From hemp masks to mixology, CanEmpire owner Awa Diagne is inspiring stoners everywhere to smash the stigma

Meet Awa Diagne, the owner & CEO of CanEmpire. Based in Canada, the company’s mission is to eliminate the stigma surrounding cannabis through education and by offering unique cannabis-friendly experiences and hemp products. 

Awa sat down with us to share some BIG news regarding her new book, along with some great advice for other stoner entrepreneurs. PSA – this interview may inspire you to quit your day job and become a ganjapreneur, too.

Let’s jump right into the interview!

Awa, thanks for chatting with us today. Tell us a bit about CanEmpire. What inspired you to start the company?

The whole CanEmpire journey started in 2015, on a casual night when my childhood best friend Véronique & I were chatting around and imagining our dream cannabis world. And that was it! Ideas were coming from every side, we were just boosting each other into developing even more ideas! In 2019, after years of silent work, we decided to take the plunge and founded CanEmpire with our 2 other partners Marc-Antoine & Mathieu.

CanEmpire is really the dream & the hustle of young entrepreneurs trying their best to abolish the cannabis stigma all over the world, by creating cannabis-friendly experiences like no other! We are constantly looking to innovate & we keep our focus on offering cannabis-enthusiasts the entertainment they deserve. We believe the more we will talk & create experiences about cannabis, the fewer stigmas will live. It is more than ever a time for more open-mindedness. 

Co-owners and childhood best friends Véronique and Awa. Image credit: CanEmpire

As owner & CEO, what is your day-to-day like?

If I had one word to describe my day-to-day, it would definitely be “multitasking“!

As entrepreneurs, we are constantly learning & the amount of knowledge I acquired just in the last year always surprises me. It’s far from being an easy road every day but looking at our achievements, after all, makes us want to push even further & that’s when we realize the journey is worth the hustle. It’s all about passion!

Cannabis and a delicious cocktail – that’s our ideal of multitasking! Image credit: Maxime Essiambre

What’s a big win you celebrated recently?

Last October, we celebrated CanEmpire’s first year anniversary & it was a really emotional moment for us, probably one we will remember forever. It was so special to just sit back & look at everything we’ve achieved in only one year of activity. Like many other businesses, last year was so challenging with the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have worked a LOT, like… crazy! In April we put together a whole operational process to produce & sell hemp-based protective face masks in only two weeks. That first e-commerce experience was a turning point for us & we started brainstorming on so many future CanEmpire projects, like CanDrinks, our brand new cannabis-infused cocktail recipe book (the first in Canada, yay!). We are extremely proud of how we have risen up from this situation and refused to be crushed by it. I profoundly think that in every hard situation you can see opportunities instead of seeing threats. And that was exactly our mindset following the start of this pandemic.

A peek into CanDrinks, the infused cocktail and mocktail book created by CanEmpire. Image credit: Maxime Essiambre

Publishing a book is a massive accomplishment. Congrats! Tell us a bit about your process and inspiration in writing CanDrinks: Cocktails & Cannabis.

Thank you so much! It is such a memorable experience for our team. Not only was it our first time publishing a book, but we also wanted to make everything ourselves. We have put an incredible amount of work & dedication into this project. So, this book literally comes directly from our souls, haha!

CanDrinks is all about helping people experience safely with the rising trend of cannabis cocktails & enjoy it better. We’ve partnered with Alex Vallieres, a quite talented mixologist from Quebec who developed all the recipes featured in the book.  The combination of CanEmpire’s vision and cannabis expertise plus Alex’s creativity and advanced knowledge of mixology is definitely our major asset. We’ve put this project together in only 4 months (thanks to these long nights of work, haha!) and I can’t even put into words how enriching this experience has been.

