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Improving the World Through Craft Cannabis: Social Entrepreneur Chris Mayerson

As Calgary’s Chris Mayerson explains, a social entrepreneur is “a person who establishes an enterprise with the aim of solving social problems and effecting social change.” And as Mayerson makes clear through his daily actions, he’s setting a precedent for social entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry.

Mayerson’s engagement with this cannabis industry started out humbly in 2007, when he launched with a small grow-op in the early days of the Medical Marijuana Access Regulations program. In 2012, he co-founded and served as chief cultivator for Aurora Cannabis Enterprises, the first medically licensed producer in Alberta that remains an industry leader in Canada today.

In 2016, Mayerson took a step toward fusing his passion for craft cannabis with his passion for improving the world by launching the Space Bear Company, the craft cannabis distillery of which Mayerson is co-founder and CEO.

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On the craft-cannabis front, Space Bear distinguishes itself by extracting terpenes from organic, sun-grown cannabis flower via steam distillation, creating a niche in the market for terpene enthusiasts.

And on the improving-the-world front, Mayerson created “Space Bear Cares,” a program that pledges a minimum of 10% of Space Bear’s proceeds to “finding creative and innovative ways to give back to our global community.” One of Space Bear Cares’ current partners: Kiva, the nonprofit lending platform offering interest-free micro-loans to low-income entrepreneurs in over 80 countries. In partnership with Kiva, Space Bear has funded loans to farmers, artists, and small independent businesses around the world.

Beyond running the Space Bear Company, Mayerson serves as director of cultivation for Aloha Green, a state-licensed medical cannabis company in Oahu, HI, and as chief sponsor for Grow Calgary, providing equipment, supplies, labor. and expertise to assist in cultivating organic produce for social agencies in Calgary. He and his wife are also raising four daughters under the age of ten. Our phone interview is punctuated with the sounds of children’s laughter in the background.

What inspired you to incorporate social enterprise into the Space Bear Company?

I’ve always felt a responsibility to give back and contribute to the community at large due to the overwhelming amount of support and encouragement I’ve received throughout my life. Whether it be my parents, teachers, friends, business associates, or wise sages met in remote corners of the globe, I am truly humbled and grateful for the willingness of others to selflessly share their time and resources with me. Like most things in life, success is cyclical. I believe that it is important to incorporate some sort of social enterprise into a new venture as it helps create a positive flow. Knowing that you’re making a difference regardless of profitability helps navigate times when financial pressures can seem overwhelming.

Why is social enterprise important for the cannabis industry in particular?

I believe that the cannabis industry has no more or less of a responsibility than any other industry to create positive change. Why hold us to a different standard? With that said, I feel collectively we have an incredible opportunity to do things differently and not just maintain the status quo. I saw a quote recently that sums things up nicely: “Will capitalism change cannabis, or will cannabis change capitalism?” To me, that is exceptionally profound, and highlights just how much power we have. The whole world is watching and Canada is leading the way. Our industry now has not only the attention but also the respect of capital markets and financial institutions. With the spotlight upon us, what will we do? Follow the typical free-market way of thinking and value profit above all else? I certainly hope not. The cannabis industry has too many talented, compassionate, and creative minds within it to squander our good fortune on only ourselves.

'Knowing that you’re making a difference regardless of profitability helps navigate times when financial pressures can seem overwhelming.'

Why did The Space Bear Company choose to partner with Kiva?

One thing I really like about Kiva is that they focus primarily on emerging third world regions, where money seems to go a lot further due to the economic disparity between Canada and these areas. Another admirable trait of Kiva is that they do not incorporate their overhead into their micro-loans. Every dollar goes directly to the applicant and any operating costs incurred by Kiva are covered by separate, optional donations.

Any stories you want to share with respect to the rewards of giving?
Backpacking through Thailand after the Boxing Day tsunami, I came to Koh Phi Phi, which was one of the most devastated areas, yet received no help from organizations like the Red Cross. All the assistance provided was from private donors and loosely organized groups of travelers willing to lend a hand. Whatever skills and expertise we had were put towards rebuilding things like the hospital, school, playground, homes, and businesses. Different projects were assigned depending on your skill set. Since I had a background in construction I was asked to build a small wooden booth for a woman who sold souvenirs like bracelets and necklaces. In the grand schemes of things, this seemed like a pretty insignificant task, considering the level of destruction all around me. Regardless, I volunteered for the project, but quickly became frustrated. Anyone who has tried to cut palm wood with a dull hand saw will understand how insanely tough this was. My frustration increased until it boiled over and I more or less freaked out at the person who assigned this seemingly trivial task to me. They calmly explained to me that this woman had lost her husband and three young sons in the tsunami, along with her home and business. Talk about putting things into perspective. To say that I felt like a complete and total ass is an understatement. Let’s just say I built the best damn souvenir booth I possibly could. I was beyond proud to present it to her once it was complete. She spoke no English and I spoke no Thai, yet I learned in that moment that there is a universal language that extends beyond words.

Do you have any advice for others interested in pairing business with social enterprise?

Do it. Don’t hesitate for a second, incorporating social enterprise into your business is a decision you will never regret. The risks are minimal while the rewards are substantially greater.

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Kelly Coulter

Kelly Coulter is a journalist, essayist, and cannabis policy advisor based in Victoria, British Columbia. She’s been writing about and advocating for policy change in the cannabis space for more than 15 years.

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