What the big cannabis CEOs know that you don’t

What the big cannabis CEOs know that you don’t

We quizzed them on their favourite strains, weed slang and what they eat when they have the munchies

The Godfather

Chuck Rifici, 44
Chairman and CEO of Auxly Cannabis Group

HQ: Downtown Toronto
Staff: 269
Market cap: $580 million
Hometown: Ottawa
Education: Bachelor of applied science from University of Ottawa, MBA from Queen’s
Past life: Treasurer of the Liberal Party of Canada, CEO and co-founder of Canopy Growth
Best thing about Toronto: “Floor seats at a Raptors game. It’s an experience like nothing else.”
Worst thing about Toronto: “The fact that I live in Ottawa and have to travel back and forth every week.”
Biggest opportunity in the cannabis industry: “Edibles.”
Most annoying stereotype: “That some people still believe alcohol is safer than cannabis.”
Best cannabis slang term: “I call it pot.”
Worst cannabis slang term: “Broccoli.”
Dream job as a kid: “Architect or businessman.”
What your parents think of your job: “My parents missed the ’60s, so I thought we’d have to have a conversation about it. But they’re just happy I’m succeeding.”
First exposure to cannabis: “Cheech and Chong movies as a kid. My impression was certainly negative—that they were a couple of stoners.”
Ideal dinner pairing: “I enjoy a good whiskey, but I’d prefer something with pot in it. Sneaking a vape during dinner isn’t too hard.”
How often you consume: “I’m a regular user.”
Ideal way to consume: “Vape pens.”
Funniest strain name: “Alaskan Thunder Fuck.”
Favourite munchies: “Joe Louis.”


The Veteran

Alison Gordon, 46
CEO of 48North

HQ: Downtown Toronto
Staff: 55
Market cap: $72 million
Hometown: Toronto
Education: B.A. and M.A. from York University
Neighbourhood: Wychwood Park
Best thing about Toronto: “It’s vibrant and diverse.”
Worst thing about Toronto: “The traffic. I bet everybody’s said that.”
Biggest challenge in the cannabis industry: “Planning a business in a regulatory environment that’s constantly changing.”
Biggest opportunity in the cannabis industry: “There’s no Coke or Pepsi in the industry, so there’s an opportunity to create brands that will become foundational.”
Most annoying stereotype about the industry: “A lot of people think it’s a bubble, full of promoters. But it’s an $8- to $10-billion-dollar industry.”
Most accurate stereotype about industry: “There’s so much money and interest pouring in that of course you’re going to get people who are playing the game as opposed to building real businesses.”
Best cannabis slang term: “I just say weed.”
Worst cannabis slang term: “I don’t care what you call it—just appreciate it.”
Dream job as a kid: “Actress.”
What your parents think of your job: “They’re shocked. When I started in 2013, we didn’t know it would become what it is today. They thought it was a passing fad. Now I’m one of a handful of people who have been here since the beginning. They’re like, ‘Whoa, how did this happen?’”
First exposure to cannabis: “I was 15, and my friends and I ended up buying oregano instead of weed.”
Ideal dinner pairing: “I love the Kosher Kush—to go along with my non-Kosher meal.”
How often you consume: “Three times a week. No, wait, let’s be honest: four times a week.”
Ideal way to consume: “Joint.”
Favourite strain: “I love one called ‘Where’s My Bike?’ ”
Funniest strain name: “Charlie Sheen.”
Favourite munchies: “I eat anything and everything in the fridge.”


The Pharma Mogul

Michael Nashat, 35
President and CEO of TerrAscend

HQ: Mississauga
Staff: 155
Market cap: $1 billion
Hometown: Cairo, Egypt
Education: Doctor of pharmacy from Albany College, post-doctoral fellowship at Rutgers
Past life: Executive director of OnPharm, which represents over 340 pharmacies
Best thing about Toronto: “You can get a taste of every culture here.”
Worst thing about Toronto: “The amount of time it takes to get anywhere.”
Biggest challenge in the cannabis industry: “Scaling up efficiently. We used to send one patient’s order at a time. Now we send pallets.”
Biggest opportunity in cannabis industry: “Establishing a brand that wins the hearts and minds of consumers and patients.”
Most annoying stereotype: “The idea that cannabis has to be smoked.”
Worst cannabis slang term: “Weed. It downplays what we’re doing.”
Dream job as a kid: “I wanted to sail the world.”
First exposure to cannabis: “Egypt is one of the world’s biggest illegal cannabis consumers. So it was around.” What your parents think of your job: “My dad was a pharmacist and saw what opioids can do to people. He saw that cannabis could benefit them.”
Funniest strain name: “Alaskan Thunder Fuck.”
Favourite munchies: “Butter-free popcorn.”


