In Her Own Words: The Cannabis Industry's First Transgender CEO

Each week Civilized invites professionals, activists, and others to share their story, in their own words, of how they came to be part of the cannabis community.

I came to cannabis at 13, fresh from Canada's prairie and plopped down in Hippie Central: Vancouver Island, British Columbia. I didn't know what it was and both our new neighbours were enthusiastic. I remember the RCMP wading through one person's "field" in front of their house to tell them to turn down the music. Almost everyone grew or smoked. It was like trees and water, part of the scenery.

Because it was all underground and illegal there were rules and codes and it created both community and enmity. Cannabis came alive in the eighties with hydroponics and indoor growing. Northern Lights number one scared the pants off me. This was one of the new high THC strains and nothing like familiar dirt-weed.

But I was in love.

The one common thread over the decades was a constant return to cannabis. I spent a few years in the casino payments business. That took me to Amsterdam. My mind was ignited by what they had achieved. Blown away. And disappointed.

So much could be done better!!

A life-changing Google alert

Then I had my chance. In Dec. 2012 a Google alert I'd programmed triggered a message. The Government wanted expressions of interest in maybe commercializing cannabis. I had a business plan on their desk in four hours, as if I'd been preparing all my life accidentally.

Retail. Security. IT. Legal. Plan writing. Import/export. All of it helped me write my application. Alone. I found out years later I was likely the only one to not have used consultants or lawyers to get my license (MM005). It was my Olympics.

I proudly named my company Thunderbird (now called Emerald) and designed a double raven motif. I wanted it to honour our First Nations. I was proud of my local culture. I received many thank you's from aboriginal groups since then, and I hope to one day work to ensure that First Nations are part of any new industry.

And on top of that, or underneath all that, I was a transgender woman. Shortly after the joy of taking my company public in 2014 I had to publicly out myself. To say it was hard is to trivialize the biggest step of my life. It was agony.

Transitioning in a job is hard at the best of times, doing so in such a public industry and while undergoing the separation and divorce from a 22-year marriage and being a single parent was too much. I resigned from my dream and chose to focus on my life and family.

Going public is its own kind of hell. I was emotionally and physically exhausted.

I was bought out in May 2015 and I began planning a new life. A new life that got to use all my lessons learned. I want to build a cannabis industry that's inclusive and diverse from the ground up. Women, minorities and LGBT folk can start on equal footing with everyone else and thrive. There's room for all and a need for diverse views. There are no glass ceilings unless we install them.

Renee M Gagnon is the co-founder (with Gillian Polard) and CEO of International Cannabis Centres Inc. a supply chain solution for cannabis based in British Columbia, Canada and a board member of Women Grow Vancouver Island.


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