Here is a little more about the concept of CanDrinks itself: The book presents 50 cannabis-infused cocktail & mocktail recipes as well as instructions on how to simply infuse the dried cannabis flowers of the reader’s choice directly into alcohol for cocktails and into simple syrup for non-alcoholic mocktails. To help the reader make the best choice of cannabis, we provide terpene (aromatic molecules in cannabis & plants responsible for scents, flavors & even effects of cannabis) suggestions for each cocktail, which represent the best cannabis terpenes to match with the aromas of the cocktail in question. You will also find lots of interesting cannabis knowledge & learn more about cocktails throughout the book. It is intended for both adults with our without experience in mixology or cannabis.

Grab your copy of CanDrinks at the link below. Image credit: Maxime Essiambre

Where can people buy your book, CanDrinks: Cocktails & Cannabis?

CanDrinks book is available right now on CanEmpire’s online store (www.canempire.ca) with worldwide shipping as well as on Amazon in some regions.

An infused Cuba Libre? YUM! Image credit: Maxime Essiambre

If you could hire one celebrity to work at CanEmpire, who would you choose and why?

CanEmpire definitely has a celebrity crush on Seth Rogen, haha! The fact that he is not only Canadian like us but also a proud cannabis advocate makes him the dream partner for us. Of course, we are also dreaming of a collaboration with Uncle Snoop. Let’s see what the future holds for us! *fingers crossed*

Seth and Snoop – give this team a call! Image credit: CanEmpire

Do you consider yourself a “stoner”? Why or why not?

I would describe myself as a “modern stoner” because I believe that the stereotype most people have in mind when they think of a “stoner” is a wrong representation of the actual wide group of cannabis-enthusiasts. Today’s stoner is inclusive. It might be me, you, your mother, uncle, neighbor, colleague, literally anyone! I am completely comfortable sharing my love for cannabis (otherwise, it would be hard to hide haha!) & I dream of a day no one will ever feel embarrassed talking about it.

Inclusivity and cannabis cocktails. We’re HERE for it. Image credit: Maxime Essiambre

What is your favorite way to enjoy cannabis? What strains are you loving right now?

Even if I am more of a “bong person”, I love discovering new ways to enjoy cannabis. For example, my first experience with cannabis cocktails was actually during the testing of CanDrinks recipes & I absolutely loved it. It is a whole new & different sensation! At the moment, my favorite strains are probably Blue Dream for my creative moments & Pink Kush for a late-night chilling.

If we all had a bong, we’d all get along. Image credit: CanEmpire

What music do you listen to while you work?

A few months ago, we’ve put together a Spotify playlist named “CanSongs | The ultimate cannabis-friendly playlist” and that’s basically what I’m listening too everyday! It features over 700 hip hop, rap, reggae & RnB greatest hits, so there is always something for my actual mood! You can follow the playlist here.

Follow up question – how much cannabis does it take to write a whole book? Asking for myself (because, goals). Image credit: Maxime Essiambre

What one piece of advice would you share with women that are aspiring cannabis industry entrepreneurs?

My best advice would be to just go for it & chase your dreams with everything you got, without ever looking back! My forever life motto is “If you can dream it, you can do it!” because I really think success as an entrepreneur is mainly about believing in your dreams & then, work so hard to make them happen that there will be no other way! Get rid of everything & everyone that will ever try to discourage you & make you believe you cannot do it. You have everything it takes to be a successful “girl boss”!

“If you can dream it, you can do it!” Image credit: CanEmpire

Where do you see your company 5 years from now?

We have enormous ambitions for the upcoming years with CanEmpire! We will keep raising the bar & launch unique cannabis-friendly projects. 5 years from now, I see us running a big empire with a united worldwide community. I can’t say too much, but we’re looking at some major projects & trust me, the rest will be history.

Garnish on point. Image credit: Maxime Essiambre

Thanks, Awa! Support this women-owned biz by purchasing CanDrinks, available right now on CanEmpire’s online store (www.canempire.ca) with worldwide shipping as well as on Amazon in some regions.

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