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In the trade of helping people

Cannabis leader and advocate Michael Forbes details the Forbes Group company web

April 8, 2024  By Haley Nagasaki

“I’ve been in the trade of helping people for a long time.”

Michael Forbes, recently named one of Canada’s top 50 leaders in cannabis, cultivated his business acumen long ago.

With a background in medicine and experience developing pharmacies and clinics in Western Canada, Forbes found success in the real estate market, eventually paving the way for his licensed cannabis producers and retail chains. The many verticals he oversees with their overlapping interests collectively known as the Forbes Group, demonstrates the validity of his leadership in cannabis, while highlighting an eclectic business narrative engineered with social consciousness at its core.   

After receiving a BSc in Pharmaceutical Sciences from UBC, Forbes began his career as a pharmacist in Calgary, and later, “after numerous failed attempts,” finally opened his own pharmacy in Langford, B.C. – his home province. “It took me six months of savings to make it (without drawing any income), and it took nine months to make a dollar,” he says.

Forbes conducted himself frugally at the time, while also raising his son. “Those days really shaped my business sense and taught me to only spend on what’s needed.”


During the first nine months of operations, “I literally had to pick and choose between keeping the lights on and ensuring we had enough medications in stock ” he says. “I was janitor, CEO and pharmacist all in one.” From there he opened a second and third location, by “incorporating savings to increase cash flow,” which is how he got into real estate and cannabis businesses.  

“The second store was a methadone pharmacy,” says Forbes. In 2010, he was approached by the CDC and the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA), asking if he would run a pilot project called the Pandora Needle Exchange in Victoria’s downtown. “It’s common sense,” he says. “If you prevent patients from sharing needles, you’re going to reduce diseases entering the general population.”   

Though he was doing it for free, still contentious illicit drug use sounded the alarm and incited the involvement of law enforcement and the subsequent harassment of patients on his clinic’s doorstep. Forbes eventually responded and relieved police pressure through dialogue with them. 

“I’ve been in the trade of helping people for a long time,” he says. 

When cannabis legalization entered onto the scene, Forbes was approached by prospecting industry players. Interested in the medical side of cannabis, in 2013 he submitted an application for micro producer Sitka Weed Works – now Sitka Legends. Due to “government bureaucracy,” it wasn’t until 2017 that Sitka was licensed. 

After establishing two cannabis retail chains, Honeycomb and Clarity, Forbes also became involved with large scale cannabis extractor Adastra.  “I knew the shareholders,” he says, “and it was facing some issues.” One of the shareholders asked for help, “so I bootstrapped that and turned it around. It wasn’t easy, and I don’t know why I did it other than I just wanted to help.”

Forbes attributes the growth in sales and putting Adastra on the map to “the hard work of the team for  achieving this amazing turnaround story.”

Initiating psychedelic dovetailing

With an influx of Canadian cannabis companies amending their licenses for the research and production of psychedelics and other controlled substances, Forbes and Adastra – due to bootstrapping abilities and frugality – were among the first to do this. 

“When you see other companies building facilities, I scratch my head,” he says, asking “why aren’t you simply integrating it into the existing cannabis infrastructure?”  Forbes points out that amending licenses comes at little cost to the license holder. 

While psilocybin is not commodified the way cannabis is and hemp was prior to prohibition, the market conditions for the production and sale of the natural substance remains unclear due to consumption volume and therefore the demand among consumers. However, Forbes argues that when comparing the safety profiles of cannabis and psilocybin, psilocybin is actually safer. “There’s less risk of addiction or abuse,” he says.  

 It seems the regulation of psilocybin-containing mushrooms is on the horizon in Canada, and Forbes proposes a simpler solution than reliving the legal complexities experienced during the introduction of the Cannabis Act. This approach would bypass the need to further amend subsidiary laws such as driving and residential for specific psychedelic use.  

Psilocybin can be grown in a cannabis facility, and dispensaries could in theory sell mushroom products next to cannabis. Instating a Cannabis and Psilocybin Act would mean “dovetailing it all the way through the same infrastructure,” says Forbes. “While I’m against the recreational legalization of some of the other potentially stronger synthetics for Canadians, I do support the legalization of psilocybin.”

If regulators adopted this approach, it could help alleviate the struggling cannabis industry by enabling producers to sell psilocybin. “I like psychedelics, I just think some of them have bigger risks than others,” says Forbes. “So, we have to look at what’s safe; what makes sense. I believe that psilocybin stands separately from the other ones.”

Can industry and social justice intersect?

Last year alone, Adastra made the Canadian federal government well over 10 million in excise taxes. “Do you think that they’ve done enough to curb the illicit market?” asks Forbes. Meanwhile, Sitka stands out as possibly Canada’s only micro-cultivator park, “licensed for individual growers to produce premium craft flower in personal, customized units.”

The development of 10 nurseries assists legacy growers in their transition to the legal market, introducing leading talent into the regulated market, and merging industry with tradition.

The Forbes Group also encompasses two cannabis retail chains, and at one point, he held 77 licenses in Canada, saying “ethically, I think it’s much better than owning a liquor store.” Another distinctive quality of these companies is the cultivation of female entrepreneurial leadership. Forbes comments on the team approach at his operations, where the company “plays into everybody’s unique strengths,” and in doing so, has built a desirable work culture by being kind to people.  

Forbes sees a potential future merging of psychedelics into the existing cannabis space, “and I see the clinical side of psychedelics merging into longevity; that’s what I’m working on doing.” Transcending the struggle for basic necessities and social equities is the prevalent desire for longevity and wellness into old age. Forbes’ passions also includes self-care through the expression of Ageless Living – a tri-location B.C. clinic offering treatments for healthy hormones, biohacking and support for achieving personalized goals. 

The commonalities shared among these verticals reflect West Coast culture, with its ties to legacy growing, drug history and the pursuit of safe supply.

Despite gaps in government contributions and the worsening opioid and mental health epidemic, advocates for the proper use of drugs as tools for harm reduction and healing will continue to dominate, eventually moving from grass roots advocacy to destigmatized mainstream programs with the intent of saving and bettering lives. 

Individual states of health are vast as they are subjective, and legislative change must occur to achieve these fundamental treatments, “and hopefully with a new government we will see that because it is a legal, viable business,” he says. 

For cannabis businesses in 2024, Forbes recommends pacing yourself through the hardships. He says, “I go where the problems are, unfortunately,” though prefers to spend his time in nature: Stanley Park, specifically. 

While Forbes works with a spectrum of drugs of all different rankings, in response to our societal disconnection from nature, it is advocacy for plant medicine over synthetics that he pinpoints as a potential remedy for our collective malaise. 

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