Ashley Athill, Cannabis Cultivator, Educator & Founder

Ashley Athill is the founder of Sensii, an educational cannabis cultivation platform based in Toronto. Here, she tells FLARE how she made it

Ebony-Renee Baker

Ashley Athill; @sensii.cannabis


How do you describe your job to your family?

My family is well-versed in the production of cannabis but for everyone else, I am a cannabis cultivator, educator, and founder of Qi and Sensii.

Where did you go to school and what did you study?

I got my bachelor of business administration from York University and also studied at the world’s first cannabis school: Oaksterdam University in Oakland, California. But my real classroom was in Jamaica, where as a youth, I was put to work on my grandmother’s farm. I was taught about the cultivation of cannabis and its spiritual, physical and psychological benefits as well as natural Indigenous treatments.

What was your first paying gig out of school? (In your field, or not.)

Of course, I didn’t think that cannabis would eventually be legal, so I jumped with both feet into corporate mental health. I went from the front lines to administering and overseeing major contracts. Even though I am a huge mental health advocate, the pull to become an entrepreneur defeated the life of 9-5.

What was your BIG break? How did you land it?

I have been going to Hot Box Café in Toronto’s Kensington Market since the mid ’90s. Through the community, I was introduced to its legendary owner, Abi Roach. My big break was co-founding Ganja School with Abi. We were the first cannabis cultivation school in Canada and had the privilege to educate hundreds of canna-curious individuals and forge the #growyourown movement. *raises fist*

What would you say has been your most significant setback, career-wise, to date? How did you bounce back?

There have been so many missteps in my personal and work life, but I see it all as an opportunity for personal growth. In my early professional corporate career, I developed anxiety that stemmed from trying to please or live up to other people’s standards. This caused much internal turmoil which affected my physical, psychological and spiritual being. Resiliency and a strong connection to source has allowed me to release superficial expectations and create my own empire, including Sensii—my educational cannabis cultivation platform—and now setting the foundation for a licensed production facility.

Name one piece of career advice you always give.

Be knowledgeable about whatever challenge comes your way and—in some cases—take advice but *always* follow your intuition and heart. Nobody knows your path better than you.

What’s the worst career advice you’ve ever gotten?

The worst career advice I have ever gotten was to settle. I would always hear, “Be happy with what you got,” and, “There’s too much competition—just take what you have.” I try to be as ladylike as possible but, fuck that! Break the glass ceiling and don’t even let the sky limit you and your potential.

Who is your favourite person to follow on social media from your industry? What do you love about their social feeds?

I have to give a shout out to the original cannabis lounge, Hotbox Cafe! They have a great lounge space with great people and are growing into something amazing.

A couple of other cannabis Instagram accounts to check out are: @thebis.ca, @thegrowthop, @liffordsolutions, @drlakisha, @dankr.ca, @gfivecultivation and @mieko_perez.

How would you describe your industry in terms of representation and inclusivity?

The cannabis industry is in its infancy so establishing representation is still in progress. It’s not perfect but people everywhere are working hard to change the current status. It is a very white male dominated environment but we are seeing women, other minority groups, the Black community and POCs coming to the forefront to represent the plant and all that it has to offer. With great opportunity comes great responsibility. My organization, Qi, is mentoring select community members on how to navigate and create opportunities with in the commercial cannabis space.

What’s the most pressing issue facing women in your industry right now? What would fix it?

I think we can clearly see that the cannabis industry is set up for the wealthy to flourish. Since the majority of minorities and (some) women tend to be absent in senior management or decision-making positions; automatically, there will be a lack of diversity. Implementing initiatives and or grants for minorities and women from low-income environments to participate in micro-grows, or setting up private retail cannabis stores, would not only provide the industry with a broader reach but will uplift those communities and provide wealth for generations to come.

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