A blooming economy: Business consultant Courtland Sandover-Sly talks about his transition into the cannabis industry

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As the first financial adviser in North America to secure health and dental plans for dispensaries, Courtland Sandover-Sly is one of the few allies fighting for small businesses in the shifting cannabis economy.

“I was in a unique position to help people who had been ignored outright by the financial-services industry,” he says, adding that business owners are usually shocked to discover that they not only qualify for health benefits but can also use traditional investment and insurance products.

The financial consultant began his career in film and theatre, but with his entrepreneurial skill set and thirst for independence, he knew his time in the entertainment industry had an expiry date. After seven years working as a stagehand and grip, he left show biz and pursued a bachelor of commerce from Royal Roads University on Vancouver Island.

Graduating in 2014, he joined Freedom 55 Financial and began the training program for financial advisers. It took just six months before he realized his work with the cannabis industry was pulling him away from the company’s traditional approach to advising businesses.

He knew then it was time to take the full leap to the world of weed.

“To be able to offer that same level of consideration and diligence to the cannabis industry, I branched out on my own to create Sandover-Sly Financial, a boutique financial-services firm for the cannabis industry,” he says. Since starting his outfit, he has helped more than 20 companies transition into viable businesses, including dispensaries, growers, and extractors.

As one of Canada’s only financial advisers specializing in the weed economy, Sandover-Sly says the major hurdle for canna businesses stems from political institutions struggling to evolve with the times.

“One of the biggest challenges…in the prelegalization era has been the reluctance of government, at all levels, to wholly embrace the industry,” he says.

“While municipalities like Vancouver and Victoria have been quick to embrace these businesses, provincial governments and, certainly, the federal government have not.”

This year, Sandover-Sly launched Groundwork Consulting alongside policy consultant Jamie Shaw and cultivator Travis Lane. The agency was created to help the group’s colleagues transition into the newly regulated market and navigate the “murky waters” of legalization.

“The vast economic uncertainty that the industry has been facing has taken a toll, not just on the businesses but on the business owners themselves. Many business owners in the space have simply given up and walked away, which is especially disheartening, as it should be their time to shine.”

Sandover-Sly also dedicates a large portion of his time to volunteering as the president of the B.C. Independent Cannabis Association, a nonprofit organization made up of members from various facets of the province’s long-standing cannabis economy.

What started in Victoria as a community forum for B.C.’s thriving cannabis industry has quickly grown into an educational platform, offering industry-focused informational seminars and networking opportunities.

Just a few weeks shy of the federal legalization of adult-use cannabis, Sandover-Sly believes many business owners and organizations still feel like they are being pushed out of the legitimate side of the industry. He hopes to change that with his latest venture.

“We [Groundwork Consulting] hope to show people that this doesn’t have to be true. There is plenty of room in the legal space for everyone.”

Great ganja: Cannabis consultant Courtland Sandover-Sly shares his favourite strain for work and play.