How Alison Gordon Broke Through the Glass Ceiling in Canada’s Weed Industry

Alison Gordon is making major moves in Canada’s marijuana industry.

The founding member of Rethink Breast Cancer turned expert cannabis marketing strategist was recently appointed CEO of 48North Cannabis Co., a parent company of a licensed producer of medical cannabis under Health Canada’s Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR). 48North grows unique genetics sourced from MariPharm B.V., a Netherlands-based phytopharmaceutical company with over 25 years of experience in the research and cultivation of cannabis for medical purposes. This exclusive relationship uniquely positions 48North as one of the few Canadian producers with the ability to commercialize a wide range of tested and trusted cannabis products (from the seasoned folks in the Netherlands, no less).

Just months away from the legalization of marijuana in Canada, Gordon is one of the few female CEOs in this male-dominated industry, and was named one of Canada’s Top 10 Marketers by Marketing Magazine. Over the past three years working in the medical marijuana industry, it’s safe to say that Gordon has become uniquely positioned as an expert in this groundbreaking field.

I caught up with Gordon to hear a little more about her glass ceiling-smashing career.

What fuelled your passion/curiosity for marijuana? How did you decide to make a career out of it?
About 12 years ago, a close family member was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and she started using medical cannabis to assist with pain, anxiety, sleep, etc. I was amazed at how the cannabis helped with so many of the horrible symptoms she was experiencing.  I became interested in learning about cannabis, the various strains, and the way it can be used in medicine, as well as health and wellness. In 2014, I decided to take a leap of faith, follow my passion, and leave the organization I had co-founded, Rethink Breast Cancer.  I started working in the medical cannabis industry as CMO at WeedMD, followed by cannabis jobs in both Canada and the U.S. I had a different career path than other Canadians in the industry, as I was working in mature markets like California, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, which informed my vision for the industry in Canada. I joined 48North in January 2017 and am excited to be able to use my years of experience in the industry to lead the company.

Do you ever find yourself in awkward or uncomfortable situations with people when you tell them that you’re in the marijuana industry? (i.e. other moms, etc.)? Do you feel judged?
I feel very lucky to hold the position that I do as a female CEO in this industry. I don’t feel judged, rather, I look at my position as an opportunity to be an influential woman and reshape how cannabis is perceived in our society. Cannabis is such a hot topic right now that I am the hit of most dinner parties! Everyone wants to talk about legalization, and they are always looking for stock tips.

Do you think the stigma surrounding marijuana is eroding?
There is still a lot of stigma and misconceptions about cannabis, especially about its role in our health and wellness. There have been so many years of propaganda around cannabis that it is hard for lots of people to understand that this plant has many therapeutic benefits. That said, there is so much educational work being done in our community that is having a positive impact on the perception of cannabis. The media’s intense coverage of the industry has also helped normalize cannabis and cannabis users. We’ve come a long way, and I have no doubt things will continue to change.

weed-cannabis-toronto-ceoWhat is the biggest barrier facing women who want to enter the marijuana industry? Do you think that their lack of representation in the industry has to do with an increased fear of judgment compared to men? 
The cannabis industry is definitely male-dominated in the executive and board levels. I believe this is partially because there is a gender discrepancy in most industries at these senior levels. Cannabis has unique challenges for women, as it is a high-risk new industry, and not all women have the luxury of taking this kind of risk in their careers. Additionally, it is an extremely fast paced world that requires an immense about of travel. This presents unique challenges for mothers. On a positive note, more women are entering the industry and I look forward to them rising the ranks to the senior levels of companies.

What needs to be done to encourage more women to get into the ever-growing marijuana industry? What advice would you give women seeking such a career?
Gender inequalities in the workforce are not unique to the cannabis industry. Many of the same strategies that are being employed in other industries will hold true for our world as well. Women’s networking groups, mentoring, education are all important components to bring more women into the industry. My advice for women wanting to get into the cannabis industry is to try and speak to as many people working in the industry as possible. Human capital is a challenge for our fast growing industry, so making yourself known as a tenacious, passionate person will likely pay off with a position somewhere in the industry.

In your work with Rethink Breast Cancer, have you encountered a high number of women with breast cancer who have relied on medical marijuana?
Canada’s medical cannabis program has been in place for many years, therefore cancer patients have been relying on cannabis to help treat the negative symptoms that go along with cancer treatment for a long time. I have worked with patents who have been able to reduce the number of medications they take significantly by using medical cannabis. It is amazing to hear these stories and that they are now being shared with the world at large.