Dragons' Den and the normalization of Canadian cannabis

Last year Arlene joined the board at Aphria, and now Brett Wilson has a stake in Tokyo Smoke. What's Next?

You might recall that back in the Fall, one-time CBC Dragon Arlene Dickinson joined the board at Aphria. For many, this cemented a truth that they had been feeling or predicting for some time: that the Canadian cannabis industry has finally come to a place where mainstream investors are no longer worried about being branded as reckless mavericks, that the market has a strong future, and that participating in it doesn’t have to mean getting in bed with the mob, or being perceived as such.

So it came as no surprise last month when Arlene’s fellow Dragon alumnus, Brett Wilson, bought into emerging cannabis lifestyle brand Tokyo Smoke, alongside the King Midas of cannabis, Chuck Rifici.

What is it that has these two tycoons so interested? For many, Tokyo Smoke’s chique branding represents the future of consumer cannabis. While historically, most brands in the cannabis space have been aimed at the lifestyle stoner, Tokyo Smoke is designed to appeal to a much larger demographic: people who use cannabis, but don’t see it as something that should define their self-image or how others perceive them.

To date, Tokyo Smoke has been carefully establishing its brand by curating designer clothing, elegant and discreet smoking accessories, and premium coffee in their store. However, coincidentally enough, it has been announced that they have entered a partnership with Aphria to release four Tokyo Smoke branded strains of medical cannabis to Aphria’s ACMPR customers—a move that is no doubt intended to be a test run for what will come in the future recreational market (much like Leafs by Snoop at Tweed).

As they say in Dragons’ Den: two Dragons are better than one, and it looks like this is turning out to be a two Dragon deal, with Arlene at Aphria and Brett at Tokyo smoke. While it’s nice to see them working together again, there is another matter that these two have recently been publicly disagreeing on: Kevin O’Leary’s current bid to win leadership of the Conservative Party.

A few weeks ago, right around the time that Brett’s investment in Tokyo Smoke was announced, Arlene penned a piece for the CBC in which she expressed her displeasure at the thought of Kevin O’Leary entering Canadian politics. “Kevin's total lack of empathy toward these Canadians who put their heart and soul on the line, I can assure you, was genuine,” she wrote of her time with him in the Den.

Immediately thereafter, Brett came to Kevin’s defence in an interview with a CBC reporter, even going so far as to endorse O’Leary’s bid for leadership of the Conservatives, saying, “Today, I would endorse Kevin O'Leary, absolutely, because I want to see him in the process [...] I'd like [them] to consider the fact that he is maybe a little politically incorrect, but he's willing to take on the tough issues without kowtowing to the vocal minority. I love Kevin's approach.”

Whatever they agree or disagree on, these three Dragons all seem to be on the same page around the future of cannabis; though he has yet to make any public investment in the sector, during his time on Dragons’ Den Kevin was supportive of marijuana businesses, where his fellow Dragons were often skeptical, if not hostile.

As Arlene put it in her piece for the CBC: “Yes, he's exactly the same person privately as he is on camera.” While this doesn’t bode well for Canada at large, it would seem to bode well for the Canadian cannabis market. Aside from the positive attitude toward cannabis he displayed on Dragons’ Den, Kevin loves profit, and that’s something that, any way it gets broken down, the  cannabis industry brings in spades. As Kevin himself put it, “One of the great things about this business [is] the margins.”

What’s more, in another Dragons’ Den cannabis pitch, Kevin made a comment that seemed to indicate his familiarity with the work of Jack Herer. In a closing remark after a particularly disastrous pitch for medical macaroons, he said, “at the end of the day, the king has no clothes.”

Who knows, maybe more Dragons will get on board in the future: ‘franchise king’ Jim Treliving might get into the dispensary game, and maybe Wealthy Barber author David Chilton will write a new sequel called ‘The Wealthy Budtender.’ One can dream.

While the Dragons notoriously don’t agree on everything, three of them seem to agree on this. With Arlene and Brett now firmly invested in the cannabis industry—and the comforting thought that, should Kevin somehow manage to win his current leadership bid, there will be pro-pot chiefs on both sides of the House of Commons—it seems undeniable that the bright future of the Canadian cannabis industry is a sure bet.

Featured image via CBC.

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