Reset your expectations of success. Money will come from this industry, but right now we are still on the ground, lobbying for Cannabis to be considered a legitimate business that makes tangible products. Don’t get into this industry as an entrepreneur if you think you will cash-in right away. It is an investment. And It’s going to take time and we are the Pioneers. As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
As a part of my series about strong women leaders in the Cannabis industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Malka Labell.
Prior to embarking in the Cannabis industry, Malka Labell had a successful sales career, starting with the well recognized Xerox training, amidst the economic crash of 2008. Despite the downturn, she earned the prestigious President’s Club sales award. She was recruited by a Purolator headhunter , where she excelled at growing a new territory before testing her skills with the Oil and Gas industry in Alberta, Canada. She sold software and services that were critical to the success and safety around her clients oil wells. Her clients thought of her as an advisor as Malka found herself in boardrooms of downtown Calgary, while companies were holding off the Energy Regulators and sometimes the Press, in crisis situations.
During a particularly long stretch of stressful months at work, she experienced burnout that spiraled into an unknown illness, forcing her to stop working. She took the time to recover and rest and started using Medical Cannabis to treat her symptoms and help her get back to functioning like herself again.
While on leave, she chose to pursue her bucket-list goal of getting her MBA from Queen’s University in 2018 which coincided with the year that Cannabis became legal in Canada. She felt that since she had more personal experience and an understanding than others it might be an area that she could pivot in her career.
Malka is now actively engaged with people in all parts of the industry from those exploring licensing, licensed growers, processors and retailers to consumer and business needs in education, packaging, and engaging with governments and non-users. Malka believes that Cannabis can help solve the world’s problems in so many ways, witnessing first hand the innovation of her clients and people around her, she acts as a connector facilitating the growth of the industry. She is inspired and very passionate that Cannabis is so much more than getting high.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Cannabis industry?
As a teenager, I was curious about the effects of pot (known by the actual plant name Cannabis). I didn’t mind its effects but also didn’t gravitate towards using it often. I recall being intrigued by the way in which some of my more gifted friends, high achievers in school, were able to use Cannabis and still maintain a high level of academic success, especially around exam time, despite messaging that Cannabis was harmful.
I entered the industry on a mission, as so much of the reason I am alive and healthy today is because I stumbled into the medicinal qualities of the plant during a time of my life when I was really struggling with my own physical and mental health.
I have explored Cannabis from the sidelines for much of my adult life. My husband held a poker game for more than 10 years at my house almost every weekend. It was their Friday night ritual, and I was the Hostess with the Most-ess. He and his friends are all professionals, married with families; bankers, accountants, doctors, restaurateurs, successful entrepreneurs. Mostly the same group of people would show up every Friday .They would take breaks to smoke joints outside, even in -20 degrees Celsius because I never let them smoke in the house. Sometimes I would join them. The chatter around the table often turned to current events, stock tips, the latest business news, and the yet-to-be legal Cannabis industry with some sharing their stock picks, before they went public. It was 2013 and the Cannabis industry in Canada was just getting started.
I was a medical patient and client of the early licensed companies, like Aurora and Tilray. I became familiar with their products, and took the tips to buy stocks as good advice. I bought the stocks and watched them go up, I was fascinated with the industry, and sold some before they dropped back down.
I was starting to get my feet wet in the Cannabis industry just as my role in the oil and gas sector was getting busier.
In 2017 I experienced a mental health crisis, and stumped a team of doctors, neurologists, and other specialists who landed on a diagnosis of “severe cognitive disorder, not yet diagnosed.” It took more than 3 months, including several weeks in the hospital before it was determined that the best way forward was to use Cannabis, medically as part of my overall therapy. It was a crazy time in my life and an experience that will forever reshape my opinion of the health care system, pharmaceutical drugs and the power dynamic between doctors, patients and their family members.
After that roller coaster ride that changed the trajectory of my life, I had to prove it to myself, my family and potential employers that I was capable of being the strong sales advisor and successful business person that I was. I chose to do my MBA in 2018 the year that Cannabis was legalized in Canada. I was still on leave from work and went back to school to do a Part-time MBA. I went from the psych ward to the board room, and that is where The Green Generation Company was born.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
My company started in the MBA classroom, and I didn’t do well on the business concept that I originally came up with. It was about green energy, and solar powered generator rentals for events and outdoor off-grid festivals like Burning Man, SXSW and Coachella.
Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Never be afraid to ask the question WHY when you fail. One of the best lessons I learned from that class and later from the many business and leadership books I read was that people are afraid of feedback. The best lessons are learned when you aren’t successful the first 2, 3, 4 or even 10 times, especially as an entrepreneur. I developed many great relations with my clients because I wasn’t afraid to ask them why I didn’t get the sale. That helped get to Yes, much faster.
I called my professor after class and he gave me 3 hours of his time, offering me valuable advice that has helped my business grow to the next level.
Do you have a funny story about how someone you knew reacted when they first heard you were getting into the Cannabis industry?
People think that because I work in the Cannabis industry, I sit around getting high all day, which is far from the truth! There are so many uses to Cannabis that my tagline became “Cannabis is so much more than getting high.”
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
My husband, Stan “The Man,” has supported me throughout this journey, and has been amazing. My mother also deserves some praise. She doesn’t understand why I am so interested in Cannabis but is still supportive while I embark in business in this very challenging sector. One of her friends is Seth Rogen’s mom. They are friends and neighbors in Vancouver, where Seth and I were born, so I have dropped that connection a time or two.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
I am part of an Accelerator program, and launching a web platform to support other “Cannapreneurs” (entrepreneurs in the Cannabis industry) who are pioneers and allows them to share their stories and pitch their businesses in the legal Cannabis industry. More info at www.TruthonCannabis.org
How do you think that will help people?
Now that Cannabis is becoming more accepted and legal in Canada, in many US states, and other countries around the world, I believe it will help move the needle in ending the stigma around Cannabis. The platform is meant for Cannabis business owners to share real stories of personal and medicinal needs and uses for Cannabis. It will give the hard working Cannapreneurs a safe space and platform to share examples and connect with others of how Cannabis can help them heal and function normally and transition away from opioid or other pharmaceutical medicine. It is also a place to share stories of motivation for why these Cannaprenneurs are in this business.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Despite great progress that has been made we still have a lot more work to do to achieve gender parity in this industry. According to this report in Entrepreneur, less than 25 percent of Cannabis businesses are run by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support greater gender parity moving forward?
First of all, as individuals, when business women support other business women amazing things can happen. Women lift each other up, and it is such a beautiful thing.
Secondly, companies making or selling Cannabis products need to think about the fact there is not one size fits all when it comes to Cannabis. They need to do their research and actually talk to women to find out what they want to get out of products or working in the industry.
Finally, as a society, we need to be nicer to each other. The world has moved online and I feel that if people took a deep breath and engaged with people as if they were sitting in front of them, communication would be so much better. Do unto others as you want done to yourself.
You are a “Cannabis Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non intuitive things one should know to succeed in the Cannabis industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each.
- Reset your expectations of success. Money will come from this industry, but right now we are still on the ground, lobbying for Cannabis to be considered a legitimate business that makes tangible products. Don’t get into this industry as an entrepreneur if you think you will cash-in right away. It is an investment. And It’s going to take time and we are the Pioneers. As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
- The industry is very collaborative in Canada. I have had such positive experiences, almost every single person has been willing to give up their time and energy to talk. No one has closed the door on me. I have been to virtual networking events during COVID and left with immediate plans to follow up with action items. The time lag between prospecting and getting to the next phase with your potential clients is much faster, because we don’t have to travel, and everyone is online.
- The general public is ill-informed about Cannabis, why they would use it and how. There is so much more to Cannabis than getting high! People also don’t realize that CBD comes from the Cannabis plant, and it is mostly not inebriating. People talk about how CBD is safe, and not psychoactive, which is not entirely true. It doesn’t produce inebriation like THC, but it does affect your brain, your mood, and provides a lot of great benefits for your body, with the natural interaction that it has with your endocannabinoid system. It can strengthen your immune system and act as an anti-inflammatory across all systems of your body. I am a big believer that we should all be micro-dosing CBD into our bodies all day long through tea, and tinctures. The processed forms of Cannabis- like beverages change the chemistry, that is scary as they have not been adequately tested and it is not well understood how they interact with your body through your metabolic system.
