For over ten years, Irie Selkirk has guided patients through medical marijuana’s maze of restrictions. When her school-aged daughter’s father was diagnosed with MS at the age of 34, it was a turning point for her family, and in her relationship with marijuana. “We started looking at cannabis as more of a medicine,” she says.
Through their own journey, Selkirk began advising other patients and doctors, even accompanying patients to doctor’s appointments to advocate for their rights. She now works with Paris, Ont.,-based licensed producer Emblem as director of community uutreach, focusing on education.
At Toronto’s O’Cannabiz Conference and Expo earlier this month, she launched The Green Tent with a team of influential women in cannabis. The project reserves space for female entrepreneurs to congregate in the male-dominated cannabis industry. Selkirk spoke about why it’s important for women to take up space in cannabis and why the end of prohibition is just the beginning of change.
Anytime I see something that is wrong or unjust, I have this superhero belt. I’m like, “It’s wrong!” My kids make fun of me all the time. I fight for stigma-free, judgment-free understanding of this miracle plant.
I entered the cannabis industry professionally after I wrapped up some custody issues that surrounded cannabis. I have two kids with different dads and one of them had a bad run. We’re all friendly and close again now. Cannabis is not a conversation internally in our family. But the court had already latched on to that. It was dealing with the system.
I had the resources, I had the know-how, and I had the information [but] no one should have to go through that for cannabis. My experience with our family court system and Children’s Services inspired me to speak out and join the industry as a professional.
I came into this industry charged with a lot of personal passion. I started with Emblem in their medical division and now have shifted more towards strategy, education, and influence. People don’t trust cannabis because they don’t understand it. That’s entirely reasonable. If you don’t understand something you are not going to trust it, especially if what you’ve heard is exactly the opposite. Trying to break through that stigma, education is going to be the key.
The people who are building this industry need to understand some inherent things about cannabis as a plant and as an ethos. And the consumers need to have that information filtered to them properly so they understand what they are taking in a safe and legal way. All of our marketing should be education-based moving forward.
Once individuals start to re-examine a system that they’ve always just accepted to be true, we start to ask, “Why are they this way? Why are these laws taking so long? Hold on—the queen has to sign off on this?” This is an amazing opportunity for our society as a whole. When we start to re-examine systems like this, we get more information about how our world works. I hope that especially my kids look at this as an opportunity to re-examine the whys and the hows. Why is that system just the way it is?
I founded a group for cannabis-friendly mothers in my area [the group’s socials are private out of respect for its members, but Selkirk encourages moms to reach out to her personally through Instagram]. We don’t all want to have mommy wine time. You see these t-shirts like “rosé all day” and “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere.” It’s so normalized. We don’t have to have a glass of rosé with every celebration. This is the safer choice for me. Once people raise that green flag then other people get to do it as well.
We [Emma Baron, Tabitha Fritz, Dessy Pavlova, and other female cannabis leaders] were at a conference and we were so overwhelmed by the amount of men there. You have women with three or four of their male subordinates. She is the person who is supposed to be closing the deal and other men are talking to her employees instead of to her. We found female CEOs, CMOs, and VPs outside the conference halls, because that was where they were most comfortable conducting business. We said, let’s move this inside.
The Green Tent initiative is a way to make sure that more women find an entry point into this industry. It is a destination spot—we can be a tent, we can be a pop-up table, we’re going to have some getaways, destination retreats for community and professional skill-building workshops set in a beautiful environment. We have a micro-networking destination that hosts workshops lead by women-lead businesses. For our launch at O’Cannabiz, we had April Pride from Van der Pop host a brand nucleus workshop. We need to move away from women’s panels that separate us from experts. Because we are experts.