It seems fitting that a plant called Mary Jane could smash the patriarchy. After all, only female marijuana flowers produce cannabinoids like the potent THC chemical that gets users buzzed. Pot farmers strive to keep all their crops female through flowering female clones of one plant, called the Mother. And women are moving into the pot business so quickly that they could make it the first billion-dollar industry that isn’t dominated by men.
…In Colorado and Washington, the key demographic in the legalization movements were 30- to 50-year-old women, according to a study by the Wales-based Global Drug Policy Observatory. “I think women can help demonstrate that it’s a reasonable choice for a lot of people,” Title adds. “And it’s not going to turn you into Cheech or Chong.”
…As pot legalization spreads, women are taking over more roles in the industry. There are female cannabis doctors, nurses, lawyers, chemists, chefs, marketers, investors, accountants and professors. The marijuana trade offers women a shortcut to get ahead in many avenues, and women in turn are helping to organize it as a viable business. Eloise Theisen in Lafayette, California, started the American Cannabis Nurses Association. Emily Paxhia analyzes the cannabis financial marketplaces as a founding partner at the marijuana investment firm Poseidon Asset Management. Meghan Larson created Adistry, the first digital advertising platform for marijuana. Olivia Mannix and Jennifer DeFalco founded Cannabrand, a Colorado-based pot marketing company. In Berkeley, California, three female lawyers—Shabnam Malek, Amanda Conley and Lara Leslie DeCaro—started the National Cannabis Bar Association, and Conley and Malek also started Synchronicity Sisters, which hosts Bay Area “Tupperware parties” to sample pot products made by women for women.
…Women’s presence in the pot industry does more than just close the gender gap—their participation is necessary to legitimize marijuana as a business. “The mom in her 40s is the one with the power to push marijuana into the mainstream once and for all,” says Title, the drug reform attorney.
…But the woman who appears to have united the most women in the marijuana industry this year is Jane West, the founder of Women Grow. West, by her own admission, is “one part Martha Stewart and one part Walter White.” In 2012, she was fired from her corporate job in Denver after vaping on camera in a local news interview. It was the night Amendment 64 passed, making pot legal in Colorado. A clip of the segment played on national TV. Afterward, she launched her own marijuana event-planning company, Edible Events. “When I first entered the industry, I joined all the women’s groups,” she says. “I tried and waited for four months in Denver, but there wasn’t a single meeting. Weed had just become legal, and all of the women in the Women’s CannaBusiness Network told me they were now too busy with their businesses to hold meetings. That’s when I decided to start Women Grow.”
Soon after, she was joined by Jazmin Hupp, whom she met at a National Cannabis Industry Association conference. Hupp had previously started a group for female founders in tech called Women 2.0, the group West modeled Women Grow on.
This past February, West’s newsletter featured an open invitation to accompany her to Washington, D.C., and help lobby Congress for cannabis legalization. She didn’t expect anyone to show, but 78 women—all wearing red scarves to show solidarity—came from 14 different states for the three-day event. Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Representative Jared Polis of Colorado spoke at the news conference Women Grow hosted at the National Press Club.
This month, Representatives Titus and Eleanor Holmes Norton, of the District of Columbia, spoke at Women Grow events. Norton believes groups like Women Grow and the women in the legal pot business increase the chances of federal legalization. She says she’s noticed that the female potrepreneur population is “growing faster than” the marijuana legalization movement itself. She’s equally impressed by the number of women who have entered the D.C. cannabis industry “so early on.” (D.C. legalized recreational marijuana only a few months ago.) “How in the world are there so many women entrepreneurs in this very new commercial field?” she asks. “Women aren’t even seen as particularly entrepreneurial.” She was even more excited about how these women “pioneers” were changing the public perception of the pot business.
For Norton, legalizing marijuana is more than just creating a booming business with gender equity in her district. It’s also about ending the war on drugs and reforming a racially biased criminal justice system. “A concern in the District of Columbia was the disparity in who gets arrested. We think we’ve licked that with the legalization that we have been able to do.
…Titus says Women Grow is inspiring her to bring together other women in Congress to push for legalization and drug reform laws. She’s teamed with Representative Barbara Lee of California, the only other woman who’s advocated for weed in Congress. Will they start their own Women Grow in Congress? “I think that’s a possibility, and that’s what we should be working on,” Titus says. “I have traveled with Barbara in California, and I think she’s amenable to that. So I guess we need to get Eleanor on board too.”