With constant shifts in legislation and technology, alongside the changing perspectives around cannabis use, it takes a special, innovative mind to traverse the world of cannabis marketing. As a storyteller with a data-focused strategy, and experience in a number of industries, Lisa Harun is one of them.
Harun first combined her love of technology with her passion for cannabis as medicine in 2013 after founding her patient-centered vaporizer company, Vapium. After building three brands under the Vapium brand, it merged with Grenco Science, which owns the vaporizer brand G Pen.
Harun is currently the chief marketing officer at G Pen. While she admitted that, collectively as an industry, we haven’t navigated the cannabis industry perfectly, Harun is eager for the road ahead.
“We are still in the infancy, building the foundation for this industry. This is brick building time. Some brick have been laid, but there’s still so much work to be done so that the industry may flourish”.
Harun Finds Footing in a Communications Career
Born and raised in
“I thought it was always so gross that it was lumped in with all of these other substances — it was just misclassified,” she said. Harun witnessed some of the medicinal benefits of cannabis first hand in her 20s, when she started using it for her insomnia.
“I’ve suffered from insomnia for all of my life, to the point where I would sleep maybe one or two hours,” Harun said. “It was really bad, especially during university, exams. You manage through it, but at the same time, you’re like, ‘That’s insane.’ Like, that’s not healthy. That’s not right. So, it helped.”
While Harun embraced the therapeutic potential of the plant, she didn’t jump right into the cannabis industry. She started her career in marketing and writing, drawn to the field because of its focus on communication. Sure, there’s a sales aspect, but Harun said if you are creating or driving a product you believe in, it’s about education and how to connect to other people.
“It’s not simply about buying your products, turning people into customers – but how do you build a community? By being authentic. By connecting with people. Answering the question: How are you making somebody’s life better by what you’re putting on the market?”
If anything, taking some time to explore the vast world of marketing, outside of cannabis, primed Harun for her later plunge into the cannabis space.
She worked as an intern for the United Nations and lived in Africa for about a decade, which helped to instill her own personal modus operandi: helping people and having purpose. Looking back on her middle class upbringing, working for everything she has, Harun said that centering gratitude is crucial in all of her work.
Her time in Africa was cut short, when a development project Harun was working on lost all its funding. “It was really hard, life changed overnight,” she said. After returning to Canada, her cannabis career began to take shape: “It’s been an interesting path — it’s not linear,” Harun said.
Embracing Cannabis and Technology
Back in Canada, Harun started working for a non-governmental organization while merchandising for another company. She had always had her eye on fashion, and even in Africa, she worked with Black Economic Empowerment (BEE), where she helped young designers find opportunities in their fields. She always loved business and had a new opportunity to work with a designer, so Harun took the leap and ultimately ran a menswear company for five years, “a hybrid of traditional and high-end clothing,” she said.
At a certain point, she sought out venture capital (VC) to continue scaling the business, only to find that fashion, especially in Canada, often doesn’t get investors. After connecting with folks further immersed within the fashion world who affirmed the challenges within the industry, Harun decided to shift gears.
“What I learned was that the VC world is difficult, especially for a woman, and that still holds true today,” she said. Ironically, she was offered a job from the VC, vetting companies and building strategy for those they invested in. One such company they invested in was a toy asset and she was brought on to help run the toy company, which led her to meet her Vapium partner and co-founder, roboticist Michael Trzecieski.
After meeting Trzecieski and collaborating on robotic toy concepts, he approached Harun with a new idea: a vaporizer. Harun was unsure, but admittedly fascinated, so she decided to take the plunge.
At the time, the early 2010s, the vaporizer market was not highly saturated, so Harun felt like
Part of being a company leader and marketing professional is standing behind the product wholeheartedly, Harun said. She understands the rigorous testing that goes into the vaporizers; helped build the team and truly believes in them. She also understands the need to consume cannabis in a safe and productive way.
“A good vaporizer isn’t cheap. This is an investment in your lungs,” she said. “You chose my brand(s) because we operate with ethical guidelines. We’re not doing this just for profit. We’re doing something we think is important, necessary and that matters.”
At its core, Harun sees Vapium as a technology company. With one recreational brand and two medical, the company became
“Pharmaceuticals are a different beast, but I love the fact that they had their eye [out] and they were open to it. They saw us as a technology company,” Harun said, adding that the technology Vapium developed also plays a role in smoking cessation.
Taking on G Pen and Broadening the Scope
While she’s already traversed a number of different fields, Harun said that marketing requires constant evolution and learning. There’s no “plug and play” or right answer, she said, and merging Vapium with
“The merger allowed us to broaden our perspective,” Harun said. “Its a larger portfolio — that is really exciting — and different people that we get to work with, this is a time for change and growth.”
Harun said the biggest distinction between Vapium and G Pen is the customer base. Vapium was always considered an “outdoor brand,” where G Pen was always at the apex of music entertainment and community. While of course there is overlap, there’s also a benefit in having a number of different focuses.
Not to mention
“I get excited about the products, because they get better and better,” she said. “The team is excited, the industry is changing and it’s still fun. I think that’s the element of it, right? It’s business at the end of the day, but it’s still fun, and ultimately, we get to help people.”
Harun also mentioned the importance of accessibility in product design, not only for folks with conditions like arthritis that simply need easy-to-use products, but harkening back to the communal elements at the core of the cannabis space.
“Our goal is to make products so great that you’re like, ‘Not only do I love them for myself, but I want everybody in my community to know about them, to use them, to get involved, share with them, buy for them.’”
Whether you are young or old, a new cannabis user or seasoned pro, she says G Pen has something to offer.
Honoring the Past and Preparing for the Future
In exploring the conversation of cannabis and community, Harun gave G Pen Founder
Harun references Snoop, alongside other iconic musicians and pop culture icons from the ‘90s, who openly shared their love for the cannabis plant at a time where it was still considered fairly deviant in the mainstream.
“These [songs] are bangers and bring back so many special memories, but beyond the cool factor, they believed in the power of the plant. They had to fight through so much adversity and through so many things, with some jail time, because of these little misdemeanor things. You’re like, ‘C’mon,’ and now look at them! It’s amazing.”
Looking ahead, Harun is simply eager for G Pen’s continued evolution and contributions to culture, all the while making people’s lives a bit better and easier. For the cannabis community as a whole, she’s eager to see more inclusion, namely more women, people of color and LGBTQ+ folks taking the reins. Referencing her own experience as a woman in the industry, and the first female board member at G Pen, Harun said things are changing, just not quickly enough.
“I love my team — they’re like my brothers — but women just come with a different perspective. So I want to see more women at the table. I want to see more products for women… There’s a lot of opportunity there.”
Harun also said that access to capital is a huge issue for women entering the industry, with all kinds of phenomenal ideas for women that still haven’t seen the light of day. “I would love to see that change… I hope to be part of that change,” she said.
There’s still a lot of work to do. Harun pointed to the many people
“We have decades of research and understanding of the plant,” she said. “The thing that we’re able to do right now is to take that and how do we apply it, but at least from our perspective, and we’re getting better and more savvy with it, there’s so there are miles to go.”
Envisioning a potential
Harun looks back on her experience, and her current role as chief marketing officer at G Pen, feeling “really fortunate,” calling this journey a “once-in-a-lifetime sort of thing.”
“It makes it feel that much more rewarding, being able to build this, learn and grow and see how much our business has changed over the years – and doing this with people that I love and respect — that’s really really special.”