Barinder Rasode is the CEO of NICHE (National Institute for Cannabis Health Education), an independent, not-for-profit organization that provides impartial and evidence-based research about cannabis production and use in Canada. Based in Vancouver with a national vision, NICHE was established in 2017 after discussions with the federal and provincial governments, industry, universities, patients, consumers, non-governmental organizations, law enforcement agencies and other stakeholders.
Cannabis is a part of Barinder’s personal wellness plan too; she takes CBD each morning and an edible at night to support healthy sleep. Throughout her career (in both public policy, and as an elected municipal official) her mission has always been to encourage respectful, informed dialogue on diverse issues between stakeholders, and these same core values drive her work within the cannabis sector.
I am passionate about policy and education, and nothing excites me more than being able to educate people to the point where they change their mind. That’s why I founded NICHE Canada. I felt there was need to bridge the cannabis industry with mainstream businesses, professional services industries and health associations.
My introduction to cannabis was extremely personal. After watching a close friend’s mom suffer through a terminal illness, she chose to use cannabis instead of morphine for her pain. I witnessed first-hand how cannabis helped this same friend’s father cope with the anxiety of watching his wife die: I saw first-hand that anti-anxiety meds didn’t work for him and what a simple CBD vape pen did, instead. That experience led me to do more research. I concluded that our institutions are rigid, and their policies are based on outdated processes and research. It was transformative to strip all of that away and get the real facts and transformative for my own life when I opened up to learning more about the true benefits of cannabis.
I am passionate about policy and education, and nothing excites me more than being able to educate people to the point where they change their mind. That's why I founded NICHE Canada. I felt there was need to bridge the cannabis industry with mainstream businesses, professional services industries and health associations. ”
Our main goal with NICHE Canada right now is to make the transition and implementation into legalization as seamless as possible by educating the industry community as well as the public they serve. Our focus is on cross-cultural education, which means building educational resources in several languages including Punjabi, Mandarin and Cantonese. Starting with communication is paramount.
There are a number of municipalities across the country that have been against allowing recreational dispensaries, and I’m concerned that that number will continue to grow. However, if you take a look at the demographics of those communities, I think it’s important to note that there is a cultural component to this trend, as many of these communities have large South Asians or Asian populations. There are efforts to educate the public and local business communities in Toronto and Vancouver, but who is responding to the needs to places like Markham and Surrey?
A lot of the negative biases people have come from their real-life experiences, seeing how the criminalization of cannabis has impacted those in their community. When communities are focused on these impacts, they aren’t considering the potential healing properties of the plant. Public concern (about any issue, not just cannabis) stems from a lack of education and awareness. Legalization is a big transition for this country, one which requires that we all work together to understand what different communities need.
Photography by Alexa Mazzarello
Women at the Helm
We run Grow Tech Labs, where the priority is to accelerate businesses and job growth in the cannabis industry. Our focus is to eliminate the barriers for women-run and Indigenous businesses. One of the predictions is that many new consumers are going to be middle-aged women, like myself, who make the decisions for their households. To me, it only makes sense to ensure that women are put into key leadership roles in this industry.
So many long-time activists and leaders on the medicinal side have been women, but as the industry has shifted toward legalization, many women have not been able to maintain their place on boards and in C-level roles. We have a responsibility to bridge this gap, to follow the lead of companies like 48North with two women as co-CEOs.
It’s important that we hold ourselves accountable to action versus talk. I can’t count the number of conferences, rallies or protests that I’ve been to over the years with women at the front, but where nothing changes. Now that we have a chance to get it right, and we have to be mindful to be action-focused, every step of the way.
Of course, much of it’s a systematic issue, but I think women have a lot of power to make change. Studies show that many women don’t apply for jobs or take leadership positions because don’t think they have enough experience or skill, but that men who often have fewer qualifications than women will still apply. And you know, I’ve even said it myself and I hear it all the time, “Well, titles really aren’t important.” But they are. It’s your title which will often dictate who you get to meet with, or who will listen to your ideas. Women have a responsibility to put our hand up. When we do, really positive things will happen for this industry.
Not who you think
The myth: People who consume cannabis come from a certain section of the community, but not mine.
The truth: Cannabis consumers in 2018 are professionals, moms, dads, elderly neighbours who plant nice flowers in their front yard, PhD candidates, and everyone in between.
There goes the neighbourhood
The myth: Consuming cannabis means smoking a joint.
The truth: While surveys show that many people are concerned about the social impacts of consuming flower near schools and parks, for instance, many people still don’t know that there are other ways to consume cannabis (like topicals, edibles, tinctures, vapes) and that these methods will gain in popularity.
The myth: The cannabis industry is a gold rush; soon everyone will be growing and selling.
The truth: While the cannabis industry will begin to open up opportunities for new jobs and new streams of income, we have to better educate Canadian consumers before we see this industry really flourish here.
Canadian consumers are “traditionalists” and want to know if the product they’re taking is at the highest quality, not just safe. I think five years is a good timeline to expect that we will have worked out some of the kinks and streamlined some of the regulations. It will take time for people to recognize that CBD definitely is more of a natural health product and it is treated in a separate strain from THC products. Even with THC products, I think in five years there’ll be a normalization of cannabis as a whole and we’ll be seeing it at social events in edibles and in infused drinks and seeing it as common as ginkgo biloba or flaxseed oil. But we have work to do, first!