- Covid-19 has been an accelerator to the industry. In Canada, Cannabis was deemed an essential service, only 18 months after it was legal. We are seeing a huge uptick in sales and acceptance as more stores open and are more accessible. With the recent US election, now 1 in 3 Americans live in a state where recreational Cannabis is legal, so I think we will see a further acceleration to the industry as a result of that.
- Find a Cannabis consultant: Someone that you trust and have ready access to. They should have a deep knowledge of the human body from a biological perspective and will help determine the right Cannabis product for you. A consultant will guide you through the process of trying different products, doses and strains. A doctor may or may not agree with Cannabis as a treatment option, and it doesn’t have to be like that.
Doctors think of Cannabis, like a pharmaceutical, as a treatment of illness or disease and want to see clinical evidence of these claims. Cannabis has different applications, bioavailability,and metabolism depending on the individual. You want to be able to speak to someone to guide you through its therapeutic uses and that can be very different from person to person.
Cannabis acts like a balancing mechanism over our whole body so it interacts and works with everyone differently, and that is ok. I believe that it helps strengthen our immune system and over time can help prevent us from getting sick. It’s not a pill taken once or a few times even, or one size fits all, but more like a course of Vitamins that need to be tailored to your body and changed over time, as your body’s needs change over time.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Cannabis industry?
1.) The most exciting thing about the Cannabis industry is the advancement in research that is now possible because it is legal. Hemp has the ability to heal the world! It is such a versatile plant with over 50,000 uses dating back as far as in the construction of the Great Wall of China. There is evidence that Hemp fibre was used in Egypt to construct the pyramids and Stonehenge was believed to have been erected using the strong long hemp fibres in rope, and as a textile for canvas sails.
Some of the companies that I am working with now are making packaging out of hemp material and waste materials from growing Cannabis. It can be made in biofuels for engines, and when the interior part of the stalk is exposed, called the hurd, it has amazing carbon capture properties even after it is processed into hempcrete which is an amazing and very eco-friendly material for construction of homes, and other structures.
Cannabis legalization in Canada has unlocked other opportunities that don’t involve consumption. It is amazing how Cannabis can help in solving the climate crisis!
2.) I truly believe that people can be functional without using pharmaceuticals. This is a big claim, but it is the kind of thing that I have seen others do through my Truth on Cannabis stories. Particularly opioids. Many people become addicted to opioids as a result of some accident or surgery in their life get prescribed opiates to manage pain. They are highly addictive and doctors cut them off without a transition plan. This can force the patient to turn to illicit sources to manage their addiction.
A study that was conducted in Vancouver,BC where opioid users were given free access to medical Cannabis, reported some really amazing outcomes. This is the kind of thing that can be facilitated with micro Cannabis growers in BC. I am part of a Cooperative for these growers, and the government is supportive, we just have to open the channels. That is what I do, connect people to each other so they can work on the solution together. NORML also has some excellent examples as well.
3.) There is a lot of research coming out that Cannabis, particularly, CBD, has inherent properties, like anti-inflammation, that defy traditional pharmaceutical medications including in the treatment of COVID. However, it is important to note that it is still early and the research can only be conducted on legally cultivated Cannabis, so Canada has an advantage here. It is not a panacea and won’t work for everyone.
Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry?
1.) People that use Cannabis like it is Tobacco. It is not Tobacco and that metaphor has had a lot of unintended consequences. Tobacco was marketing to people in a time when marketers could make claims that didn’t have to be substantiated by anything. Billions of dollars were spent on advertising around the globe to get more people hooked. We now know that Tobacco causes a lot of harm, and even death over the long term and all advertising has been halted. Tobacco companies have been litigated to death over their harms. Cannabis is not like that, yes smoking is an effective ingestion method, but it is not made with tar and other carcinogens. Cannabis is rolled by the user or licensed producer, with no additives and it doesn’t have the same addictive properties like Tobacco. Its long term use hasn’t been linked to any deaths. It has also been around for thousands of years for medicine, and only recently thought to be a vice like smoking.
2.) Similar to Coca-Cola, and other consumer packaged good (CPG) products, this model is toxic to the Cannabis industry. Coke and other brands are inherently valuable by their brand and the marketing and advertising budgets associated with that branding. Cannabis is NOT a product that is best sold as a brand, as unlike Coke and other CPG products the product inside the container cannot be commoditized. I use the expression to test people of their knowledge of Cannabis to see if they actually know what they are talking about. “Can you tell the difference between Charlotte’s Web (strain) and Bubba Kush (strain)?” If they can’t correctly answer this question (hint: very different effects from them, Charlotte’s Web is high CBD, and doesn’t get you high, where Bubba Kush is a high in THC and very sedating).
