As women in the cannabis industry, we’ve got an uphill climb and it’s steep. We must walk a fine line, hit just the right note: presenting the new face of cannabis in order to move the industry forward while scrambling to maintain credibility in the boys’ club that has historically been this culture. Images of our bodies are used to market cannabis products and lifestyle, while we are criticized for continuing to consume cannabis after becoming mothers. For a long time, the male-dominated industry seemed to do everything in its power to keep us out entirely or to keep us in thongs with our legs draped around bongs.
Even when we make progress, there are still powerful mechanisms working to set us back several steps; the recent overhaul at Marijuana.com is a great example. A site whose primary purpose used to be the serious and professional reporting of cannabis news is now a Pinterest-esque social media board of crowdsourced pictures, which changes frequently but is never without several photos of sultry, nearly naked women. You don’t have to scroll down very far to count well over a dozen, none of which appear to have been posted by the actual person in the photos. Worse than the new homepage is what you’ll find when you click on the “Women & Weed” category. Any guesses about the ratio of female entrepreneurs and activists to bare bouncing breasts?
To be sure, there were no bare bouncing breasts at last week’s Women Grow meeting in Manhattan. Instead there were almost 50 people (including a handful of men) gathered for conversation, networking, and education about the cannabis industry.
The brainchild of successful female cannapreneurs, Women Grow launched last summer in Denver and is spearheaded by Executive Director Jazmin Hupp and National Events Director Jane West. Their goal is to connect, educate, and empower women in the cannabis industry with the belief that women can and should be at the center of this movement. The success and influence of women can create a business culture that better suits the female employee, better serves the female consumer, and, ultimately, wins over the female voter. Since August, Women Grow has expanded to 16 cities that hold monthly networking events; the organization facilitates educational symposiums and leadership training, sends speakers to local and national events, and hosts lobbying days on Capitol Hill.
The New York chapter is the largest cohort in a state that doesn’t yet have a legal industry. They might have the best space, though, in an office that more closely resembles a personal library than a corporate cubicle community, that rumbles a bit when the train goes under Broadway. After a ride in a charmingly ancient elevator, attendees were greeted, name-tagged, and directed toward the coatroom by cheerful volunteers, becoming easily engaged in dialogue along the way.
Participants included nurses, writers, teachers, artists, lawyers, designers, investors, entrepreneurs, marketing professionals; a diverse group at various stages of experience and involvement, some had started businesses, some were looking for positions, and some were there simply to learn more about the rapidly changing nature of cannabis in society.
Bookended by open networking sessions, the evening’s agenda included two speakers: Dr. Brian Saltzman, an important contributor to HIV treatment and AIDS research since the early 80s, and attorney Hanan Kolka, who discussed the recently released New York state draft regulations for the medical cannabis industry.
Dr. Saltzman addressed similarities between changing attitudes around the HIV/AIDS epidemic and cannabis law reform, offering advice on gaining traction, building a solid team dedicated to the research, and securing funding. He suggested that hard data is key to convincing the medical establishment of cannabis’ legitimacy but that anecdotal evidence can be a first step, drawing attention to the need for more research. “The stigma is evaporating,” Saltzman declared.
“The stigma is evaporating, but it’s not all gone,” Hanan Kolko reminded the audience as he talked through the draft regulations for medical marijuana in New York. Accordingly, the state’s proposed structure for a medical cannabis industry includes a labyrinthine application process to become a registered organization and extremely tight regulations for those businesses that are approved. Teams must prove that they will be able to provide consistent, high quality products to patients and that they will comply with federal enforcement priorities, such as preventing the diversion of medical cannabis. It is critical for this industry in particular to ensure that all operations are pursuant to the law, so that the success of individual states serves to push forward the prospect of federal legalization.
The people in the room at Women Grow want to make that happen. There’s a remarkable characteristic shared by women in cannabis: we all have a stake other than profit. We all believe in something bigger, whether it’s guaranteeing a loved one’s access to safe medicine, a commitment to healing and wellness, the desire to end mass incarceration, the will to protect personal liberty, or the drive to cultivate diversity and equality. The combination of passion and compassion, infused with a sense that we’re doing something great together, is a powerful force. Women are a major part of the cannabis industry, responsible, in fact, for redefining an entire cultural paradigm. And we’re just getting started.