Why Cannabis Needs Female Leadership

An argument in support of women-for-women by a man.

iStock / patronestaff

Supporting gender inclusivity today will benefit the cannabis industry of tomorrow. Women are disappearing from leadership roles in an industry that was among the most equitable in the United States. The percentage of cannabis industry executive positions belonging to women dropped from 36% in 2015 to 27% in 2017. Unfortunately, Vangst’s Women in Cannabis Report found just 17.6% of executive positions belonging to women in 2019.

The influence of women has already transformed the cannabis industry. Emma Chasen, Founder of Eminent Consulting, spoke passionately about female leaders who have transcended the historically masculine stoner-culture to create products promoting health, wellness, beauty, and moderate consumption. Everybody benefits from women’s representation, even if women are just creating products for other women! Cannabis is a medicine that improves lifestyles and communities, and women are the population embracing and driving that potential. Gender equity in cannabis is a matter of public health.

A Moment of Peace

Casey Georgeson is the CEO of Saint Jane luxury cannabis beauty brand. Saint Jane’s success, she says, stems from a soulful and resonant message — it’s the same thing she tells her three daughters: happiness creates authentic beauty. Georgeson built Saint Jane to celebrate and blend the use of a healing agent (CBD) with self-care.

“Saint Jane provides women with a moment of peace” 

— Casey Georgeson, Saint Jane Beauty Founder & CEO

Indeed, peace is a valuable commodity in our society. Faced with societal and familial pressures, many women turn to alcohol to provide them with escape.  WebMD reports female alcohol use disorder increasing by 83.7% between 2002 and 2013.  Alcohol use disorder increases women’s chances for Liver Damage, Heart Disease, and Breast Cancer. Women risk their lives in pursuit of that moment of peace. As a loving son, I wish for the women of my life to find happiness and I require women to show me the way.

Saint Jane female cannabis products

Source: Saint Jane

Cannabis represents a beacon of hope for women seeking a safer alternative to alcohol. Forbes recently reported on a Rabobank study that found as many as 34% of women would consider using cannabis as an alternative to regularly drinking wine. House of Saka, a California-based wine distributor, offers a line of cannabis-infused Rosé that contains no alcohol. Instead, highly bio-available nano-encapsulated cannabinoids work in the body to create a buzz purely though cannabinoids and terpenes. The Saka wine formulation not only replaces the use of alcohol in stress-reduction but also promotes health and wellness (also, can you say no hangover!!!)

Women Drive Market Evolution

Women in 2019 are joining the cannabis market, en-masse. According to statistics released by online headshop DopeBoo, women buyers accounted for 46% of sales in Q2 of 2019 after constituting just 32% of sales in 2017 — an increase of 143%. Online delivery service Eaze (the “Uber of weed” delivery) reported a 92% increase among women shoppers among its 450,000 shoppers from 2017 to 2018.

… And Market Revolution

“ Women are gathering their voices to say that they use cannabis, even if they’re moms, high-powered business professionals, or pillars in their community.”  — Emma Chasen, Eminent Consulting Founder & CEO 

Illegal cannabis markets were largely male-dominated. Both education and research were scant and so reefer madness became deeply entrenched among female non-participants; particularly mothers caring for families. Until recently, this segment of the female population completely missed out on cannabis’ health and wellness benefits. Now, things are changing.

Mara Gordon’s voice has reached hundreds of thousands of women through podcasts, interviews, Ted Talks, and her featured role in the Netflix documentary Weed the People. She leads multiple organizations and sits on the advisory board for many more. With over 20 years of experience, Gordon is a cannabis industry OG.

Gordon began her cannabis journey infusing THC into oil which she would then bake in with carrot cake. She, then, discovered the classic edibles conundrum: It’s impossible to guarantee any specific dose in just one slice of the entire cake. Scientific research on dosage has opened a proverbial can of worms. We have discovered that the body has a bi-phasic response to cannabis, meaning that there are two separate reactions depending on dose size. Further, research has revealed that every person has a unique endocannabinoid system. This means not just that everyone has a different tolerance, but also that medicinal doses for diseases like Cancer must be individualized with exactitude or risk possibly becoming ineffective or even dangerous.

