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Zoë Patko is the Marketing Manager at Zenabis, a leading Canadian cannabis producer. We caught up Zoë to learn more about the weed industry.
How did you get involved in cannabis?
I have been a cannabis advocate for over 15 years. I don’t look like your “typical” weed smoker and I noticed this misconception, that the majority of people have, at an early age. When I was growing up, the adults I looked up to – teachers, parents, authorities – all spoke of cannabis being a problem, a threat to mankind. However most of the people that I knew consumed cannabis were high performing, intellectual members of society. They included my best friends mother who was a lawyer, my sports coach who worked fulltime and donated a lot of his spare time to our team, and a nurse who used medical cannabis on the weekends. There was a shocking difference in the way non-consuming adults spoke about cannabis, compared to those who actually consumed it. This difference has been verbalized through a negative stigma for decades and this stigma is the reason I entered the industry, as the Marketing Manager of Zenabis, and took on the challenge of changing perceptions about a plant that is highly criticized and incredibly misunderstood.
When I entered the industry, a large percentage of the population was unable to access cannabis for medical purposes because it was illegal in most countries, both medically and recreationally. Even in Canada, where medical access was first provided in 1999, people still have an incredibly hard time finding access. The reason? You’d assume some research, clinical studies, or evidence proving extreme harm, especially considering the potential value of the plant going unutilized… unfortunately not, just flawed studies, some anecdotal data and the negative stigma. I started at Zenabis in 2016, a couple of years prior to recreational legalization, when the general perception of cannabis was very negative. The industry is working hard in so many ways and proving it’s value, on both individuals and the economy. It is unfortunate that something that has helped so many, in so many different ways, has gotten a reputation that makes its users feel embarrassed or ashamed. This is why I got involved in cannabis, to change negative perceptions and increase access for medical patients and recreational users in Canada and around the world.
What is your mission with @Zoe_at_Zenabis?
It shines a light on cannabis, the industry, and the people and brands within it. It’s a communication tool, helping end the stigma about cannabis by showing pride in consumption instead of shame. The support and engagement I get from the accounts is inspiring. I’ve attended events and spoken with people around the world that are involved with cannabis from every angle imaginable. Sharing those experiences, the knowledge learned, insights gained and connecting with others on the topic of cannabis is my passion. The more I can engage with others along my journey, the more perspectives I see and the closer I get to achieving my goal of ending the stigma.
Where do you see yourself in the industry in 5 years?
The industry is brand new so there are a lot of different directions to move in! In five years I think I’ll be helping other countries navigate legalization, building brands around strong values like ours at Zenabis; excellence, responsibility, compliance, and delivery of stakeholder value. We are at a big advantage in Canada, being the second country to legalize recreational cannabis on a national scale. We’re gaining invaluable knowledge that cannot be learned through anything but experience – something that very few have. There are still countries that don’t allow access to medical cannabis. My goal is to increase access and end the stigma, so in five years I see that mission on an international scale, helping in Europe, Australia, and South America.
What's the biggest challenge of working in the cannabis space and the biggest reward?
There are lots of challenges facing the industry and they change on a daily basis. If I had to choose one, I think on the largest scale and impacting the most factors, it’s the pace the industry is changing and growing. It is very rare for a new industry of this size to be introduced to economies on a global scale. So we’re at the forefront of making history and developing processes to success. Being at the starting line means there is no historical reference to help inform decisions or forecast environments. Consumer behaviour has to develop before it can be measured and targeted. Product development has to begin without market insight and before regulations have been announced. Marketing campaigns have to launch based on subjective regulations with precedence’s being set along the way. It is a very fast paced environment on an incredibly large scale, impacting everyone from the general public to policy makers, physicians, educators, and so on…
The biggest rewards of working in the cannabis space are the experiences, knowledge, and relationships gained. Being at the forefront of something with this much potential is very rare. There are lots of different perspectives involved. At Zenabis alone our teams consist of innovative minds focused on a variety of categories like science, medical, retail, cultivation, marketing, and quality control. Daily conversations are enlightening and the more people you meet, the more you learn. Everyone in the industry has at least one thing in common, we’ve all decided to fight against the negative perception of cannabis. There is something exciting about that and we all feel it. The cannabis community is truly unique for the collaborative efforts of the people within it. I’m honoured to have met so many amazing individuals, some becoming life long friends.
Do you have any advice for any fellow cannapreneurs?
We are at the beginning of something that is going to change the world. In this industry, it isn’t always an easy choice, conversation, or path but the value is what you make it. When given the opportunity, collaborate with others to take things further faster than you ever imagined.