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Alison Gordon, chief executive of 48North Cannabis Co., in her office in Toronto on Jan. 15, 2019.Galit Rodan

Part of cannabis and investing

In Canada, the $31-billion marijuana industry is rife with opportunity for female entrepreneurs and offers a lucrative career option for many women.

Without a history of institutional bias against women, there are no glass ceilings to break.

Alison Gordon joined the industry in 2013 and has since become the chief executive of 48North Cannabis Corp., a publicly traded licensed producer of cannabis. The company operates a facility in Northern Ontario and serves the women’s health and wellness cannabis market.

A former Rethink Breast Cancer marketer, Ms. Gordon first became familiar with medical cannabis more than a decade ago, when a family member used it to help alleviate cancer symptoms. Since then, she has boldly secured a place in the industry, often as the only woman in a room full of venture capitalists and investors.

She says most companies in this space operate like startups and offer opportunities to rise quickly through the ranks.

“It’s not this difficult corporate structure where you need to put in 10 or 15 years and do all those typical things in a large corporate environment,” she says. “This industry is for women who can jump in and really contribute, be self-motivated and get stuff done.”

Myrna Gillis is the CEO and co-founder of Nova Scotia-based Aqualitas, a licensed medical cannabis company. It is the only local company using aquaponics, which converts fish waste into food for the cannabis plants, generating larger, nutrient-rich yields while using less water than conventional methods.

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Myrna Gillis, chief executive and co-founder of Aqualitas, in the company's office in Halifax on Jan. 14, 2019.Darren Calabrese/The Globe and Mail

Ms. Gillis is a lawyer specializing in disability issues and an entrepreneur with 25 years of experience in the business. She was well informed about the health benefits of medical marijuana and the barriers to legally access it. She got involved in the industry as a way to champion access to safe, affordable cannabis produced with environmentally responsible methods.

Today, she is at the helm of the only cannabis company in the province with a C-Suite and board comprised mostly of women. She says the industry can benefit from policies that promote diversity and inclusiveness and wants to see women explore all areas of the business, including fundraising, marketing, advocacy, science and technology.

“There’s no limit to the opportunities for women in cannabis,” she says.

According to a 2016 report published by the Marijuana Business Daily, a U.S. trade publication, women comprised 36 per cent of executives in the legal cannabis industry, more than any other industry in the United States.

Female entrepreneurs and leaders in the industry believe there is a genuine interest to include women in the cannabis business, particularly in wellness, and to see women in leadership roles in business development, product development, health, research and science.

Over the next few years, Canada can expect about 150,000 industry-related jobs, according to a recent Deloitte study.

Barinder Rasode, CEO of the National Institute for Cannabis Health and Education (NICHE Canada), an independent, non-profit organization that provides evidence-based research about cannabis production and use, wants to see women participate as consumers, decision-makers and leaders.

While it was still in its infancy, prelegalization, Ms. Rasode saw the cannabis industry as a lucrative business opportunity. The individual stories of people using cannabis for end of life and to treat children’s epilepsy and Parkinson’s pushed her to establish her own industry footprint with NICHE.

Named one of the 50 most powerful people in Vancouver by Vancouver Magazine, she is a fierce advocate of women’s rights. She urges other women to bring their thoughts, ideas and perspective to the table.

“Five years from now, cannabis will be viewed as a wellness product and embraced by both preventative health care and the medical industry,” she says. “The best leadership there will come from women.”

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