By: Ganga Goddess
Women’s presence in the cannabis industry, like the industry itself, has had dips and spikes over the last decade. When Colorado and Washington led the way in legalizing recreational use of cannabis in 2012, the newly legal industry attracted female entrepreneurs from far and wide, wanting to make their mark on the industry dedicated to mainstreaming the beloved bud. Their backgrounds and motivations were diverse: some had decamped from other, unrelated industries, some were recreational users wanting to apply their knowledge in a new way, and some had been or were in some way related to those who had been affected by stringent drug laws.
Women’s impact on the industry was swift: just five years after the first few states legalized recreational use, Marijuana Business Daily reported that 26% of cannabis businesses were female owned or led, a full 7% higher than all businesses in the US. But as it stands today, there’s still plenty of space and opportunity for women, particularly women of color, to get into the industry. Recent analyst reports from Arcview Market Research project that the legal marijuana market is expected to generate nearly $40B in economic impact by 2021. Though the industry has grown, consolidation, vertical integration, and increased competition for capital has eliminated some businesses and created gaps in leadership for others.
The most recent studies show that 81% of weed businesses are owned by those who classify themselves as white, compared to just 6% held by Latinx and 4% held by African Americans. In the latest publication of Marijuana Business Daily’s “Women & Minorities in the Cannabis Industry” report in 2019, they found that women hold 37% of senior executive leadership roles in the cannabis industry, up from 26% since the last survey conducted in 2017. In comparison, women held just 21% of executive leadership roles for all businesses in 2018.
The women included in this list are thriving in the uncertainty of the still-new cannabis industry. They stand out for pursuing their ambitions and facing challenges in an industry a leadership disparity and mainstream skepticism. From community education, to investing in cannabis business, to creating brand strategies meant to destigmatize the industry at large, these trailblazing women are leaving a mark on the industry that will last for years to come.
Health and Education
Kebra Smith-Bolden leveraged her decades of experience as a registered nurse to create CannaHealth™, the first and currently the only African-American owned cannabis business in Connecticut. CannaHealth™’s community-based business model offers education on medical marijuana and presents pathways to legal access through medical marijuana program evaluations. Dubbed the “Marijuana Guru in CT”, Smith-Bolden also studies therapeutic usage of cannabis for PTSD and gives her time to Women Grow and the New England Region of Minorities for Medical Marijuana.
Data and Technology
Jessica Billingsley is the current CEO of Akerna, the first cannabis ancillary business to be listed on the NASDAQ. She was previously the co-founder of MJ Freeway, a global data company that helps track and manage inventory along the cannabis supply chain from seed to sale. Billingsley’s platform has tracked over $18B in legal cannabis sales since 2010 and her efforts have gotten her recognized by Fortune, Inc., and Entrepreneur.
Former investment banker and professional cheerleader Hope Wiseman became the youngest dispensary owner in 2017 when she opened Mary & Main in Prince George’s County, MD. The dispensary is dedicated to providing quality products while offering a comfortable experience to those suffering from chronic diseases. The 5000 sq. ft. facility offers education on the endocannabinoid system and different strains of cannabis for different needs and is dedicated to growing Mary &Main into a nationally recognized brand.
Marketing and Brand Strategy
In the still-nascent marijuana industry, perception is reality. For those who still see weed as a hard-core drug, legitimization is the key hurdle. That’s where Dasheeda Dawson comes in. As founder and president of MJM Strategy, she, along with VP and Partner Imani Dawson, is dedicated to rebranding cannabis for recreational use. Leveraging years of experience to create an integrated marketing agency built to help weed brands grow and scale their presence on the most relevant digital platforms. She also runs The WeedHead™, an educational and empowerment platform, and is the author of How to Succeed in the Cannabis Industry.
Priscilla Vilchis is the CEO and CMO of Premium Produce, a full-service medical cannabis cultivator. Vilchis chose to launch her flagship location in Nevada due to relaxed attitudes towards the marijuana business and was the youngest and first ever minority woman to be awarded licenses for both medical and retail (recreational) marijuana. Known as “Queen of the Desert”, Vilchis is one of the best-known Latina women in the industry and seeks out every opportunity to educate on marijuana as pain medication and encourage new entrants to the industry.
Treehouse Global Ventures isn’t led by just one woman, but by three. Lindy Snider, Lori Ferrara, and Gaynell Rogers are the women behind Treehouse Global Ventures, a cannabis investment fund that identifies, mentors, and grows cannabis businesses, with a focus on those led by women and minorities. Funding is a key challenge for women and minorities in the business, and each woman brings years of investment experience, as well as personal experience with cancer and medicinal use of cannabis. Snider, Ferrara, and Rogers all remain actively involved in personal, philanthropic and social causes meant to decriminalize and legalize, and destigmatize the marijuana business.