If you swapped out Coke for Coke Zero or the No-Name Brand, very few people would notice the difference, and the shareholders would cheer for “reducing costs and increasing margins”.
3.) Using Cannabis as just another libation, or vice is also bad for the industry. The Recreational vs. Medicinal description of the Cannabis dichotomy is very harmful. People that have been using Cannabis for a long time but don’t have a medical card have figured out how to dose themselves, without intervention. They use it often as a therapy for stress, anxiety, and sleep without even really realizing it. Those that have been to a doctor and diagnosed with any of these have been handed pills that are incredibly harmful to your body long term and also very hard to get off of them.
Thinking about Cannabis more as a natural plant remedy for bolstering and balancing your body, if taken regularly, you won’t have to see a doctor about these things, it can be preventative, more like vitamins, and part of your daily practice.
I also recognize that Cannabis isn’t for everyone and it can take a long time to figure out what you like and what to take. Doctors, in my experience, even Cannabis ones, don’t have a standard dosing guide, it takes a lot of patience and trial and error, but once you get into your regime it can be much easier.
If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?
- A stronger community of advocates and support for the individuals who are working so hard in this industry, like the www.TruthonCannabis.org project. Increasing education for the people that have used it successfully in their lives, and let the doctors take notes.
- Not allowing big brands to get their hands on Cannabis and process it to death. I believe it should remain a small business industry with the growers closely connected to their customers. Cannabis is grown in climates very similar to wineries and being able to taste, smell and try it with the growers present is a huge advantage that will happen soon. In 2022, starting with the province of BC, Cannabis will be grown on a site hopefully where tours, tastings, fine food and resort accommodations. Leave the CPG to the pharmaceutical companies to research and develop specific medical formulations for treatment or prevention of illness. Research should be key to this, and Canada has a huge advantage.
- The uneducated on Cannabis, like Wall Street and Stock Market speculators have had unrealistic expectations on the growth and returns of this industry by placing an unfair comparison to alcohol and tobacco, without a good understanding of the real history of this plant. The best example of what I mean is that Cannabis has only been illegal for 1% of time in history of its documented archeological use.
- You can’t measure toxicity for everyone, because it is different in each person and growing it into a processed packaged good for people to buy is also not the same. I believe that Cannabis education can be weaved into the curriculum starting at botany in elementary school, all the way up to biochemistry, genetic adaptation, and engineering (what master growers are doing). In Canada, formal education on Cannabis is just getting started. There is so much to learn and unlock with science in this amazing plant.
What are your thoughts about federal legalization of Cannabis? If you could speak to your Senator, what would be your most persuasive argument regarding why they should or should not pursue federal legalization?
Support the SAFE Act to be passed in the US. That will bring more investors into the Cannabis industry. Have consistent tax, zoning and regulations across all states, and don’t tax medical cannabis.
Today, cigarettes are legal, but they are heavily regulated, highly taxed, and somewhat socially marginalized. Would you like Cannabis to have a similar status to cigarettes or different?
Can you explain?
We now know that cigarettes are linked to many terminal diseases, many leading to death. Research shows that Cannabis acts differently from cigarettes and does not kill you. I strongly believe that Cannabis should NOT be branded. Instead, the attributes of the individual strain is what should be advertised, not a brand someone made up.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Cannabis is for everybody with a sleep, anxiety, stress, or life disorder not yet diagnosed.”
Anyone can use Cannabis and learn where it fits in their life., If you have a medical condition that is already diagnosed, see a Cannabis doctor to help you find where it fits in your life along with your medication.
While I was experiencing my own health crisis, the doctors said I had a severe cognitive impairment, not yet diagnosed. Cannabis helped me get through the initial stages of severe withdrawal.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. ☺
To end the stigma against Cannabis! This is exactly what we do at The Green Generation Company does. The greatest impact that Cannabis can make is not with consumption, but the focus on all of the other things the plant can do to heal the world through hemp. In fact, hemp can be used in over 50,000 ways and can help reverse our climate crisis.
Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you only continued success!