Welcome to Marijuana Venture’s second annual issue dedicated to the women who are leaders and innovators in the cannabis industry. Rather than listing the most important or most successful women, we wanted to highlight a cross-section of farmers and retail store owners, investors and activists. We wanted to feature women who had never graced the pages of Marijuana Venture before, either as contributors or as the subjects of stories.
Enjoy this year’s special issue on women in the cannabis industry, and please, let us know about the extraordinary women we didn’t include so we can make sure our coverage of the marijuana business is as comprehensive as the industry deserves. Email suggestions to Editor@MarijuanaVenture.com.
My Strength: The Women of Cannabis
I hold in high regard the women who have chosen to contribute their energy, passion and time to the development of the cannabis industry, and encourage all to celebrate and support them. They are my sisters, my strength and my community. They represent my hope for the future.
It has come to the attention of mainstream media that there are a number of women in leadership roles in the cannabis community. Articles discussing this trend often cite a low barrier to entry and the absence of an established good ole boys’ club controlling the industry as possible explanations. I believe the reasons the cannabis industry has attracted so many talented women are a bit more complex than this.
Women have historically been disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs. Although most individuals who have been charged with drug distribution and manufacturing are men, incarceration impacts entire families and communities. In a country with higher prison population rates than any other country, the impacts of the drug war and our flawed criminal justice system are far-reaching. We are in what appears to be the final days of the drug war, and the end of prohibition seems within grasp. However, the end of prohibition cannot be accomplished unless women around the country stand up to insist these policies be changed. Women can no longer sit and watch their husbands, brothers and children be victimized by the unjust and ineffective War on Drugs. They are being called to the front lines to help create change.
Many of the women I interact with recognize the opportunity that a new industry provides for us to improve the world. In the circles of women I belong to, discussions often include the pain, stress and struggles endured to ensure the very existence of the cannabis plant. Many share in the belief that there is a reason this plant has been preserved for future generations, and it has to do with more than just its recreational and medical uses.
There are many women, like me, who believe that when we come together as an industry, we can create great things and heal many, including the earth. This feminist movement within the cannabis industry is striving to set a new bar for corporate responsibility. Our vision includes placing consumer safety, people and sustainability ahead of profits. I hope we will continue to celebrate and support the wonderful women in this industry and pursue the vision many of them share.
This can be done in a number of ways:
– Seeking out and working with women-owned companies;
– Supporting regulations that are friendly to small businesses and the environment;
– Using socially and environmentally friendly business practices;
– Avoiding the objectification of women in advertising;
– Providing employment opportunities to those impacted by the War on Drugs;
– Becoming politically engaged;
– Striving to keep most business purchases local and small;
– Protecting cannabis consumers;
– Investing in each of our communities in any way we are able;
– Supporting continued cannabis law reform.
The women of the cannabis industry and legalization movement possess high expectations for the future of this plant, industry and world. They are great believers in the power individuals possess and the impact they can have as they lead by example. In a world where corporations consistently choose profits over people and the health of the earth, we as an industry can prioritize differently. We can choose to operate socially and environmentally conscious businesses as the standard. After all, this is a new industry. We have a choice. We can choose to make it better.
Crystal Oliver co-owns and operates Washington’s Finest Cannabis, which was voted “Best Outdoor Producer” in Washington at the Dope Industry Awards in 2015. She serves as executive assistant for Washington NORML and sits on the executive board of the Cannabis Farmers Council. She also represents cannabis farmers on the Washington State Building Code Council’s Cannabis Issues Technical Advisory Group, Spokane Clean Air Agency’s Marijuana Advisory Group, and the Spokane Conservation District’s Voluntary Stewardship Program Workgroup.
A new era of leadership
Women are beginning to hit their stride. We are running for the highest public offices and running some of the nation’s largest corporations. We are changing the face of consumerism into one that embraces radical change in recreation and how we care for ourselves and our families.
