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Our Focus has Shifted, but our Commitments Remain the Same


The times they are a-changin'. In a matter of hours, recreational cannabis will be legalized and regulated across Canada. As our country implements a major shift in public policy, NICHE is undergoing a change in leadership and a shift in focus. NICHE is a not-for-profit corporation that was established to support the development of public policy and research to assist all levels of government in managing the transition to legalization. As we are now entering the post-legalization era, NICHE will begin to focus more attention on engaging the general public in a format that they are comfortable with, particularly those who have not been part of the cannabis conversation.

We want to bridge the cannabis knowledge gap and create open, constructive dialogue with residents and businesses from coast to coast to coast. Public education is the foundation for the successful implementation of a legalized cannabis regime and it’s the only way to break down the walls of stigmatization. So, whether it’s boards of trade, professional associations, women’s groups or parent advisory councils, we need to reach out to these groups and get people talking.

We need to have informed discussions with the naysayers about their concerns and make a genuine effort to understand their perspective, so we can figure out a path forward. There is still a great deal of uncertainty across our country, particularly in communities with cultural biases against cannabis. In some instances, it’s not about gaining acceptance, it’s about changing cultural values. That is why we are committed to creating new cross-cultural campaigns to provide information, resources and reassurance.

The next year will be a critical time in the evolution of legalization, as governments and businesses fine tune the rules, regulations and messaging around cannabis. The need for education and dialogue will become even more apparent when Canada prepares to legalize edibles in 2019.

Along with our shift in focus, comes new leadership for our organization. NICHE’s founder, Barinder Rasode, will serve on our Board, but has taken a new position as CEO of Grow Tech Labs, a business accelerator for Canadian and international companies innovating the medical and recreational cannabis industry.

Taking on the position of CEO is Linda Stromberg, who formally served as our Chief Operating Officer. Linda has worked for over 30 years in direct marketing and has a passion for education and community building. From designer to art director to CEO, Linda has overseen national campaigns, directed creative services and negotiated contracts with suppliers and government agencies. Her commitment to advocacy and building consensus makes her an ideal leader for our organization as we embark on our new mandate.

There have also been changes at the Board level. We encourage you to meet our entire team and are pleased to introduce you to our new Board of Directors:

Dr. Jo McCutcheon

Jo holds her doctorate in Canadian history from the University of Ottawa and has undertaken sessional positions at the University’s History department since 1997, teaching a diversity of Canadian and American history courses from contact to the present, focusing also on First Nations, Inuit and Métis experiences with an emphasis on Colonial/Government education systems and microhistory research methods.

She has served as a Board Member of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and as a SSHRC program committee member. She is on the executive of the Canadian Historical Association, the Ottawa Historical Association and is Treasurer for Minwaashin Lodge which provides services to Indigenous women and their families fleeing domestic violence and trauma.

Her current academic research focuses on the ways historians and researchers can use hair to learn more about the construction of gender and growing up in a North American context.

Mark Hanna

Mark Hanna is a profound believer in the need for a robust public education approach in Canada as both medical and recreational uses of Cannabis are finally legalized and our social norms and best practices continue to evolve.

This philosophy resonated with Founder Barinder Rasode, who quickly brought Mark to work with NICHE as a writer and strategist. Adding Mark to the Board will allow him to take a greater role in the success and direction of NICHE Canada, allowing him to build on the connections Mark has already made in the industry and his keen interest in realizing NICHE’s mission to serve as the connector between the industry and the public.

Bringing a diverse skill set to the NICHE Canada Team, Mark Hanna has an extensive background in both education and the law. which he balances with a keen interest in Cannabis policy and public education.

Dessy Pavlova

Dessy has been studying drug policy and the cannabis industry for over a decade. As a marketing strategist, she has worked with a number of medical cannabis companies through the various changes in regulations from Health Canada's original Medical Marihuana Access Regulations (MMAR) to the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR). She works as a marketing instructor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University as a part of the Cannabis Professionals Series.

As chair of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP), she works with board members and chapters to disseminate evidence-based information about cannabis and safe drug use through outreach, marketing campaigns and resource development, such as the Sensible Cannabis Education Youth Toolkit.

As a board member of the National Institute of Health and Education (NICHE), she is looking forward to working more closely with stakeholders from cannabis organizations to politicians and educators to the general public on drug and health education.

Barinder Rasode

Barinder founded NICHE to promote evidence-based research and education about cannabis. Currently, she is the CEO of Grow Tech Labs, a company that will reaffirm BC’s status as a global cannabis capital by attracting a new and diverse generation of sector leaders from across Canada and around the world through the delivery of world class programs that are rooted in innovation, entrepreneurship and mentorship.

Barinder has extensive experience working with senior levels of government, stakeholders and the private sector to find common ground to encourage respectful, informed dialogue on diverse issues to tackle emerging challenges facing Canada’s future.

Previously, Barinder served two terms as an elected Councillor for the City of Surrey, taking leadership roles in public safety and transportation. She has also served on the Board of Directors for Fraser Health, which provides governance and vision for the largest health authority in British Columbia.

A fierce advocate of women’s rights, Barinder is the co-founder and Advisory Committee Chair for a unique series of conferences, SheTalks, each featuring 16 inspirational women who share stories of leadership, transformation, innovation, and how to succeed in today’s rapidly changing world.

Dr. Jenna Valleriani

Dr. Jenna Valleriani is a post-doctoral fellow at the BC Centre on Substance Use, and Strategic Advisor for Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy. For her dissertation, Jenna focused on illegal and legal cannabis markets in Canada, interviewing over 65 entrepreneurs across that space. She also conducted fieldwork in a medical cannabis dispensary for almost a year during the transition from the MMAR to MMPR/ACMPR, offering a diverse perspective on the emerging medical cannabis market in Canada.

In her new role, she will look at community-based cannabis substitution programs and the instrumental uses of cannabis. Jenna has also led many youth and cannabis legalization engagement efforts with CSSDP, including a youth roundtable and submission to the Task Force consultations, presentations to the federal government on youth engagement, education and cannabis legalization, and led the creation of a sensible youth cannabis education toolkit.

She recently was invited as a witness to the Senate of Canada regarding the impact of Bill C-45, The Cannabis Act, on young people. Jenna has also created and instructed an original fourth-year seminar at the University of Toronto titled, "Marijuana Policy in the 21st Century".


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