“I want to create a set of cannabis-based formulations that address poorly managed diseases. My reason for being and remaining in cannabis is to solve the dosing question.”
— Mara Gordon

Mara Gordon is part of a cohort of industry women pioneering the use of cannabis for medical and health outcomes without necessarily triggering an accompanying high. Scientists and industry professionals, like Gordon, are developing technology and infrastructure to more accurately measure and predict ideal dosing points for medical cannabis patients. For now, the average user desiring just the health benefits plays a guessing game. Expert advice is to start low and go slow

Close up of a woman hands making a cigarette

iStock /AntonioGuillem

Cannabis users desiring medical and health benefits without accompanying impairment are driving remarkable changes which the whole industry is watching. Right-dosing is the practice of eliciting the desired outcome through minimally uncomfortable trial-and-error testing of chemical content and dosage. Right-dosing represents a monumental shift away from stereotypical stoner culture and toward mindful, health-centric usage. The practice is perhaps most popular among mothers, the elderly, and even athletes. You can discover your own right-dose threshold through experimenting with titration (“the slow addition of cannabis until a desired effect is achieved through a minimal effective dose.”) Techniques include micro-dosing (sub-perceptual dosing, usually long-term), therapeutic-dosing (minimal effective dose for achieving a medical outcome) and right-dosing (minimal effective dose for achieving a subjective feeling).

Women are so often trusted with maintaining the health of their families, perhaps it ought to have more obvious that women would be transformative to the cannabis industry. Mara Gordon calls cannabis a natural fit for women, given its medical properties. Women’s influence has fundamentally altered the trajectory of the cannabis industry and to lose representation of women in executive business positions would be to 1. de-value existing industry contributions and 2. bar future women-driven industry evolution.

Women’s Learning

“Women are hungry for information. They want to understand more about this plant. They want to do so without judgment or shame.” — Emma Chasen, Eminent Consulting Founder & CEO 

Women are receiving education regarding cannabis from traditional and non-traditional sources. Education, advocacy, and advertising are largely blended and consumed together to form the basis of a new user’s knowledge. The result is fact, mixed with fiction and a little more naïveté than we realize so far.

The issues that leaders and industry figureheads champion are consumed by a humongous online audience through multi-media sources. People like Mara Gordon reach millions through platforms like Netflix, YouTube, and even blog interviews. Humans have always gravitated toward resonant voices and, in cannabis, those messages are primarily encountered online. 

The most intriguing non-traditional cannabis education is occurring in groups by-women for-women. Ellementa, an educational social cannabis community for women, connects people with cannabis products, conversations, and learning. Emma Casen recently led a webinar with Ellementa wherein she taught over 700 women the basics of cannabinoids.

Due to federal limitations over advertising, advertising has largely taken on the veneer of education. Casey Georgeson, a masterful advertiser, says that nothing is more powerful than a customer endorsement in the current business environment. Communities are intrigued by personal endorsements and, thus, product information flows to possible customers. Georgeson calls the secret to advertising “the billion-dollar mystery.”

At the local level, cannabis companies are making concerted efforts to promote community involvement and spread education. Emma Casen advises all of her consulting clients to become involved in their local communities. Indeed, I’ve personally encountered a tremendous community focus at Dynamic Harvest, Greener Today, and especially Hashtag Cannabis. Businesses that dedicate themselves to promoting wellness through education and community service creates bridges for first-time and returning consumers.

Break The Patriarchal Chain

The cannabis industry has shifted its product offerings and educative structures to adapt to female interest. At the same time, market forces are driving women from executive positions. Pitchbook published a statistic that male executives claimed 97.8% of all Venture Capitalist investments in 2018.

Legal state markets differ from each other, but all face the same pressure of massive male-led corporate buy-out and consolidation. Only a few markets (Oregon) are resisting the influence of profiteering while most states (California and New York) are giving in. In states where small-business representation in the market remains high, so does the percentage of business that are women-owned. Vangst found 48% of cannabis companies led by women in Oregon compared with 29% in California.

We all have a one-time opportunity now to integrate gender and race inclusivity into an industry that will be mature in 20 years from now, no matter what. At that time, we will either reap rewards of an inclusive and diverse marketplace or have to contend with another big tobacco, profiteering at the expense of life and happiness. Our voices today are louder than they will be tomorrow and our actions now will echo for years to come.

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