The Rise of Women in Cannabis

The marijuana industry has been ruled by majority men in the past but things are changing as women in cannabis are taking the industry by storm.

While the stereotype of a cannabis entrepreneur is a youthful looking male decked out in stoner gear, the reality of the ground represents a far more gender balanced perspective. As a growing sign of the acceptance of women in cannabis industry, Amy Margolis spearheaded the Oregon Cannabis Association’s first annual Summer Fair. This event held on July 24, 2016 had the distinction of being one of the best run cannabis festivals to date.

Women in Cannabis

An article in TheAtlantic.com quoted Marijuana Business Daily’s report that “women make up about 36 percent of executives in the legal-marijuana industry, compared to about 22 percent of senior managers in other industries. Women hold just 4.2 percent of the CEO positions at S&P 500 companies. At tech companies like Google and Twitter, disproportionately few executives and engineers are women.” In the estimation of Taylor West, Deputy Director, National Cannabis Industry Association, these numbers “really show that this industry isn’t just falling into traditional patterns but is building something new in a meaningful way.”

Women Grow is the largest professional networking organization for women in cannabis industry worldwide, hosts monthly networking events in 40 cities across the United States and in Canada, as well as national events and maintaining a very active online presence via social media. According to Susannah Grossman, Public Relations Director at Women Grow, “We are a for-profit company that connects, educates, and empowers women leaders in the cannabis industry. Women have a once in a lifetime chance to lead a new industry from the outset, and we provide them with the tools and connections they need to succeed as executives and entrepreneurs.

Women Leading the Way in Healing with Marijuana

In particular, females seem to be the dominant force behind developing health & wellness products infused with the healing powers of cannabis. These women and marijuana pioneers demonstrate how cannabis can treat a multitude of medical conditions.

Women like Trista Okel, founder of Empower Bodycare and Cecilia Sivertson, Founder and President of Nana’s Secret and Nana’s Foundation, have a mission to help those in pain find relief through the natural healing properties found in cannabis. For example, after Siverston discovered how essential medical marijuana was as a treatment for her epilepsy, she decided to create Nana’s cannabis infused natural sodas so that others with epilepsy could find similar relief. Presently. She is working to launch Nana’s Foundation to help children with epilepsy in the hopes they can avoid much the medical complications she’s endured from a lifetime diet of pharmaceutical drugs.

Even as cannabis becomes more normalized, in many states, one can still face fines and imprisonment for being a known cannabis user, as well as facing the possible loss of their children and employment. Okel describes her work as reaching out to those who are unaware of the health and wellness aspects of this plant. “I have the privilege of helping to win the hearts and minds of people who would ordinarily never touch cannabis, simply by making products that give safe and effective topical relief of pain, inflammation, and some skin issues. It feels amazing to be able to help so many people and make change.”

Other women like Samantha Montanaro, who operates Prism House PDX out of her home in Portland, provide ancillary services to the cannabis community. Montanaro brings her skills as a graphic designer, stylist, and urban farmer to curate a safe and inviting place for people to gather where cannabis consumption is legal. “My home is my venue, and everyone who comes in takes part in a bigger movement of community and normalization around cannabis.” She notes how women “offer a non-competitive, uplifting model that is not common in male dominated industries. Women are the center of community – we mediate, bring people together and create families.”

The Changing Dynamics of the Cannabis Industry

Alison Draisin, cannabis educator and activist, and CEO of Ettalew’s Medibles, reflects on the shifting dynamics as more women become involved in the cannabis industry, “How men treat women in cannabis is changing, especially as men see cannabis women’s organizations forming. They are recognizing our strength in the movement and industry.”

In Grossman’s estimation, “Women entering the cannabis space bring experiences and values that are pushing conceptions of the industry beyond ‘stoner’ stereotypes. Our empathy and advocacy make us ideal leaders for a socially responsible cannabis sector driven by health and wellness.” As Okel observes, “With the industry/movement crawling out of the shadows and into the light, the ability to make real social change while following our dreams becomes a reality. Through innovation and leadership, we are changing how the world sees this plant and the people who use it.” Draisin adds, “Women get shit done! We are planners and doers.”

According to Okel, “The challenges of being a woman in this industry seem to be melting away as women rise to the top; however, banking and safety issues still remain in this mostly cash industry.” Women tend to be more susceptible to the safety issues involved in any industry where the laws remain in flux. Cannabis may be legal for recreational adult use in Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington State, and Washington, DC with the majority of states permitting legal use of some form of cannabis for medicinal purposes. Yet, because cannabis remains listed under the Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule 1 drug at the federal level, entrepreneurs cannot avail themselves of services such as FDIC insured banks which are readily available to those starting other businesses.

Professional Networking Among Women Cannabis Entrepreneurs

For women looking to become ganjapreneurs, Montanaro suggests getting connected by networking through support groups like Women Grow and NORML Women’s Alliance. “This is a great place to get your feet wet and possibly find a mentor/friend to help you along the way. I am ALWAYS willing to personally spend time offering guidance to anyone who reaches out.”

Sivertson adds that women should do their research and see what other states that legalized cannabis have done. “Then women should get a good brand and head out to a state that’s getting ready to legalize medical marijuana.” Here Grossman notes how cannabis companies that market to women will have a definite advantage in the long haul. ” Women are the chief medical officers and primary purchasers for their households. Once federal legalization occurs and marijuana products are widely available, women will be the largest cannabis consumer group. As today’s cannabis companies plan for future success, they need to think about creating products and workplaces that work for women. Women in cannabis are here to stay.

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