Mark Zekulin has carved out an intriguing space in the ever-controversial production of cannabis. As CEO of Canopy Growth since July 3, 2019, Zekulin stands at the helm of the first cannabis producing company to be publicly traded, federally regulated, licensed and traded on two stock exchanges in North America. Canopy Growth began trading as WEED on the Toronto Stock Exchange and as CGC on the New York Stock Exchange in May 2018. In FY 2018, Canopy Growth Corporation’s Net Income was listed as somewhere near $79 million Canadian dollars. Zekulin took over when Canopy Growth’s board of directors “ousted” co-CEO Bruce Linton following what was described as a “surprise exit” by Financial Post. Though many praised Linton’s achievements, Linton was clearly not pleased with leaving the company he helped to establish, which was originally known as Tweed Marijuana Inc. Tweed has lived on under the parent company- Canopy Growth, and many newly acquired companies have been added. This has left just as many wondering what kind of man new CEO Zekulin is.
1. Zekulin left his job as a lawyer to grow pot.
He teamed up with his colleagues to buy an 450,000 square foot abandoned Hershey chocolate factory to grow weed. He described this business move as “disruption” during a talk he gave at Concordia University’s “The Walrus Talks” in Toronto. Of course, when he told his wife she wasn’t happy, and this was just the beginning of the disruption. Zekulin described disruption based on the Harvard Business School’s viewpoint that it is a process where a smaller company having less resources successfully challenges established businesses. Zukelin was aware, early on, that growing pot would situate his company as a disruptor in a world where beer, wine, and liquor saturate the market.
2. Zekulin believes that there aren’t nearly enough cannabis stores in Canada.
In a November 2019 interview on CNBC’s Squawk Alley, Zekulin described the lack of stores in the country. He said tha provinces with 60% of the Canadian population have only 10% of the stores. He said that if there aren’t stores where people buy products, then it’s extremely difficult to have the kind of revenue he would have expected possible with Canopy Growth. But the company has enough supply to be able to sell more as the government allows more stores to open. Unfortunately, cannabis 2.0 products have not yet reached the market. Once these products were available, then Zekulin believes that this will provide another chance to “take a bite out of the illicit market”. Zekulin still feels positive that the $6 billion market will offer selling opportunity with increased access.
3. When Zekulin first started as Tweed’s in-house lawyer, he said he was “a legal drug dealer”.
He was 35 at the time and serving as general counsel and president at the two-year-old medical marijuana company. Tweed grew and sold medicinal pot to patients throughout Canada and it was Zekulin’s responsibility to be certain that the company’s products were grown according to strict regulations, were safe for patients, and could be recalled if necessary. All these accomplished without advertising. Zekulin’s legal training was essential to marketing strategy that was legal; so that doctors and their patients would choose to buy from Tweed.
4. Zekulin had a hard time when he first got to be known as “the weed lawyer”.
He used to worry about the stigma attached to his job. He’s said that his grandmother hasn’t “bought in” to the idea of what he does, but he can easily talk to people out at dinner without noticing that they are looking down at him. He sees that most are intrigued with the idea and want to know more about what he does.
5. Zekulin told BNN Bloombert that he would present himself as “being in pharmaceuticals” at cocktail parties.
In the early days, Zekulin described himself as being more guarded about discussing what he did. He not only came from a law background, he also spent time as a political advisor.
6. When asked what he’s learned about himself, Zekulin noted that doing what has never been done before is fun.
Zekulin is enjoying “figuring out the playbook”. The creative process includes not only making excellent cannabis products, but also using creative ways to work within the regulations to effect change and, in some ways, become the changemaking leader within a rapidly growing industry.
7. Zekulin wants to “build a Canadian success story for years to come”.
He admits that it’s possible to make a lot of easy money in the business. There still exists much stigma in the financial sector, and that has been challenging. But he is “in it for the long haul”. Every single employee shares in the company wealth because all own a portion of stock.
8. Zelukin teamed up with Martha Stewart to discuss her proposed CBD product line at the 2019 Toronto Elevate technology conference.
The pair were brand-building for Canopy Growth and the Elevate interview was part of their overall work to bring awareness to Stewart’s research work with Canopy Growth scientists developing food products. Jeff Lagerquist, writing for Yahoo Finance Canada, noted that Stewart has spoken in the past about including CBD or cannabis in adapted versions of her 35,000 original recipes which comprise the Martha Stewart Living catalogue. Stewart is also interested in pain-relief products for senior citizens. At 78 years of age, she is considered by many to be a primary cannabis influencer.
9. By 2016, Zekulin was already thinking that Tweed should manufacture pot-infused chocolates.
It made perfect sense. When the company took over the abandoned Hershey’s chocolate factory, much of the chocolate production equipment was still on site. Zekulin told CBC Canada news that his vision was to place Tweed CBD chocolates, and possibly pot-infused drinks, next to alcoholic beverages in liquor stores.
Fast forward to November 2019 and it’s become clear that Zekulin’s thoughts have become reality. Foodbev.com reported the unveiling of Canopy Growth Corporations new line of cannabis-infused chocolates, mixers, and sparkling waters. The company’s proprietary Distilled Cannabis process uses whole flower cannabis distilled into clear liquid which is then included as a significant product ingredient. Zekulin called the product launch “game changing” and described the products as resulting from the company’s ongoing focus on quality and innovation. The “recreational beverages”, “wellness-focused” sparkling waters, and “minimal CBD content” chocolates fall under the regulations for production and sale of cannabis edibles and beverages set by Canada.
