Trailblazer: Jaclynn Pehota

By: Myles Shane

“My father’s journey with cancer and cannabis showed me the benefits of cannabis in a medical capacity. Pancreatic cancer is guaranteed to kill you. The only question is will it be a quick or slow death,” says Jaclynn Pehota as her voice quivered, remembering her father’s painful battle with the killer disease which reared its ugly head in 2008. Miraculously, her dad was able to live with the ominous disease for eight years until his body could no longer fight it, and his last eight months were spent in palliative care. During this last chapter, his body was in relentless agony. Pehota decided she could no longer accept being a passenger on the roller coaster ride called life. She had to do something, anything, to help her dad. Luckily, a friend happened to know some people involved with Sensible BC—a non-profit that at the time was working towards decriminalizing cannabis. Sensible BC suggested her father use cannabis for his pain. Her father tried high doses of CBD which thankfully alleviated his anguish allowing him to live out the remainder of his days in relative peace.

“I wanted to help ensure that its legalization represented a net positive for the Canadian public.”

 “My experience learning from and working with the activists at Sensible BC opened my eyes to how generous the medical cannabis community can be to the patients it supports,” she explains. At the time she had been working in the insurance field and telecom industry for over a decade, but these new experiences ignited a passion inside her, a reason to stand up and fight for her beliefs. It led her to become a professional advocate in the world of cannabis. “I transitioned into advocacy for the recreational cannabis sector because of the love for the plant I found volunteering as a medical advocate,” she says. “I wanted to help ensure that its legalization represented a net positive for the Canadian public.”

 A Cannabis Advocate

Once legalization was announced, Pehota and her partner began to meet with dispensaries in Vancouver to organize and create policy recommendations to hopefully influence the federal government’s approach to legalization. Concurrently, she started working with business owners to secure various land use concessions and municipal licensing in Vancouver. That work eventually carried over into the recreational market. In fact, her firm Althing Consulting Services did the licensing work for Evergreen Cannabis, the first legal licensed retail store in Vancouver.

While the guidelines of legalization in Canada were being developed, Pehota had the opportunity to serve as a director of several non-profits that were focused on creating and submitting policy recommendations to the federal government and advocating for an approach that would take into consideration the economic viability of the sector as well as public health and safety. Later this work would take Pehota closer to home. “I began engaging with the BC Cannabis Secretriat on policy related to retail, distribution, and the transition of the unregulated and medical markets. Through that work I came to work with the Board at the Association of Canadian Cannabis Retailers (ACCRES) and began to volunteer there.” Six months later she transitioned into the role of Executive Director.

“We’ve helped over 60 cannabis businesses join the legal market.”

While continuing her work with advocacy groups, Pehota has also used her skills to form a consultancy with her partner Ian Dawkins. Dawkins specializes in federal production and processing, retail licensing, cannabis business development, and municipal land use navigation. “I can say proudly we’ve helped over 60 cannabis businesses join the legal market by helping secure licensing.”

As the Executive Director of ACCRES for the last three years, Pehota says, “My priorities have focused on securing tools for private retailers like door delivery and direct to retail supply sales in order to help them compete with the unregulated market.” ACCRES is focused on ensuring a vibrant and viable private cannabis retail sector in BC. Pehota notes, “We’re working for a cannabis sector that uplifts all British Columbians by creating quality jobs and generating tax revenue.”

Over a decade after Pehota had to acquire cannabis illegally to help alleviate her father’s pain from pancreatic cancer, today doctors in many countries around the world are prescribing cannabis for patients who have long-standing, painful medical conditions.