On Friday, Aphria announced that Canadian business icon Arlene Dickinson will be joining their Board of Directors.
Congratulations to Aphria on this incredible move: Ms. Dickinson, CEO of marketing powerhouse Venture Communications and long-time Dragon on the hit CBC show Dragons’ Den, is arguably one of the most influential businesspeople in Canada today.
And congratulations to Ms. Dickinson for seizing this wonderful opportunity to gain a foothold in the nascent Canadian cannabis economy. Part of her contract extended her a three year option to purchase 50,000 shares of Aphria at their current market value of $3.70 per share. It’s easy to see how this move could easily pan out for her in the long term, given current trends in the regulatory climate.
As a longtime fan of Dragons’ Den myself, and of Arlene in particular, it’s easy for me to get excited about this. Her style of entrepreneurship always seemed to balance a shrewd canny for the big picture with an open mindedness and empathy that some of her colleagues on the show seemed to lack at times (if not almost entirely in the case of a certain Mr. O’Leary).
However, on hearing this news, I couldn’t help but recall a couple segments of Dragons’ Den that featured medical marijuana pitches, and it seemed to me that Ms. Dickinson had been rather dismissive of them.
And before I even had time to scour Youtube in search of the record, twitter user @CannabisDad beat me to it.
— CannabisDad (@CannabisDad) October 28, 2016
The first thing that struck me about this segment — regardless of the product or the fact that it was technically illegal at the time — was that the pitch was a complete trainwreck. The pitcher decided to value her pre-revenue, easily copied, illegal “medicinal macaroon” business at 1.5 million dollars, but got her numbers wrong at the beginning of the pitch, stating that she would like to sell 25 percent of her 1.5 million dollar business for $500,000. I’ll just let you try and work that out at home.
This mistake on it’s own would be a huge red flag for any investor, nevermind the fantastical valuation and easily replicable product. So when I watch this clip now, I can’t fault Arlene for the disapproving look on her face. The presentation was terrible on so many levels, including one point when Dickinson, one of Canada’s leading marketing experts, rightly pointed out a glaring flaw in the pitcher’s marketing strategy, to which the pitcher snarkily replied “how do you know?”
— CannabisDad (@CannabisDad) October 28, 2016
In the second segment, Dickinson’s tone was clearly more disapproving. The pitch was for some sort of (now defunct) MMAR designated grow scheme called, as generically as possible, “Canada’s Medicinal Marijuana Store.” Almost straight away Dickinson indicated that she was flabbergasted, and not simply because of the poor quality of the pitch, saying “Ian, you come in here in a suit and tie, and are handing out what appears to be marijuana?”
Imagine, someone in a suit and tie selling marijuana? I wonder what the expression on her face will be like the first time she tours Aphria’s massive grow facility in Leamington, if she hasn’t already.
At one point it arose that cannabis didn’t have a drug ID number, to which Dickinson replied “and therein lies the problem.” Note: cannabis still doesn’t have a drug ID number.
Toward the end, Kevin O’Leary, in true form, questioned why they were bothering to debate legality and morality. Dickinson responded simply, “Your money may not have moral fibre, mine does,” and “I know that I don’t agree with it, and I’m not gonna support it. I’m out.”
On behalf of the Canadian cannabis community, Ms. Dickinson, I’d like to welcome you ‘in’.
We can all agree that a lot has changed since those early seasons of Dragons’ Den: the MMAR made way for the MMPR, and now we have the ACMPR. And, as far as we can tell, legalized recreational use is just around the corner. There is little doubt that Ms. Dickinson’s time on the board at Aphria, and the stock options that come with this position, will both be extraordinarily profitable, even in the short to medium term (and I wouldn’t dare have said the same thing about either of those Den pitches, even though, like Mr. O’Leary, I didn’t find anything immoral about them).
What’s more, myself and many others like me feel that there is a benefit that comes from this work that goes way beyond the allure of the profit: a benefit of human good, easing pain and suffering, freeing people from opioid dependency, and stopping the countless harms that have resulted from prohibition — criminal profits, incarcerated brothers and sisters, and the idea that, as fellow dragon Jim Treliving once put it, “You’ve got marijuana in one pocket, heroin in the other.”
Before I conclude, I should also acknowledge something about how shows like Dragons’ Den are produced. The segments are edited together from much longer recordings, so it’s entirely possible that Ms. Dickinson’s words were used out of context and twisted. Without having been there, it’s impossible for me to know how much of what came through in the final edit was actual opinion, and how much was editorial spin.
Which is to say that my aim here is not to point to any hypothetical hypocrisy on Ms. Dickinson’s part, but instead to highlight how far we, as a culture, have come in this whole process. Stigmas are being lifted, broken laws are being fixed, and a vibrant new industry is being created that has the potential to drastically change the Canadian economic landscape forever.
Ms. Dickinson, we have a deal.
- Featured image via The Lambton Shield.