Enticed By New Frontiers In Legal Marijuana

Jillian Swainson becomes general counsel at Aurora Cannabis

Ben Freeland - 11 June 2018

Jillian Swainson had every reason to be confident that her academic background in law and commerce would position her for an exciting career in business law. Yet the industry she's now a part of didn't even exist at the time she graduated from University of Alberta Law in 2007.

In February, Swainson became general counsel and senior vicepresident of Edmonton-based Aurora Cannabis Inc., one of Canada's three largest licensed producers of medical cannabis.

"I certainly never thought I'd be telling my 93-year-old grandmother that I'm going to work for a cannabis company," said Swainson.

"That said, I've been working closely with Aurora for the past four years and they ended up becoming my main client, so it was a natural move."

Swainson, a Red Deer native who earned a bachelor of commerce at the University of Alberta prior to enrolling in UAlberta Law, joins the team at Aurora after a decade-long stint at Brownlee LLP in Edmonton, where she was a partner.

At Brownlee she handled a wide range of business law matters, including corporate, commercial, intellectual property and securities work. She also developed a working relationship with Aurora's founders, CEO Terry Booth and president Steve Dobler.

As Aurora's go-to legal advisor, Swainson became enthralled with the breakneck pace of change in the burgeoning medical cannabis industry.

"It's a totally new industry, and one in which Canada is leading the world," she said. "The pace of change in this sector is so fast that six months in the cannabis industry is like six years in virtually any other industry. It's exciting to say the least."

Alberta has embraced the industry and is in the process of developing a sensible legislative and business model for adult use recreational cannabis, she said.

"The province has undertaken extensive consultations with the public and with industry experts and is charting the right course … contrast that with Ontario, which has announced that they will only have 40 retailers for a population of over 14 million."

Public attitudes around cannabis are transforming as quickly as the industry itself, she said.

"Two years ago, most people still weren't taking this industry seriously. Today we have more and more people in suits with MBAs entering the cannabis world and working alongside the old guard, as well as various other professionals recognizing how significant this sector is going to be in Canada and globally."

Swainson believes that her UAlberta Law education, with its focus on legal fundamentals, stand her in great stead as her career takes this unexpected turn.

"My instructors really taught me how to think outside the box about the law and be creative. In the industry I'm in, practically everything is brand new and with little if any precedent, and the education I received, plus my formative experience at Brownlee, was the best training ground for this that I could have hoped for."