Among the many benefits of marijuana legalization – from an influx of tax revenue to a reduced prison population – the emerging $7 billion market is providing new opportunities, with fewer barriers, for enterprising women. As a product, cannabis “crosses genders, ethnicities, economic backgrounds and political views,” says Sally Nichols, a leading pot investor. “To me, that was a game-changer.” Here are six women advancing the cause of America’s most intoxicating cash crop.
Unlike many in the industry, Jena Perez got into the edibles business through candy – not pot. “I didn’t have much relationship with cannabis,” she says. “But I’ve always been passionate about high-quality sweets.” She had her own storefront selling handmade toffee in San Diego when Jetty Extracts, a large producer out of Oakland, approached her with an idea for a collaboration. “They said, ‘Hey, want to put our oil in your toffee, make edibles?’?” she recalls. A year later, her Mind Trick Toffees are in nearly 200 dispensaries statewide. “Being at the forefront of something like this,” she says, “as a woman, is unbelievable.”
In a grow culture notorious for its irresponsible cultivation practices – harmful chemicals, water waste and soil degradation – Johanna Mortz is pioneering a more ethical way to farm. As the co-founder of PolyKulture Cannyard, she oversees an operation of just 40 marijuana plants using only regenerative farming practices, employing “living soil” – dirt full of nutrient-excreting microorganisms – and companion planting to naturally fend off destructive pests. “Not all cannabis is created equal,” she says. “People should ask questions about where their cannabis comes from – it’s not all coming from a farm like mine.”
In 2014, while working in startups, Sally Nichols received a tip about the high growth potential of weed. “I learned quickly that what we imagine as the face of cannabis was only scratching the surface,” she says. “I assumed maybe writers or artists were open to cannabis, but what I found is the banker down the street loved it more than anybody.” Her company, GirlVentures, backs four startups, and Nichols heads distribution for California’s Bloom Farms, a maker of high-end cannabis products. “The industry is a unique opportunity for women,” she says. “But you still have to be great at what you do.”
“I’ve been around cannabis my entire life,” says Ariel Clark, whose law firm, Clark Neubert LLP, represents some of California’s largest growers, distributors and dispensaries. “As an attorney, I’ve seen it all – from heavy federal enforcement to a murky set of state laws to, now, building for-profit businesses in a more traditional corporate market.” As the state rolls out legalized recreational pot, she’s also leading a push for more equitable enforcement guidelines. “There’s a history of criminalization of black and brown people around marijuana,” she says. “We have the opportunity to influence what this industry looks like.”
As a cannabis policy and business lawyer, Shaleen Title and her former college roommate Danielle Schumacher – a fellow weed activist – became go-tos for marijuana companies looking for new staff. “People would always come to us asking for help hiring, especially if they were looking for women and people of color,” says Title, who also helped draft the recent Massachusetts legalization initiative. Now, as the THC Staffing Group, Title and Schumacher are helping to shape what the budding industry will look like. “I wasn’t fighting any stereotypes,” says Title of transitioning from law to cannabis recruiting. “I think there’s a chance [in the cannabis industry] to grow and be successful based on your merit.”
Pamela Hadfield, a user-experience designer for software companies, found out how life-changing medical marijuana can be when she discovered that low-THC products could end the debilitating migraines she’d been suffering her entire adult life. Her next epiphany came when she realized the telehealth app she’d been designing with her husband would be better suited for weed than for regular consultations. The result, HelloMD, has become an invaluable resource for patients looking to try medical weed – from consultations with doctors to precise product recommendations. “We found that people like the convenience,” she says. “And obviously, the privacy.”