Former Premier Mike Harcourt Goes to Pot

Mike Harcourt | BCBusiness
Former B.C. Premier Mike Harcourt is the new chair of medical marijuana hopeful True Leaf Medicine Inc.

Mike Harcourt lends his political expertise to medical marijuana hopeful True Leaf Medicine

Few had heard of True Leaf Medicine Inc., the Vernon-based medicinal marijuana start-up, until this week, when the fledgling company announced a big name as its new Chairman of the Board.

Former Vancouver mayor (1980-86) and B.C. premier (1991-96) Mike Harcourt has never really shied away from the fact that he favours legalizing cannabis. In 2011, Harcourt and three other current and former Vancouver mayors—Gregor Robertson, Larry Campbell and Sam Sullivan—signed a letter addressed to all B.C. federal, provincial and municipal elected officials citing the “ineffectiveness and harms of cannabis prohibition.”

Now, Harcourt is taking his appreciation for cannabis to a new high, helping True Leaf in its push to get Health Canada approval to produce and sell medical marijuana; the company hopes to begin production in the Lumby area by the end of 2014. BCBusiness reached Mr. Harcourt at his home in Vancouver to discuss this latest career move.
How did this venture come about for you?
At first, I wasn’t sure, but as I did more research, I became aware of just how little research there had been done. This whole area has been prohibited for 70 years and after talking to pharmacologists and doctors, I came to the conclusion that this would be a helpful company and activity for many people who are dealing with a whole variety of pain management. And that was what interested me.
Many medical companies are starting up and hoping to get licensed. What was different about this one?
The difference for me was that True Leaf is trying to set the standards on what kind of dosage people should take, what kind of strains would help with what particular ailment. There was a real commitment to the product being right for the right ailment. And for me, creating a new enterprise in an area such as Lumby, which has been hurt economically, was appealing.
What made you decide to go more corporate after years in public service?
Some people might not know it, but I’ve been involved in a lot of start-ups over the last five to seven years. I’ve been in five clean energy companies, a couple of life science companies, IT companies and fish farms, modular housing and geothermal companies. I like being involved in the start-up stage, helping them get through and survive.
Would you consider yourself a successful businessman?
Some of the companies are starting to become cash-flow positive, but some just never took off. Some that I did a lot of due diligence on never materialized, some just went south. Making money helps but I don’t need it. It’s being involved in new ideas. That’s what interests me. Four or five bite the bust, one or two may get going and we’ll see how many of the remaining seven or so I have going do well. They all need nurturing, but making money isn’t the reason I’m in it. It’s all about a good idea—whether in energy conservation or storage or medicinal cannabis, they’re all good ideas. Whether you can make money at it—that’s something else.  
Did you ever take medical marijuana after you almost fell to your death in 2002 while at your cabin on Pender Island?
No, I was never in the kind of pain that medical marijuana may have helped. What I had was paralysis and the kind of issues that you have after you go to the dentist and you are frozen. After that fall and the recovery, I regained 80 per cent of basic functions, but 20 per cent is still as a partial quadriplegic. But I did see a lot of people in the health-care community who were dealing with chronic pain and that’s what I bring to the table: an understanding of what some of these people are dealing with daily.
What do you bring to this new era of growing marijuana?
There’s the licensing and setting up the operations—but also, I hope I can help overcome the quite legitimate skepticism and hostility from doctors who believe there’s no evidence based on peer reviews that makes them want to prescribe it for their patients’ ailments. We want to bring in trustworthy standards for doctors and patients. Part of the problem is there’s a raft of people rushing into this. It’s like the Barkerville Gold Rush. But a lot of them aren’t really familiar with the area and some of them are the pump-and-dump crowd. This is going to be a complicated business, and until it shakes down to the viable operators there are lots of people out there wanting in. Eventually there may be 10 to 20 across Canada and two or three in B.C.
Does being a former politician help you get things done?
Hard to read yet. Part of it is I’m a well-known public figure; when I get involved in something, it does tweak a lot of curiosity and public interest. I understand the issue of pain management from my terrible accident 12 years ago and I can understand people who are dealing with nausea from chemotherapy and are suffering from other pain management issues.
Are you aiming to be known as Mike Harcourt, King of Pot?
No! I want to be known as Mike Harcourt, Chairman of the Board, Medical Cannabis.