I Traded My Job For A Cannabis Start-Up

May Nazair, now 43, made a radical change in 2016 to leave a stable career and join a small cannabis start-up.

illustration of a woman walking through a field of marijuana plants

Illustration, Holly Stapleton.

I’m a city girl. I worked in Toronto as a financial planner and a business consultant. But then, in 2005, my husband was offered a job through the Campbellton Regional Hospital in New Brunswick, and suddenly we were living in a little speck of a town—7,000 people in the middle of nowhere. My kids were five and two when we arrived. It was hard, and my marriage didn’t survive the move: Eight months later, we split up. But I wanted my kids to have a relationship with their dad, so I wasn’t going to return to the city.

Being in such a small community was like career suicide. But I thought, “I’m intelligent. I’m resourceful. I can make it work.” I got involved with the government, evaluating funding proposals for businesses. I taught statistics at the University of Moncton. There was no youth centre in the area, so I got all kinds of organizations together and raised upwards of $2 million to set one up, and then I ran that.

One day, a dad at the youth centre who was involved with local economic development asked if I was looking for a change. He had become friends with one of the owners of Zenabis. I looked at him and was like, “You mean the pot factory? You want me to work at the pot factory?” I’m going to go from a non-profit, taking care of teens, to a brand new industry—cannabis, of all things? Cannabis wasn’t even on my radar. I’m a wine mom!

A woman wearing blue scrubs and hair net stands pruning a cannabis plant in a large greenhouse
Photo, David Corkum, Corkum Photographics.

I was really torn about what to do. I kept trying to listen to my inner voice, but it wasn’t talking. I remember calling my mom, and she said, “What are you waiting for? This entire time, you’ve been trying to convince me you should take the job—take the job!” And I was like, oh, there’s my inner voice.

When I started in December 2016, Zenabis was in this massive warehouse, and it was dark, damp and dirty. I was the fourth employee. The CEO, the project manager, the quality assurance manager and I sat face to face at our desks in the empty space. There wasn’t a working furnace, so I worked in my coat. I was the HR manager, the compliance manager, head of licensing, manager of communications—every role you could think of, I juggled it.

There was white tape on the cement floor, marking where everything was going to go, and we’d walk people around the warehouse, saying, “See, these are the flower rooms, the vegetative rooms, the irrigating rooms, the clone rooms; this is where we’ll be trimming, drying, packaging; this is where waste destruction will take place.” But I kept thinking, “Do I really have a future here? We don’t have a licence yet from Health Canada. We’re not producing. What the hell am I doing?” I went online to start looking for work I could do from home at night. I had kids to provide for—I was stressed out.

And then truckloads of equipment came in: insulated panel walls, plumbing, stainless steel tables, shelving, along with contractors in safety vests. We went from an abandoned warehouse to this buzzing mini city. We got our licence in August 2017, and at our holiday Christmas party that year, we had 14 staff. A year later, we had 150. Today, we’re at 350 employees. I go to the production facility, and half the town is there. I know most of them.

When anybody who knows me hears I’m working at a cannabis company, their jaw drops to the floor. I was a goody two-shoes. I never smoked a day in my life, lived clean, exercised.

Right after legalization, I did finally try marijuana. I worried it would make me confused, disoriented, lethargic—like a vegetable. My friends huddled around me saying, “Tell us what you’re thinking, tell us what you’re feeling.” I was like, “Oh, I understand now why people say they feel high.” I felt like a marionette being held up by strings! I felt elevated, whereas when I’m drinking alcohol, I feel weighed down. So I don’t touch alcohol as much anymore. I’ve become a real cannabis advocate.