Meet Sarah Bain, Accidental Cannabis Crusader

Nothing on Sarah Bain’s resume suggested she was destined to become a cannabis evangelist. During her time as the director of communications for the Liberal Party of Canada under Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff, she was never a recreational user.

In fact, she was planning to return to politics before Chuck Rifici, who founded the licensed producer Tweed, inspired her to join his growing empire. She now chats cannabis as vice president of external affairs for Nesta Holdings, which invests in cannabis startups, and Cannabis Wheaton, which won the 2017 Startup of the Year prize at the Canadian Cannabis Awards.

It’s the latest stop in a journey from federal politics, to lobbyist, to trusted cannabis consultant for corporations such as Loblaw. Over a cappuccino at Toronto’s famed hipster café White Squirrel, Bain shared her glimpses into the future of cannabis in Canada.

I was thinking of going back on to The Hill to work in a minister’s office. Chuck said to me, “You will never regret having left all this security and the excitement of politics.” It was just the way he said it: “I guarantee, you will never regret leaving all that to come to this.”

At [public relations and communications firm] Hill and Knowlton, working for different companies within the cannabis space, I was slowly becoming knowledgeable. It was almost like I inadvertently became a cannabis legislation representative at H&K, but it was by pure accident because of the clients that I had: all of them had a different interest in the cannabis space and they all needed me to make sure I was up on everything. Places like National Access Cannabis, Loblaw and other pharmacies, they just needed to know, are we one day going to be distributing cannabis?

In Loblaw’s case, they’ve been upfront about the fact that they are interested in having medical cannabis in their pharmacies. It makes a lot of sense — people have a relationship and trust with their pharmacists. But patients can’t have those conversations with their pharmacists because the pharmacists haven’t been distributing cannabis. [The Loblaw-owned Shoppers Drug Mart chain, Lovell Drugs, PharmaChoice, and Pharmasave all have supply deals with licensed producers, though pharmacies have yet to receive a governmental green-light to sell marijuana.]

Right now [marijuana is] not in corner stores or pharmacies, but one day it might be. Long before those are realities, we need to be ready for that. We need to have those partnerships now.

We believe based on our knowledge of government procedures that consideration is being given to having cannabis in pharmacies, grocery stores and corner stores. For instance, in Ontario, where beer and wine are sold in grocery stores, there is a precedent. And the same mentality and protocol will go into deciding when this is going to happen.

Companies won’t be able to advertise like they can in similar industries. When that void exists, we turn to each other. I would feel far more comfortable doing something because a friend of mine told me how to do it. When people have safe access to cannabis because it’s legal, people are going to want to try it.

You’re going to start seeing groups of mothers putting up videos about how to consume cannabis safely around your children, how to cook with cannabis. Once you go through a legal space, you can be far more open about talking about it. And you are far more likely to participate in something if one of your friends has tried it.

Edibles are interesting for people like myself, who are newly introduced to it, because I am a non-smoker. It’s going to still take a year. There will be some lobbying and some public pressure to influence the government to move on edibles. Because until we are there, the black market will still exist.

When I said to my parents, “I’m going to do this!” they responded, “Why would you ever leave all of this security?” But it seemed to me like a dream come true. Part of the burden of having security is that it handcuffs you to sticking on that path and not deviating.

We have a really long life to work. So we better be doing something that we really enjoy doing with people we really like.