As the chief engagement officer of Lift Cannabis Co., Natasha Raey’s job involves making access to medical marijuana in Canada easier for adults that need it.
While she no longer uses marijuana—she’s been sober for three years—Raey is a firm believer in marijuana’s ability to serve as medical treatment for a variety of diseases and ailments.
Raey isn’t quite what you’d picture a member of the marijuana industry to be, and that’s the point: in her mind, what was lacking in Canada’s marijuana scene until Lift was born, was an arena for industry professionals to get together in a polished environment, whether that be in person or online.
“We consider ourselves a meeting place for cannabis: Lift is where you come for credible information,” she says.
Ahead of the first-ever Lift Cannabis Expo in Vancouver, the Straight sat down with Raey to discuss the basics. Check out our interview with her below.
What sort of work does Lift Cannabis Co. do for medical marijuana users in Canada, and how does it work?
“Lift started about three years ago, and the main goal was to create an online portal for patients to learn about the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations, which is what it was called before, to learn about different strains. We’ve compiled thousands of strain reviews, so it started out as sort of a hobby for Tyler Sookochof, who is our CEO, and from there it grew into more of a media agency. We also have brick-and-mortar resource centres across the country, plus we do trade shows, and we operate a print magazine.”
Who should attend the Lift Cannabis Expo this weekend at the Vancouver Convention Centre?
“The expo is for current users, for people who are interested in learning more, and those who might be interested in starting to use medical marijuana for a condition—I’m thinking of parents or grandparents who have heard it might help their fibromyalgia, and so on—so they can connect with licensed producers. It could also be for physicians—I know a lot of physicians who are still not really sure how it can help their patients or help them in their practice. We have career workshops going on this weekend for students and those interested in the industry, because it’s full of opportunity. The expo is great for businesses too because it creates opportunity for people to interact and network. It’s a great way for everyone to connect with all things cannabis in Canada.”
Why host an expo like Lift in Vancouver?
“I think cannabis culture is ingrained in Vancouver in a specific way; it’s more sort of activism, which has done an amazing thing for the industry, but now that the industry is really coming out of the shadows, we wanted to create a professional way for people to interact, because we’re dealing with 90 years of stigma. There’s a lot of people waiting to show [those who believe in the stigma] that this is a credible and a legitimate industry, and I think this is one of the ways we can do that. It’s like mining: just another one of British Columbia’s biggest industries.”
What for you is the most exciting thing about Canada’s cannabis industry right now?
“I love the whole start-up culture and the opportunities that it provides, especially for women. This is one area where you can really create your own opportunities, and start your own businesses. There’s a real sisterhood in the industry for women, and I think that’s one of the most exciting things for me. I also see a lot of brands emerging. When you think of the beauty industry, branding is the most important thing. With the cannabis industry, it hasn’t necessarily been at the top of everyone’s minds—it’s just been, “Where are you gonna get your weed?” But I think now, we’re seeing a lot of cool brands come out of this.
In your mind, what should legalized marijuana look like in Canada?
“An ideal situation for me would be a free market, where there is regulation, where we don’t have as much black market activity as we do right now, but it continues to give people an opportunity to start their own businesses. It respects the industry that already exists, because there already is an industry that has very much been either underground, or in a sort of grey area, if you look at the dispensaries and local producers. I wouldn’t want to see the government come down with regulations that say, ‘We have to sell in liquor stores or pharmacies, and everyone else can just go away,’ because that’s not respectful of what’s been happening to date. If you look at the cosmetics industry, you can buy from L'Oréal, and then we have this huge emergence of these indie beauty brands. Consumers want that choice: Do I want to buy from L'Oréal or do I want to buy from an indie brand that’s green and vegan? It’s very similar. ”
You also work in healthcare, and you’re an entrepreneur. When you tell others about your involvement in the marijuana industry, do you ever face negativity from people who believe in the stigma you mentioned earlier?
“It doesn’t happen very often anymore because I’m very open about it. I think when people see me and know some of the other work I do, they are a little bit surprised, but that’s why I’m so open. With my healthcare background, the patient’s right to choose medicine that works for them is really important to me. That’s another reason why I’m involved in the industry, because I’ve seen it help people. I’ve seen it help children who have Dravet syndrome, and how it drastically reduces their seizures, so I can’t wrap my head around why it’s not allowed, especially when we look at the pharmaceutical industry, and the affects that that has on people, especially in the long term—even alcohol. So for me, I wonder why we battle marijuana so badly when we allow these other terrible things to be available everywhere.”
How might an event/company like Lift change people’s perceptions of what marijuana use can look like?
“We’re already giving a different face to the industry, and even the relationship we have with government officials and decision makers is different. The federal government task force is actually going to have a workshop on Saturday morning at the expo, and that’s a pretty big deal, because, I think there’s a lot of other cannabis shows that have done great work to bring light to the industry, but they probably wouldn’t have been taken as seriously by the government. They say, 'don’t be all things to all people', but I think Lift really can be all things to all people by bridging those connections and facets of the industry, but also by being on the same level as our decision makers.”
If you had the opportunity to be a guest at this weekend’s Lift Expo, what would you do?
“I’d attend as many talks as I could, visit as many exhibitors as I could, check out the cooking demos, and of course, networking. The whole thing about this industry is that, because it’s been underground for so long, people feel more open now to be open about it—it’s a very family-like. I normally hate going to networking events but it feels much different in this industry.”
The Lift Cannabis Expo takes place at the Vancouver Convention Centre West on September 17 and 18. Find tickets here.