Are Women Taking Charge of the Cannabis Industry?

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Cannabis is a burgeoning industry, and as pioneers in this exciting new world, we have the honor of breaking ground and setting standards to pave the way for generations to come. One of the most fascinating developments in the cannabis industry is the rise of women in the workplace, most notably in positions of power at the head of cannabis companies.

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Women Holding Leadership Positions

The cannabis industry is comprised of scrappy, tenacious individuals who aren’t opposed to taking a risk, and in a sector that’s struggling to break free of former stoner stereotypes and debilitating social stigmas, women are leading the way. According to a 2015 survey from Marijuana Business Daily, women held 36% of leadership positions in the industry, including 50% of leadership roles in processing and infused product companies, and 63% of executive roles at testing labs.

When MJBiz conducted an updated survey on the topic in August 2017, the number of women in leadership roles had fallen to 27% of executive-level roles, although the presence of women in leadership roles in ancillary sectors of the industry holds strong: 42% of women held executive roles in supplemental cannabis services companies, and women still own and operate 35% of medical and retail cannabis shops.

No matter how you slice it, when comparing these numbers to women in the general US workforce, the difference is stark. Women hold 52% of professional level jobs, but make up only 26.5% of executive or senior-level roles, hold only 21% of board seats, and comprise just 5.2% of American CEO positions.

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Why are women so prominent in leadership roles in the cannabis world? One factor could be related to the relatively low barrier for entry―because the industry is still growing and there’s no concrete blueprint for success, right now anyone can try their hand at making it big with some overhead cash, grit, and a little creativity.

Secondly, although cannabis consumption generally skews male, women are becoming increasingly interested in the plant for medicinal and therapeutic purposes. In a 2017 study published by the Drug and Alcohol Journal, the percentage of women regularly consuming cannabis is on the rise, although the gender gap still remains prominent. Between 2002 and 2014, the percentage of women using cannabis increased by 3% overall, and Leafly saw a significant increase in female interest between 2015 and 2016, with 27% more visits from female consumers than male consumers.

Attracting female consumers means making a new space for women to co-exist in the industry, and who knows how to do that better than women themselves?

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Challenges and Complexities

Leafly recently attended Intersection, an event designed to confront and discuss how women can impact technology in the cannabis sphere, featuring an all-female panel to gain a better understanding of the complexities and challenges confronting women in the cannabis industry. AC Braddock, the CEO of Eden Labs in Seattle, was one of the foremost panelists who offered some advice for women in the cannabis industry.

“In order to move forward, you have to understand the rules and regulations, you have to understand the legislative process,” she recommended. “You must be politically savvy and understand the political process, and you’ve got to be mainstream.”

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Sarah Blankinship, CEO of Right Sciences, expressed her surprise at ending up in the industry. “If you would have told me that I was going to end up in the cannabis industry, I would have definitely thought you were smoking what we are here to talk about tonight.”

Dr. Janice Knox, one of the founders of the American Cannabinoid Clinics, after being contacted by former patients who were seeking assistance entering the medical marijuana program and looking for answers from a certified physician, found herself at a bit of a loss. “How could I be a doctor and not be able to answer questions about the endocannabinoid system?”

Six years after her formal retirement, Knox re-entered the medical world, this time as a medical marijuana-certifying physician and advocate. “My mission now as a scientist is to spread as loudly and as far as I can that cannabis is medicine,” she explained.

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Medical Cannabis First

Knox’s mission seemed to be a consensus across the group. “This industry will not flourish, will not move forward, unless it’s on a medical platform,” emphasized Braddock.

Mara Gordon, a cannabis researcher and founder of Aunt Zelda’s and Zelda Therapeutics, described her frustration entering the medical marijuana realm as a patient. “When I came in as a patient, I entered into an industry with no lab testing, and no dosing,” she said.

Rather than leaving empty-handed, the lack of specialization inspired her. “I was going to solve the dosing conundrum,” she told the Intersection audience. “This was why I had to create all these companies. I had to create a medical practice, I had to create medicines that were well-understood, with testing labs, software to allow the doctor to make dosing recommendations.”

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Braddock spoke up about the importance of vigilant patients, as well. “Get politically involved. Go into the dispensary and ask for organic cannabis, ask for the medicinal products that they’re required to have…The average consumer spends about $70 per month as a recreational consumer, compared to about $800 per month as therapy. Wellness products should range from ‘I just wanna feel good,’ to ‘I want to treat my cancer.’”

She also brought up the stigma that still plagues women who are curious about cannabis for treatment or therapeutic purposes. “There’s such a stigma―50% of women on pharmaceutical drugs who try CBD stop taking the pharmaceuticals and they start to see real change. You have to really think about raising your hand, not just as a retailer, but as a patient.”

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The Future of Women in Cannabis

“Hopefully, what we’re seeing is the last flash and burnout of an old way of politics and medicine,” Braddock speculated. “It comes from a very patriarchal basis of power our world has been run from for thousands of years―forever. I feel like people are holding onto that as hard as they can, and just showing who they really are, and I really hope that it’s their last dance.”

“What’s going to come from that is a new modern way of doing business, of healthcare, of everything.” She paused. “I would love to see this industry change the social justice system.”

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With women taking the driver’s seat and the industry evolving at a breakneck speed, it’s only a matter of time before we see women and cannabis changing the way businesses are run, and, hopefully, taking aim at the glass ceiling.

“All we have to do is keep backing it and keep doing this, because,” Braddock surveyed the audience, “we are at the precipice for a massive change.”