Spotlight Series: Journalist Kelly Coulter Covers the Cannabis Industry
Kelly Coulter first met with Justin Trudeau in the fall of 2012 with only one goal, to convince him that the legalization and regulation of cannabis was good for communities. In the summer of 2014 he credited that meeting with his new approach to how cannabis should be legalized and now Canada is on its' way.
After spending 3 years in Ottawa advising politicians and policy makers on cannabis she now lives in Victoria, British Columbia where the industry is growing and blossoming. Her relationships with industry leaders, cannabis artisans, politicians and advocates for sustainable cannabis growth have brought her to many fascinating opportunities. Her focus is on women as a long-time advocate both with the NORML Women Alliance of Canada, Women Grow and now in her writing. Kelly has cultivated a strong women-centered approach to cannabis with her on-going encouragement of women in the industry, her published work and her personal approach.
How long have you been writing about the Canadian Cannabis industry?
I wrote a film script about 14 years ago about a small group of seasonal cannabis farmers which essentially was a significant part of the industry at that time. Of course "the industry" has taken on a whole new meaning in the past 5 years. I would say I started writing regularly in the past couple of years but began contributing to major publications like The Hill Times in Ottawa about 6 years ago. The conversations were quite different then and it is amazing how much has changed in terms of subject matter. I find myself writing things I would never have dreamt of putting into print a few years ago.
What is it about cannabis that your readers find so fascinating?
I try to explore ideas and new ways of thinking as opposed to reporting on events, although I do that also. So I think it is less about cannabis and more about the times and challenges we are facing right now. I think the folks who read and like how I write enjoy different perspectives and the conversations that ensue. People don't often agree and there is a great deal of us vs. them narrative going on. I like strategy and finding solutions and articulating the path there. I think there is satisfaction in that for the reader. I also like to weave a good folk tale. I admire so many people who are really doing epic stuff and I think it is important to share the good stories.
You focus a lot on sustainable growing, do you think that this is the future of the industry?
Well, everything has to be sustainable or it's in big trouble. Ha! That is the first question of any business, but sustainable as in environmentally friendly, yes. I just spent a few days with a writer from Colorado and the environmental impacts that are negative and avoidable down there are becoming an ever-increasing problem. Cannabis cultivation is consuming 1% of the states' power grid. Only one county in Colorado allows for outdoor/greenhouse cultivation. This is not sustainable. I am extremely hopeful that Canada will have a different approach and it is what I focused on when I presented to the Federal Task Force. Thankfully they have recommended it in their final report to the government so hopefully, it will be included in the legislation. From, a consumer standpoint I would also suggest it will be a part of the "cannabis conversation." if the food and beverage industry is any indicator. Organic, local and ethically produced food is becoming a bigger part of the market share every year. Micro-breweries are increasing their annual sales every year. I believe cannabis consumers share similar values to these movements but it isn't across the board. Now is the time to be talking about it though and that's why it is an important subject for me. You kind of have to respect the planet as a cannabis enthusiast or something is askew, don't you think?
Are current indoor growing practices problematic in terms of environmental impact, and if so, how?
What has really led to problematic growing practices is prohibition and greed. Using dangerous pesticides, de-forestation, water diversion, indoor and costly covert cultivations are all a direct result of cannabis being illegal. So I answered part of this question when I talked about Colorado. I think the writing is on the wall for the industry in general and even if we initially don't see more effective environmental considerations at the core of policy, we will definitely see it in the very near future. The real question is why wait? Let's just go ahead and get it right out the gate. Once again consumers will be a part of that equation if there is the demand which is why I write about it as much as I do. I only recently found a group of cannabis farmers in the US who are completely devoted to promoting permaculture and this is fantastic.
You have worked with politicians in the past, including our prime minister Justin Trudeau whom you had the opportunity to discuss cannabis with. What was that like?
I've spoken with Justin Trudeau specifically about cannabis on three different occasions and each time it's been different.
The first meeting was very casual and friendly, the second meeting was in his office and quite formal and the third meeting was the most fun because at that point the cat was out of the bag. I was very shocked when he referenced our meeting in an interview with the Huffington Post a few years later but I do believe that the material we provided him with and our arguments came at just the right time for his own agenda. At the third meeting there was no convincing to be done and it was fun because he related to me some of the same frustrations I have experienced and so it was almost a commiseration. We were laughing and crying at our shared experiences in a strange but good way. Since those meetings I have met him again at events and socially and he has remained an ally and pretty true to his words so I am very thankful for our initial conversations. As much as some folks continue to criticize what he is doing now, I believe he knows exactly what he is doing. Very smart man.
As a founding member of Women Grow Vancouver Island you have been a big advocate for women in weed, how will women fare in this industry going forward?
Well, I have just written a piece about that so let me just say that women are going to have to be vigilante and hold people including politicians and local community leaders accountable. Women Grow was a great way to connect with other women but political action was not at the top of the radar and it is probably the most critical thing we need to be doing right now. I also know that the role women have right now is not anywhere near where it should be even though there has been some media hype. Women are their own best allies so start there and support and lift each other every single day. Also, look to other sectors for allies. Finally, read my article when it comes out...ha! I have always said that if we don't lobby for women in the industry there will be no women in the industry. It's up to us.
What trends are you noticing in the industry as we move toward federal legalization?
So much is happening it is head-spinning and we often joke about the newness of each and every day because you just don't know what that day will bring. It's beyond exciting but can also be quite demanding and not for the timid.
My focus being on cultivation and women I am watching that mostly so with respect to the cultivators the amalgamations which are happening are interesting. Greenhouses are becoming more the norm which is fantastic. I think once we see the legislation in Canada we will see the real trends start to take root. I am also most interested in California and how progressive they are and this is encouraging especially for the West Coast in general. Regions are particularly relevant to the cannabis conversation more so than most realize. There are two other very important trends that I hope will be disruptors but I am writing about them now so you can read about them soon.
How do you think legalization will affect Canada and Canadian cannabis businesses?
It remains to be seen since so much will depend on what the rules and regulations will be. Will medical dispensaries be different that recreational as is what is likely to happen in California. The dispensaries really are the big cannabis business in Canada right now as there are so many of them across the country. Technology is going to be interesting also. Once again, regions are going to be wanting to take advantage of tourism, but will they be allowed? Ancilliary businesses, the picks and shovels are going to be tapping into the boom once they figure out their places in the market. Many have already started of course. There are a lot more lawyers talking cannabis these days for example. I think one of the bigger stories that could happen will be how this will all impact the hemp industry, very exciting.
What advice would you give to a woman interested in getting started in the industry?
A few things. Integrity should be your number one priority for obvious reasons but it will also lead to success not just within the industry but will be what keeps you sane along the way. Keep your ears to the grindstone, be a good neighbour, give props and amplify other women's voices and missions, find good advisors and do what you love. Loving cannabis is not enough to sustain a job you don't love doing. Ultimately this is a portal to where we all need to go in our relationships to plants, nature and within ourselves and each other.
Follow her on Twitter too for ongoing cannabis coverage.