Less than a hundred years ago, women won the right to vote, and around that same time, we led the charge to make alcohol federally illegal. Alcohol prohibition was the first major policy reform accomplished by women in the United States after winning the right to vote, and ironically, we now represent more than 30% of cannabis business leaders as CEOs, C-level executives and executive directors, with many more in senior management for both ancillary companies and organizations that deal directly with cannabis.
Maybe the high level of participation by women is karma to right a great wrong after 13 disastrous years of alcohol prohibition that led to unprecedented violence, not unlike we’ve seen with cannabis prohibition. Maybe it’s because many of us were helping the industry grow in the shadows of prohibition and secretly helping patients. Maybe our intimate understanding of the black market gives us an advantage, or maybe we came into the cannabis business after being successful in more traditional industries. Whether the reason is esoteric or attributed to hard work and determination, there is no doubt that we are a significant force in the new cannabis industry as business leaders and advocates for change, as well as with our purchasing power.
As consumers, women are the ones who drive our global economy and control spending. Our purchasing power is so strong that Bridget Brennan wrote for Forbes, “If the consumer economy had a sex, it would be female.”
Comparatively, the shopping habits of men and women are about the same, but according to Bloomberg, women make up about 85% of all consumer purchasing decisions. Traditionally, women are decision-makers when it comes to household purchases, so it makes sense that we would also be making decisions about purchasing cannabis, especially for health-related purposes.
Many powerful and effective cannabis organizations are led by women. Not only are they changing hearts and minds of the general public, but they have been able to bring attention to sexism in the industry. They’ve changed how trade shows are conducted in relation to the use of “booth babes.” This is not slut shaming; this is setting professional standards for a professional industry. As with all consumer products, there will be both female and male models in advertising. We’ll see marketing geared more toward health, wellness and education and less advertising of the hypersexual nature.
I run two businesses in the cannabis industry — a nonprofit cannabis consumer protection and advocacy organization, and a management consulting business — and I’m finishing my master’s degree in public policy at Regis University. Years ago I owned the Colorado Compassion Club, one of the first dispensaries in Colorado before House Bill 1284 regulated our medical marijuana program. In fact, I was the first woman to own a dispensary in Colorado. In those days, beginning in the early 2000s, it was much more dangerous as we transitioned from the black market to the medical market. My parents were not very supportive in the beginning, and most of my backing came from the community itself. After my divorce, I dissolved my dispensary and rebuilt my life from nothing, and I could not have done it without the extensive support network around me.
On Facebook, I recently asked women in the cannabis industry where they receive their support. While most said the majority of support comes from significant others, family, friends and the cannabis community itself, there were also women who said they had no support. This reminded me that we are still a community first and foremost, even as we grow into a booming industry. We should find ways to create networks of support for those that may be alienated from their friends and family. While the majority of Americans support some form of cannabis legalization, the stigma remains in certain cultural circles, leaving some female cannabis entrepreneurs without a close network of support.
Professional cannabis groups founded by and run by women have also seen incredible growth. These organizations provide great opportunities for women to network with other women who are actively involved in or looking to join the industry. Networking and connections are important in any industry.
Lurking in the shadows behind everything we have accomplished — whether through advocacy, consumerism or owning businesses — is the fact that we are operating in defiance of federal law. We’re still fighting a war.
Each and every one of us is engaged in a battle in the larger war for cannabis legalization and normalization, and we all face the same threat. Some of us may have access to more resources than others, but women working together is critical to building a solid foundation for what could be the next great American industry.
As women emerge from the “cannabis closet,” more and more products will be developed specifically with women in mind. And this is just the beginning. Women are going to continue to dominate in the industry. This is our time to shine as business leaders and consumers as we lead the growth of a brand new industry and set standards for other new and existing industries.
Larisa E. Bolivar is the executive director of the Cannabis Consumers Coalition. She has been involved in the cannabis legalization movement for more than 15 years. A recognized trailblazer and pioneer, she currently advocates for cannabis consumer rights, works on cannabis policy and is a business development consultant in the emerging cannabis industry.