The Globetrotter

Brian Athaide, 50
CEO of the Green Organic Dutchman

HQ: Mississauga
Staff: 150
Market cap: $1 billion
Hometown: Labrador City, Newfoundland
Past life: 25 years as CFO at Procter and Gamble
Fun fact: Has lived in 12 different countries
Best thing about Toronto: “The diversity and welcoming friendliness.”
Worst thing about Toronto: “Traffic isn’t great, but it’s better than Moscow and Sao Paolo.”
Biggest opportunity in the cannabis industry: “If you leave aside hockey, it’s unusual for Canada to have a lead on the Americans.”
Most annoying stereotype: “A lot of people still associate it with stoner culture. That’s not where the future is.”
Worst cannabis slang term: “Pothead.”
What your parents think of your job: “I’ll actually be giving my mom CBD tea to help her sleep as soon as it’s legal.”
First exposure to cannabis: “I didn’t have much exposure to it. An old friend recently told me, ‘High school Brian would have never believed you’d end up working in cannabis.’ ”
Funniest strain name: “Girl Scout Cookies. I mean, it’s totally inappropriate.”
Favourite munchies: “Sriracha or salt and vinegar chips.”


The Big Banker

Peter Aceto, 49
CEO of CannTrust

HQ: Vaughan
Staff: 580
Market cap: $849 million
Hometown: Toronto
Past life: President and CEO of Tangerine bank
Best thing about Toronto: “It’s a global city.”
Worst thing about Toronto: “I don’t want to get the mayor mad at me, but traffic.”
Biggest challenge in the industry: “Changing how people think about cannabis. It’s a miracle plant.”
Dream job as a kid: “Not working. Work wasn’t in my game plan until much later.”
What your parents think of your job: “My mom was thrilled. My wife was the one who asked the tough questions about how people would perceive our family.”
First exposure to cannabis: “I grew up thinking there was a small group of people with long hair and anti-establishment values doing it in back alleys and basements. The overwhelming majority of the world probably still sees marijuana that way.”
Ideal dinner pairing: “A glass of red wine. But I look forward to the day I can have a beverage with THC in it.”
How often you consume: “I’ve tried cannabis a few times throughout my life, and they weren’t positive experiences for me. But the cannabis aficionados I work with are begging me to try again. I do take CBD oil every day to help with a bad ankle from my mediocre basketball career.”
Funniest strain name: “Kinky Kush.”
Favourite munchies: “Chocolate-covered almonds.”


The Tycoon

Bruce Linton, 52
Co-CEO of Canopy Growth

HQ: Smiths Falls, Ontario
Staff: 3,000
Market cap: $22 billion
Hometown: Gads Hill, Ontario
Current neighbourhood: “I live at the Toronto side of Ottawa. But I think I’ve gone to Toronto every week for my adult life. I joke that it’s where they keep all the money.”
Best thing about Toronto: “You have access to everything you need for capital markets within a four-block radius.”
Worst thing about Toronto: “The island airport should be allowed to have small jets.”
Biggest challenge in the industry: “There are far more people announcing business than actually doing business.”
Biggest opportunity in the industry: “No one knows where disruption ends.”
Best cannabis slang term: “I like the double entendres. I’m currently wearing a pin that says ‘Hi.’ ”
What your parents think of your job: “They’re almost embarrassingly excited. At their age, everybody they know has medical issues.”
First exposure to cannabis: “In Grade 8, I did a school project about how marijuana could be a farmed crop.”
First time using cannabis: “Tree planting while at university in B.C.”
Favourite strain: “Jack Herer. It was one of our first strains at Canopy.”
Favourite munchies: “That blue bag with nachos, cheesies, pretzels and Sunchips. I don’t know why anyone else is getting the Nobel Prize. That person broke through all the barriers to make the perfect snack.”



The New Gold Rush

Part 1: Pot-Luck Dinner
The city is teeming with fancy, secret summer clubs serving THC-laced cuisine. We sent our restaurant critic to sample the goods

Part 2: The Pot Pilgrims
These five newcomers packed up their lives and moved to Toronto—all for the chance to work in weed

Part 3: Hot Boxes
Luxurious designer boutiques are the future of cannabis retail

Part 4: Professors of Pot
It’s a stoner’s dream come true: you can finally major in marijuana

Part 5: Plant Managers
The favourite strains of the horticulturally gifted growers at the city’s top cannabis companies

Part 6: Baked Goods
Wellness gurus are spiking their artisanal lotions and salves with a not-so-secret ingredient. We tested out some of the more intriguing products

Part 7: Buzz Food
Cannabis cooking classes—for those who want to cause and cure the munchies in one fell swoop

Part 8: High Rollers
We quizzed the city’s most powerful cannabis CEOs on their favourite strains, weed slang and what they eat when they get the munchies

Part 9: Joint Ventures
Five of Toronto’s hottest burgeoning canna-companies

Part 10: Who You Gonna Call?
The accountants, lawyers and ad agencies carving out a niche in the buzz biz