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Renee Gagnon is a trailblazer of the Canadian cannabis industry and tour de force in her own right.

When weed was still a ‘dirty word,’ Gagnon was operating the 5th federally sanctioned medical marijuana company in the world, Thunderbird Biomedical Inc.

As an established leader in the LP (licensed producer) world, and dedicated Women Grow ally, the latest Renee Gagnon entrepreneurial venture, namely HollyWeed North Cannabis Inc, helps women and minority entrepreneurs secure and enhance their products before going to market.

A fierce proponent of building equity into the very framework of this blooming green industry, her passion and purpose stem from her experience coming out as trans when she was 48. She is the first transgender and female CEO of a Federally Licensed Cannabis Pubco with a mission to help make the cannabis sphere not only tremendously profitable but intrinsically just.

Alpha Woman:  When and how did you find your personal and professional community?

Renee Gagnon: In 2015 I left Thunderbird Biomedical Inc., was going through a messy divorce and came out as trans, all at the same time. Financing public companies are ferociously conservative in Canada, and the combination of doing business in the cannabis industry while also being trans felt totally insane.

I went to a Women Grow event in Vancouver during that time, and I remember walking into a room of 60 women of all ages and colors. I had never been received with any kind of joy in a room full of men, but now, for the first time in my life I had found my community. I felt an immediate sense of belonging, and that was because of cannabis. I did not expect that.

AW: How did your experience change how you do business?

Renee Gagnon: I transitioned at 48 as a white man who started a company that went public: that’s a hell of a good starting position in life. But, women from all sorts of backgrounds and industries with incredible depth of knowledge are slammed into their respective glass ceilings, forced to either wait for the ceiling to lift or do the unspeakable to break the glass.

Hollyweed was my way of solving this problem. I went radical. 11 out of 18 executives of my company are women. I decided to use my privilege to create equity, by design.

AW: What is the current landscape of female leadership in the cannabis space?

Renee Gagnon: At one point, female leadership in cannabis was at 47%. We are down to 30% in the last two years. The more we control and regulate cannabis the more we open it up to a large-scale corporate monopoly that is financed and subsequently dominated by men. We see this formula elsewhere, and this industry is now going the same route.

AW: What possible solutions are there to this problem?

Renee Gagnon: Women need to have a formal plan of action that will help all women gain access and entrance to this space. Everyone would rather get to business first because they know they can squeeze us out later. If we want women and minorities to participate with equity in this ‘blue ocean’ industry, we have to create an empty vacuum in the middle that the rich white and brown guys can’t access: right now.

It’s going to irritate people, but that’s the point: hands off, you’ve had your share.

“This was the first industry where the stigma of weed was almost not as bad as the stigma of being a woman. The fact that you will be treated worse for being a woman than for doing business in weed needs to be pondered very deeply. We must ask ourselves what we are accomplishing beyond making money. Cannabis will make money, no doubt, but are we doing good or causing more harm? If this isn’t an equitable industry from the beginning, it is because we allowed it to become so.”

AW: What other changes need to happen to ensure an equitable evolution of this industry?

Renee Gagnon: Provinces should teach business in high school so girls have the necessary foundational skills to understand direction, see opportunities, and strike gold. Women also need access to micro-capital and seed capital.

Let anyone who wants to participate in the industry, participate, but don’t provide any special advantage based on scale. You don’t decide who the apes are in the first round based on who has the most money and amount to throw at consultants. We need to offer small licenses and allow a thousand flowers to blossom, and then Darwin will decide who advances to the next round based on economics and survival.           

AW: On the verge of legalization in Canada, what do you think needs to happen at a governmental level? 

Renee Gagnon: The Feds have to take charge and set up federal and then provincial working councils on cannabis, so there is uniformity — just like we have logging, fishing, and mining councils.

Cannabis could have a tremendous impact on northern communities and could be one of the few industries that can plug and play up there, and doesn’t require much infrastructure. This could be very beneficial to first nations communities and create economic stability and independence that doesn’t use up their natural resources and is not a handout.

Mara Munro

Mara is a writer, editor and yoga teacher working in the social good, cannabis, and wellness spheres. Her work focuses on women in business and politics, health & wellness, cannabis culture, indigenous and environmental rights, and the ancient healing arts. Mara earned her degree in English and Anthropology from McGill University, and is the Founder of Spiritual Archaeology: yoga and shamanic rituals for personal, communal and environmental healing.

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  1. Joelle Circé September 26, 2018

    I’m also a woman of Trans origin, and an outdoor terroir cultivatrice. I’m usually very low key and of course small potatoes, producing simply for my partner and I and a few friends.

    1. Leslie Andrachuk October 3, 2018

      How wonderful, welcome to the Alpha Woman community! This is a great story, I’m sure your terroir brings much pleasure to your partner and friends. Thank you for commenting!


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