief medical officer is Dr. Mark Ware. He has has been involved in cannabis research, and has been working with patients for years. We’re also involved in supporting medical trials. It’s been amazing to see our medical consumer-base grow over the years to over 80,000 medical consumers here in Canada alone.

How can cannabis empower women to take charge of their bodies and minds?

Shega Youngson

At 30 years of age, I am a medical and recreational consumer so I have personal experience. I suffer from fibromyalgia, and it turns out that cannabis is a very effective therapy for this painful condition. Early on in my career I moved to British Columbia where I started working at a local dispensary. I remember having a conversation with a woman who was describing a chronic pain she was dealing with called Fibromyalgia. She told me how cannabis really worked for her to help alleviate her pain

While she was telling me about her symptoms I understood that I was in fact living with the same condition and that cannabis was also helping me treat those symptoms, although I hadn’t really realized it. It’s so important for patients and people who are experiencing different illnesses and conditions to get together and share stories about the therapies they’re using. If I had never had that conversation with that woman I don’t think I would ever have completely understood the place cannabis has in my life.

Women have health conditions and circumstances that are unique to our female bodies. Cannabis therapy can really help us slow down and treat a variety of symptoms at the same time. Women have a lot going on in their lives, and especially if you’re a parent or caregiver there are a lot of different forces that can affect you and those you care for. Cannabis can be a personal aide that targets specific physical and mental symptoms, and also helps you connect with yourself on a deeper level. Cannabis made a big difference in how I treat my severe health conditions, but also in how I slow down and reconnect with myself and evaluate the choices I make.

The more conversations I have with women in the cannabis industry the more it’s become very clear that there is a really strong sisterhood, unlike any other industry I’ve ever been involved with. Can you comment on that?

In the early days, cannabis was a civil disobedience movement. We were actively breaking the law and making personal sacrifices to provide access to this plant. There were a lot of brave women that believe in human rights and believe in the power of the plant because it either helped them deal with their own health issues or they had seen first-hand the positive effects that cannabis provided for people in their family and community.

I was lucky in that I met Hillary Black during my professional cannabis journey in Vancouver. When Hilary was 18 years old she started the first Compassion Club in Canada, operating near the Downtown East Side of Vancouver. The BC Compassion Club that she formed was pretty much the blueprint for medical-focused dispensaries that would open in the following years. At the time I was working in a dispensary on the Downtown East Side. I joined the cannabis movement, as I could see that people were finally paying attention to those who were protesting and advocating for access to cannabis in Canada.

I have a B.A. in Public Policy and a Masters in Human Rights and I studied social movements. I wanted to be part of something that was actually shifting the laws and improving our society. When I connected with Hillary and the few women in the movement early on, we had a mission to help professionalize the industry.

To help with this mission, I launched the Vancouver Women Grow chapter to chat business, share ideas and empower each other with not only the knowledge to succeed, but also the confidence to succeed. I believe we have an opportunity now in the Cannabis industry to model how corporations can grow and thrive by promoting diversity and women’s leadership.

What can women do to stop the sexist behavior that we see in the Cannabis industry and beyond so that we can be tapped for leadership positions?

Allies are critical. I would never have gotten where I am today without people like Hillary Black, Amanda Daly or Amy Wasserman, who are all my colleagues at Canopy Growth. Because of the intersection with human rights and because this is such a progressive issue you can’t support cannabis reform without supporting women and marginalized communities. This is progressive drug policy and criminal justice reform. There are so many intersections here, and for women that is why it is such a unique and important opportunity.  

How do you keep yourself physically and mentally fit?

I find it worrisome that, as the cannabis industry becomes more corporate, the traditional reliance on alcohol as a substance to socialize and connect with your staff, peers or business partners remains. I use cannabis for medical purposes to maintain my health, but I also use cannabis to socialize and connect with my partner, friends and colleagues. I believe part of battling the stigma is allowing people to choose cannabis over something else, even in a corporate setting.

I feel so lucky to be doing this work every day. It’s incredible that in such a short period of time we’ve managed to build a medical side of this industry where Canadians can access physicians who are actually choosing to specialize in this therapy. And now we have regulated recreational cannabis that will empower people to take their time to explore this plant in a safe way.

I’m incredibly proud of all the people that have brought us to this point and I hope that anyone out there that is looking for a meaningful career considers the cannabis industry because we need more people who believe in progressive values and human rights.

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Leslie Andrachuk

As a bilingual pioneer in global digital publishing and marketing, Leslie is happiest when creating new things and inspiring her teams. She is passionate about changing biases that hold women back from realizing their true power and is grateful that at this point in her career she has the skills to make real change.

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