The Business of Cannabis: Emblem Corp.

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By Jason Gorber

As part of our Business Talks with Canada’s top cannabis CEOs, we had the pleasure of speaking with:

Max Zavet

Co-Founder/President, Emblem Corp.

Paris, Ontario

Tell me about what you do. I’m a cannabis entrepreneur investor. I’ve been in the legal cannabis industry since 2012, investing and starting companies. I started Emblem Corp. that went public, and I helped to start other companies in the States that are public or are going public. I have a company called Robes Cannabis, and it’s partnering up with Noah Shebib [known as 40] who’s Drake’s Grammy award-winning music producer, to come out with a brand called The Bull Rider. It’s a very unique strain that Noah is a big champion and spokesperson for because it helps him deal with his MS and helps his creativity. The new business is very much about quality over quantity, high-end experience – boutique in a sense, artisanal in a sense that we don’t want to appeal to everybody, but we want to appeal to that small percent[age] of the market that really appreciates the process and the beauty of the dried flower.

How do you see the industry changing? You’re going to have more niche businesses, especially as different products come on-line, like edibles and extractions, vape pens, that kind of thing. I think you’ll see more bifurcation where companies will start focusing on different segments of the market. Then you’re going to have your conglomerates like Canopy and Aurora that are going to try to buy up those pieces. There’s a market for everyone to play in, but I’m playing in that very specialized niche area.

What changes would you like to see come along, and how are you contributing to that change? We’d like to see more access and better distribution, especially in Ontario, where it’s been limited to a license. Quebec’s been extremely limited as well, where it’s the public stores. We’d like to see a more robust model like they have in Alberta, with more options for delivery. More products will come on-line in the next year as regulations get passed, but, right now, they’re still working that out. It looks promising, but we have a long way to go. The best way we can help is by being active participants in the industry and communicating with Health Canada and trying to take advantage of various stakeholder discussions. It is challenging, as governments don’t think outside the box too often.

What do you see as the main challenges and roadblocks, not only for your company, but for the industry as a whole? Achieving less red tape, freer markets – those are our big roadblocks. More licensing! California has issued over 4,000 licenses. While some are temporary, at least they’re creating a market and an industry and not a value for licenses. A similar approach needs to be taken in Canada where the value shouldn’t be in the license; it should be in the business. I think there’s only 150 licenses in all of Canada, and we’re a similar size to California.

What is the biggest misconception about the industry? I think it’s a weird industry because it’s the illicit market that’s been prevalent for so long. If you ask the hardcore cannabis advocate/user/consumer, his biggest conception of the industry is that cannabis is now corporate cannabis, and it’s awful, which they’re not too wrong about in terms of the quality of the product that’s out there right now. I think it’s a misconception that there can’t be competition or companies that can achieve quality and still compete. It’s a misconception that big cannabis has taken over, and that’s it – that it’s impossible to compete against these giants, and we’re just going to pack up and still continue doing it illegally or go home.

Where do you see the industry in five years? I see a [more] dynamic and robust industry, for sure! People’s attitudes will change towards cannabis, generally – become a bit more relaxed. I think as people realize that the sky isn’t falling with cannabis legalization, then we can have more rational policies in place with respect to the whole supply chain. I am definitely optimistic, but hopefully the conservative government doesn’t get elected or something (laughs).