Matei Olaru
Credit: Lift Cannabis on Twitter

Olaru (middle) speaks at last year's Cannabis Expo. 

A marijuana industry leader dishes on running “Canada’s premier cannabis event”

There’s not much use in trying to predict the year to come; just look at how little success prognosticators have had in the past. But if there’s one thing we’d wager on in 2018, it’s that the cannabis market in Canada will keep filling up with people you wouldn’t usually associate with marijuana.

For these newcomers, who include some of the country’s top minds, it’s an opportunity to join a burgeoning industry—the same reason your neighbour has been scrolling threads on 4chan and Reddit in an effort to track his bitcoin investment. 

Take Matei Olaru. A Toronto resident, Olaru earned a B.Comm. at Queen’s University before completing a law degree at Western University and spending four months as a consultant at the World Bank Group in Washington, D.C.

When he returned to Ontario, Olaru was hired on by Stikeman Elliot LLP as a summer student. But after he helped the law firm develop its client base in the medical cannabis field, Lift Cannabis Co. Ltd. recruited him as COO in January 2016. Before the year was out, Olaru was promoted to CEO.

Lift, based in Toronto and founded in 2014, is a tech company that connects producers, doctors and consumers. It bills itself as the “Yellow Pages of Canadian cannabis.”

Since Olaru came on, Lift has held a Cannabis Expo that it calls “Canada’s premier cannabis event.” Now in its third year, the expo takes place January 13 and 14 at the Vancouver Convention Centre (there’s also one in Toronto in late May). The gathering features nearly 200 exhibitors from across North America and Europe, along with lectures, live cooking and growing demos, a vape lounge and a cannabis career fair.

Another entity that some would describe as more straitlaced, MNP LLP, an accounting, tax and business consulting firm based in Calgary, has partnered with Lift and will host a cannabis business conference the day before the expo. 

BCBusiness recently caught up with Olaru to ask him about the third instalment of the Cannabis Expo in Vancouver. 

How was Lift started? 

Lift has humble 2014 beginnings as a simple blog intended to fill information gaps created for consumers when the licensed producers came into existence. Due to the regulations, it was near impossible for consumers to find information about producers, their products and how to access them. Lift filled has filled that void ever since.

Through three verticals—content, events and data—we’re on a mission to empower informed cannabis decisions as a global authority. 

Why did you decide to hold the expo? 

It’s an extension of the mission. The expos started in 2016 to connect the masses with businesses and stakeholders. Filling the same information gaps created by regulations, the expos have since become a nexus for Canada's cannabis industry as North America’s largest B2C trade show.

How do you see the cannabis industry in Canada and B.C. going from here?  

Only one way—forward. Canada is a leader on the world stage, and every province is taking an educated best guess at execution, B.C. included. We’re collectively learning and setting an example. 

Is B.C. prepared for the legalization of marijuana?

I believe every province is ready if they want to be. 

How did you get MNP involved? 

Like us, they were an early supporter of the emerging industry. We have the same views and outlooks; it was a natural partnership. 

How will Lift compete with other cannabis companies when the market opens up? 

We'll never compete with producers, or any brand or retailer, for that matter. Our product is information and data—think of us as the picks and shovels of the consumer-facing side of the industry. We’re here to add value to producers by making it easier to connect with their consumers. 

What do you hope to accomplish through the expo? 

Consumer education and the legitimization of the cannabis industry for the general population.