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Where are they now? Bruce Linton, formerly Canopy Growth

We chat with some of the most prominent figures in Canadian cannabis about the highlights and lowlights of the first year of legalization. In the second installment of this series, we chat with Bruce Linton.

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Bruce Linton became one of the biggest names in Canadian cannabis when the company he co-founded in 2012, Canopy Growth, rose to become the world’s biggest publicly traded cannabis company.

In August 2018, US-based Constellation Brands, parent company of Corona beer and other brands, invested $5 billion in Canopy, which is in Smiths Falls, ON. Less than a year later, Linton was sent packing.

For the past four months, he has been exploring his options.

As I get older, I’m trying to make sure I experience each moment fully—so I try to tune myself into rather than out of everything that is happening around me.

In September, Linton announced he would be joining three companies in an advisory role. One of those companies is a CBD pet food maker and another is a medical psychedelic provider.

On Nov. 7, Linton became executive chairman of Vireo Health International, a multi-state cannabis company based in Minneapolis.

Bruce spoke to Leafly in October, just after a visit to Smiths Falls. This is part of his conversation on Canadian cannabis, one year into legalization.

More recently, you became an advisor for CBD pet food maker Better Choice Company. What accounts for your interest in cannabis as it relates to animals?

Most medications that humans take have been modelled on the results of tests on animals. But with cannabis, everything is inverted. Essentially, when we use cannabis, we’re testing it for use on our dogs! If cannabis can help us, it would probably have some efficacy with our four-legged friends. There is already some anecdotal evidence to support that.

There seems to be growing interest in using cannabis to treat pets.

Most people cry quite a lot more when they lose their dog than when they lose an aunt or uncle. Ninety percent of the time, the loss of a dog gets more tears. With aunts and uncles, you just regret not having seen them more often.

I always thought of this [cannabis for animals] as a potential income stream. That is why we created a division of Canopy Health called Canopy Animal Health to focus on developing cannabis-based healthcare products for companion animals. It attracted researchers and capable folks from various parts of the world who wanted to plan trials and look at ways to create great outcomes for animals.

In February, Canopy Growth teamed up with Martha Stewart to produce hemp-based CBD products. Then, in August, she announced she was launching her own brand of cannabis-based animal care products and some other products with the company.

You would think Martha Stewart would want to be involved with baking cookies or something like that. But no, she wants to be involved in animal care. She lives on a pseudo-farm and she has many animals including horses and dogs. Martha is a social leader. What she is interested in, tens of millions or maybe hundreds of millions of people are interested in.

By the way, Martha asked me if cannabis had the potential to work on peacocks. I regretted to inform her that peacocks are not mammals and, to the best of my knowledge and experience, they are unmanageable. Have you ever heard a peacock? It can be like listening to a fire siren.

Safe to assume you are interested in cannabis as a treatment for animals other than pets?

If farm animals experience stress, whether it is from being transported or something else, why not use active ingredients from the hemp plant to diminish or extinguish the stress so that they continue to gain mass and don’t end up dying of a heart attack or something else?

You could use a crop to make bedding and kitty litter for domestic animals, CBD for pigs, and protein for cows.

There [are] a whole bunch of reasons to be interested in animals and cannabis. One reason is that it would be a great way to multi-stream value from the plants. You could use a crop to make bedding and kitty litter for domestic animals, CBD for pigs, and protein for cows.

You have been quoted as saying, “If you start trying to figure out how to help animals, you might be able to help something with humans you haven’t thought of before.”

I think there is going to be a bunch of cannabinoids that will prove effective in treating animals and then humans. A resolution for a range of conditions in a geriatric dog would probably be very similar to a resolution for a range of conditions in your geriatric mother. Actually, I think this might come full circle when some of the treatments they discover for use in animals will help me when I’m old and in an assisted living environment.

You recently joined a company called, Mind Medicine Inc., which is a medical psychedelic provider. What accounts for your interest in psychedelics?

When I started in the cannabis industry, I encountered unfounded bias and it motivated me to be more active in building the business. I have discovered a similar bias in public policy and public perception with regards to psychedelics.

I mean, we know that psychedelics have an outcome. They cause you to be high in certain ways. The question to answer is, how can you manage that outcome and even alter it to be beneficial? If research into that possibility is being hampered by unfounded bias, then critical work is not being done.

It’s been three months since you were pushed out of Canopy. How do you feel now?

Well, just today I was in Smiths Falls for the annual Thanksgiving lunch. There were about 1,500 people in an outdoor tent. It was my official retirement. When I spoke, I told everyone I was thankful.

I told everyone that, after I got pushed out of the company, my youngest son said to me, “Dad, you can’t give tours of the [Canopy Growth facilities] anymore and you loved doing that.” That choked me up. For me, giving those tours was like showing off your kid. When I was disallowed from doing that it was traumatic. I cried a little at the event today and I may have caused a bunch of people to do the same.

If you had to write an overview of your past 12 months what would you say?

I would say it included several big events: Constellation investing five billion dollars in Canopy Growth; recreational cannabis being legalized; me being fired and spending the summer trying to decide my next move.

That brings me to the event today, where I allowed myself to feel the trauma and remorse of having to sever so dramatically the relations someone develops when building a company. There might be some emotions I didn’t experience in the past year but I don’t know what they would be.

As I get older, I’m trying to make sure I experience each moment fully—so I try to tune myself into rather than out of everything that is happening around me. There is a line somewhere that says something like, change is happening. You don’t need to be afraid but you need to be ready.

Can you share some final thoughts on state of affairs in Canadian cannabis?

We should recognize that we have done something extraordinary.

As Canadians, we should think about the way we will be viewed 10 or 20 years from now. We should be proud about leading the transformative recognition that cannabis is everywhere and ignoring that is the worst approach. We led the process of governments regulating cannabis so they could monetize the industry and educate citizens about it.

It seems super rational when you think about it. But the rest of the world is still irrational including, extremely so, the United States. So, rather than trying to find fault in the minor failings of doing something extraordinary, we should recognize that we have done something extraordinary.

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Randi Druzin

Randi Druzin is an author and journalist in Toronto. She has worked at several major media outlets, including the National Post and the CBC, and has written for dozens of publications, such as The New York Times, Time magazine, ESPN The Magazine, and The Globe and Mail.

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