Trailblazer: Pierre Leclerc of AQIC

By: Anne-Marie Fischer

“When you are a young industry, and you need changes because you’re greatly regulated, or overly regulated, you need to make sure you speak as one voice, with someone to bring everyone together and do the work,” says industry trailblazer Pierre Leclerc, CEO and General Manager of the Québec Cannabis Industry Association (AQIC) (l’Association québécoise de l’industrie du cannabis).

This is exactly what Leclerc is doing through his role. Currently, with 80 members, AQIC is a community-building space for Québec companies to share business best practices. AQIC also monitors, analyzes, and responds to policy at all government levels, including recently submitting a list of 30 recommendations for Health Canada’s review of the Cannabis Act.

Coming To Cannabis Through Politics

Leclerc has a diverse professional background that spans tree-planting, LED lighting, and AI technology, shifting to study law and work in politics. His roles within the Québec provincial government include Advisor to the Deputy Premier Minister responsible for Small and Medium Enterprises, Special Advisor for the Public Health Minister, and Chief of Staff.

Leading up to legalization, Leclerc managed the cannabis file for Québec. “I’ve been there all along through the expert summits, public consultations that led us across every region of the province,” he recalls. “I had great discussions, and I met people I can call my friends now.”

“It was a file that I had really worked hard on for the Québec legislation, even if people think we were too strict or restrictive,” he says.

Building a Cannabis Ecosystem in Québec

Leclerc’s role, which he began at the member funded AQIC in 2021, is “to create the strategic network between individuals and organizations.” He notes, “Large companies and small companies do not have the same needs, so our services and business solutions are adapted to their specific needs.”

“We came into the market really late,” he says. “We are in a really good spot in Québec because we have privately owned companies that are profitable.” He explains that a slow and smaller-scale start led most companies to see profitability. He would like to see more public cannabis companies have their home base in the province.

“AQIC looks at the entire ecosystem around cannabis.”

AQIC looks at the entire ecosystem around cannabis, creating partnerships within hemp, pharmaceuticals, technology, research and development, and higher education.

The members’ area on the AQIC website has a cannabis marketplace where members advertise products and services to other members. The AQICex program centrally facilitates exports of Québec-grown cannabis internationally. “I think we truly have a Québec cannabis community,” Leclerc says. “Everybody knows each other, everybody helps each other, even competitors. It’s a very tight community.”

Bridging the Gap Between Legislation & Reality

Leclerc directly sees how Québec’s legislation affects those in the industry. “The way we designed our legislation was with a protection of the Québecer’s health in regards to high THC products,” Leclerc explains, “Every part of the plant now can’t be used because of the regulations.”

He says this has caused questions for producers about how to handle biomass. Friends and researchers have helped him see the real-life impact of the definition of the whole plant, which explicitly includes all the parts or extracts of the plant, so all the minor cannabinoids are considered in the same way.

“Nothing needs to be undone, just changed,” he says.

Integrating Québec with Canada & The Globe

Leclerc hopes to see more integration between Québec’s cannabis industry and the rest of Canada. There is a common misconception among Canada’s producers that the SQDC only takes products from Québec, but more than half of the provincial retailer’s SKUs are from outside the province, so licensed producers have an opportunity to engage more French Canadians. “If brands don’t communicate in French on the social networks, they don’t reach the clients that are shopping at the SQDC.”

“We have to put resources on a global level.”

AQIC is also stepping up on the global stage. “We are at the point now that if we want our industry to survive, succeed, and grow, we have to put resources on a global level,” Leclerc says. A large area of advocacy is changing the classification of cannabis within the United Nations. “If it’s not changed, it’ll take years to see any progress for cannabis or hemp,” he remarks.

Leclerc is proud of Québec’s cannabis industry and his work within it. “AQIC is the space where everyone can share their vision and, through a process, get to an understanding and come up with a vision for the entire industry,” he says. “I think we’ve done well so far.”