Expert Insights From Volteface Director Paul North

Copy of Marketing Professional (7)

Securing a position in the cannabis industry can be challenging, and it can be difficult to know exactly where to begin. Lumino spoke with Paul North, Director at Volteface to share his insights, from the perspective of a drug policy professional in the cannabis industry.


How long have you been involved in the industry?


I have been working in the industry for just over three years.


What were you doing before you joined?


Prior to working at Volteface, I was a manager in a drug and alcohol treatment service. Alongside this role, I also lectured and taught students on addiction, criminology, and drug education.


What was the thought process that drove you to the industry?


I became perpetually frustrated with the harms that the UK’s drug policies were doing to the clients my service was working with. I started doing talks and training on addiction and realised that there was a huge opportunity to better educate policymakers, politicians, the media, and wider society on drug-related harm. I quickly came across Volteface as a leading voice in this area, and after enquiring into the opportunities that existed in this space was interviewed and offered a job.


Based on your previous experience — what skills and expertise have you brought forward with you that have been useful?


In the field of drug treatment, you are constantly learning how to change people’s opinions both theoretically and in practice. I taught myself numerous interventions and techniques to motivate people and read extensively on the psychology of motivation and decision making. For nine years I tried these techniques both in therapeutic settings and in lectures halls/classrooms.

What I learnt during this time has been incredibly useful in my current role. Our instincts on changing people’s opinions are often way off the mark, and we quickly resort to presenting evidence as a way of showing others we are correct and they are wrong. I learnt how the key to changing people’s opinions is based around narratives and developing a process of education which is empowering rather than top down.

I use these same approaches and skills now in my current role and think there is a real need for those who work in political engagement, advocacy and wider lobbying to consider the years of evidence we have on this subject. Changing people’s opinions is far harder than people think and there are some incredible insights to be gained from studying the fields of psychology and motivation.


What was the attraction to this space?


Ultimately the opportunity to reduce drug related deaths and harms. I have seen far too many people die and be negatively harmed through drug use. Working in a space where you are given the chance to change the law and reduce harm is an absolute privilege. The sadness and loss I saw while I worked in treatment is what continually attracts me to work hard and push for more liberal reform of our drug laws.


What were your assumptions and expectations before joining this industry?


I expected it to be hard work, rewarding and fast-paced (which it most certainly is).


Where did you get your information and research from before you joined?


Through a lot of googling and discussion with the previous Volteface team. Co-Director of Volteface Liz McCulloch was incredibly supportive and informative on what I should expect as was CMC and Volteface Founder Steve Moore.


Now that you’re in the industry, what is it actually like? What are the actual challenges?


It is an exceptionally rewarding industry to work in and no day is ever the same, but it does demand a lot. You need to work really hard to keep your knowledge base up to date and build networks in a space which sees a lot of change.

As the space is constantly changing and evolving it creates uncertainty around the type of work you will be doing and how you will be working with. From an advocacy perspective, you need to be able to change your focus quickly and find new ways of engaging people. You cannot rely on work you have done previously to keep the momentum of reform going and must be flexible in your planning.

If you enjoy fast-changing environments and can adopt a flexible approach to your work, it is the most incredible space to be involved in. Drug reform is taking place rapidly around the globe and if it is an area you care about this is the time to be at the forefront of change.


Without giving away too many insider secrets, what is it that you’re working on with Volteface at the moment?


We recently launched ‘Pleasant Lands’, a campaign to unlock hemp farming in the UK and allow for CBD to be extracted from UK hemp. Our hemp laws are archaic and in desperate need of reform and we feel this campaign will be a real landmark moment for the industry.


What advice would you give to anyone looking to get involved in the industry?


Be bold and assertive in exploring opportunities for work in the industry. I always encourage people to start writing blog posts, develop an active social media presence, and create a network of key people in the industry. At Volteface we are always happy to connect with people who are interested in this space and feel as though they have something to offer.


Where do you see the industry going?


With regards to the cannabis industry, we will see legal markets emerging around the globe in rapid succession. Economic uncertainty will accelerate change, and the next five years will see a vast increase in the scale and scope of the industry. Although the North American markets have struggled in the past six months these problems will be resolved as regulation is amended and market expectations aligned. Cannabis reform is no longer a pipe dream or taboo subject, it is mainstream, achievable and an incredibly exciting space to work in.

Want more content like this? Never miss the latest industry updates and insights by subscribing to The Lumino Newsletter.