10. When the new Canopy Growth facility began to produce cannabis-infused beverages on November 26, 2019, Zekulin said he was “deeply proud” of the work the company team dedicated toward bringing to fruition the licensing and completion of the new facility.
For Zekulin, the fact that Canopy Growth has all of the Cannabis 2.0 related licenses which are required for operation and secure storage to produce chocolates, beverages, and vapes, is a “vision come to life”.
11. Zekulin was “immediately open” to the idea of a Tweed artist-in-residence.
When photographer Ezra Soiferman first met with Zekulin, Ezra’s idea combined increased visibility for both his own art and the images of the emerging company. Zekulin viewed this as a sensible program to support both art and cannabis, demonstrating that the association removed “shackles on creativity”. While Ezra enjoyed becoming the first-ever cannabis artist-in-residence, it was his hope that others would follow. Zekulin told The Cannabist that Ezra’s new works were a reminder of the importance of supporting the arts community.
12. Zekulin countered allegations that Constellation expects a record loss of more than $50 million due to investments in Canopy Growth, saying that he’s most excited about the 70-month building project which is nearing completion for marketing in the United States.
Zekulin told Squawk Box Guest Host Eric Cantor that Constellation indeed has invested more than $4 billion USD in the company. Zekulin described the relationship with its former partner turned subsidiary as great, pointing toward the upcoming release of Canopy’s recreational beverages. Constellation provided the bottling expertise while Canopy created what Zekulin describes as a “great tasting, hangover-free” collection of beverages. Zekulin affirmed that the partnership has been positive for these reasons. Zekulin noted that Constellation has several members on Canopy’s board of directors, but Canopy continues to work on its daily operations. He said that the investment in intellectual properties has made Canopy exceptional. He noted that investors haven’t seen the cannabis stocks stable lately. But he believes that Canopy is best positioned to seize the cannabis stock market due to its global positioning and overall integrity.
13. Though Zekulin has had a Twitter account since he joined in July 2011, but he hasn’t Tweeted.
He has 355 followers of his @mark_zekulin account, however, as of November 30, 2019, anyone seeking a Tweet from him will just need to check back to see if any Tweets have shown up. @Canopy Growth, on the other hand, has been providing plenty of company info and including company-related news about Zekulin when it comes up.
14. Zekulin graduated with a degree in Mathematics from the University of Waterloo, a degree in Law from the University in Ottawa, and a degree in International Law from the University of Cambridge.
Zekulin served as a Senior Advisor to the Ontario Minister of Finance, the Honorable Dwight Duncan. He also worked for the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). At Cassidy Levy Kent, and Ottawa-Washington International trade law firm, Zekulin was in the position of Counsel. He was honored with Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 Award in 2018.
15. Zekulin described Tweed’s development of its own DNA-certified strain of cannabis as a combination of art and science.
The company had been phenotyping seed produced by others. But by 2016, the company had built its own breeding facility to develop its own strain genetics. Working with DNA Genetics to find the most desirable traits in male and female plants allowed Tweed to develop its own proprietary plants. Zekulin acknowledged that the process was expensive and took time. Selecting the best mother and father, testing the terpene profiles, discussing different strains and creating the best quality product to bring to market was a source of pride for Zekulin and the team who went through the process.
16. Zekulin admitted that he is always hesitant to comment on American politics.
He told Guest Host Eric Cantor on CNBC that there are no major groups in opposition to state’s rights legislation and that he believes that should be viewed as positive in terms of cannabis products. In terms of legality, he understands that CBD is open for production and his company has major contracts with American farmers to produce CBD hemp. Canopy Growth is currently under construction at major sites in California, New York, and Illinois. An American supply chain is being built to ensure that the company will have CBD sales in American this year.
17. According to Wallmine, Zekulin’s CEO Salary of Canopy Growth is CAD $2,496,580.
Wallmine also stated that no other executives at the company are paid more than Zekulin. His expertise in law has provided the company with continued legal and strategic advice gathered through his extensive career in law before he decided to grow pot.
18. Zekulin drives a Volkswagen.
He said he does it because “there is an unwritten company rule that it’s not nice to drive fancy cars because it sends the wrong message”.
19. Zekulin acknowledged that the recent “vaping crisis” in the United States is “tragic”.
He told Jim Cramer on CNBC Television that Canadian manufacturers are not yet certain exactly what caused the vaping products problems. He also stated that Canopy Growth is ready to put out regulated vaping products which are safe and high quality. He said that “God forbid” should a problem occur his company will be able to trace back to the origins of the problem. The reason is that Canopy Growth is responsible for every aspect of its products from conception to growth to final manufacturing and distribution based on the strict Canadian regulations for cannabis production. The Canadian market is separated from the U.S. market by these very strict regulations.
20. Zekulin’s vision for Canopy Growth has extended to five continents globally.
In March 2018, the company announced its acquisition of Daddy Cann Lesotho PTY Ltd. in an agreement valued at about $28.8 million. The Kingdom of Lesotho was Africa’s first nation to legalize medical cannabis and it has ideal growing conditions for cannabis. Because South Africa’s medical cannabis laws were already under development, the combination of low operating costs with a potential market population of more than 55 million people was highly attractive. Zekulin stated that Canopy Growth was looking forward to continuing its high-quality production values in its “first step into Africa”. The company adds Africa to its market presence in Europe, Oceania, and the Americas.