The cannabis industry has been lauded as a place where women can kick ass and take names. In a lot of ways, this is true. It’s a burgeoning industry propped up by forward thinking and a subculture of institutional rebellion. However, it has not been immune to the disease of sexism and its symptoms of violence against women. According to a New Frontier Data survey, one in four women said that they had witnessed sexual harassment in the industry while almost one in five women said they had experienced it. Although women are better represented in top positions in the cannabis industry than in other industries, these alarming statistics are evidence that the roots of sexism have taken hold and must be weeded out.
An Industry Dominated by Men
Women are finding incredible entrepreneurship opportunities in the cannabis industry, and have a much larger presence than in other industries, but it continues to be male-dominated, and that comes with increased risk of sexual misconduct toward women. In the wake of the takedowns of powerful men such as Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore, Al Franken, and Matt Lauer, the cannabis industry’s own problems with sexual misconduct have come under the spotlight. For example, the installment of MassRoots CEO, Scott Kveton, met a lot of resistance because of allegations of sexual misconduct. The Marijuana Policy Project’s Executive Director, Rob Kampia, has a notorious reputation as a sexual predator although his organization’s mission is revolved around justice. Investigative reporting revealed that for women working on cannabis farms in California’s Emerald County, the risk of sexual trafficking and assault is horrifyingly real.
Whether it was the election of a president who boasted about sexually assaulting women, the historical moment our nation finds itself in, or the culmination of years of sexual misconduct, women have become emboldened to speak out against sexual harassment. For example, Bonita Money, founder of Women Abuv Ground, and Kyra Reed, founder of Women Entrepreneurs in Cannabis, launched the hashtag #NotInMyIndustry in response to Kveton’s installment as well as the presence of sexual assault in the cannabis industry as a whole.
Wake and Shake Up the Patriarchy
Cannabis businesses can advocate for a safer work environment for women by adopting the following practices.
Exclude sexual objectification from branding strategies.
Marketing has played possibly the most destructive role in the propagation of the sexist beliefs underlying sexual misconduct against women. As attacks against Michelle Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s appearances demonstrate, even the most politically influential women are not spared the public’s ruthless obsession with reducing women to their physical form or the stereotypes they are meant to embody, and marketing campaigns all too often feed into this dehumanizing mentality. Unfortunately, the cannabis industry has engaged in this type of thinking and behavior. According to Her Canna Life, in November 2016, Altai Brands, an edibles company, hosted an after party in which they served deli meats on a woman’s almost naked body. Altai is far from being the only brand to resort to this type of branding. The image of a half-naked woman showcasing a cannabis product is almost unavoidable when browsing for cannabis-related merchandise online, at conventions and expos, or during trade shows. The attempt to appeal to the “male gaze” this way is misguided on multiple levels.
For one, women represent a significant portion of the cannabis market and, as the #MeToo campaign demonstrated, are tired of being victimized. Second, branding that objectifies women will not only isolate potential consumers but female employees as well who will inevitably feel more like targets than partners when these strategies are used. Finally, the objectification of women escalates the danger of sexual misconduct or rape while also increasing the likelihood that the woman will be blamed for her aggressor’s behavior.
Create and enforce a strong sexual harassment policy.
Since the makeup of the cannabis industry is heavily male, cannabis businesses are vulnerable to sexual harassment. Businesses that are predominantly run by men are more likely to turn a blind eye to sexual misconduct. Additionally, these businesses may altogether lack a sexual harassment policy, a human resources gap that screams complicity and apathy. Cannabis businesses should make the implementation of a robust sexual harassment policy a top priority. A sexual harassment policy should make the company’s goal to be a harassment-free workspace abundantly clear, provide specific definitions of misconduct complete with examples, clearly articulate reporting procedures including a mandate to report, explain and enforce disciplinary action in response to violations, and prevent retaliation.
In order to keep the importance of this policy at the forefront of employees’ minds, it is essential that management provide continuous and mandatory training on the policy. Hostile work environments are bad for business. They increase the likelihood of lawsuits and employee turnover, two costly consequences. They also do nothing to destigmatize the cannabis industry. Instead, the idea of shady behavior and the victimization of women are excellent ways to prop up the myth that cannabis is a violent and dangerous substance responsible for morality’s downfall.
Believe the women.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “I believe the women,” when asked about the allegations of sexual misconduct raised against Roy Moore, the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama and defeated senatorial candidate. Though McConnell is the most influential leader for conservative voices in the Senate, that statement was a radically progressive validation of women that is all too often withheld.
The most important and immediate thing that can be done to rectify the wrongs of sexual aggression is to believe the women. Believe the survivors. Take their complaints and requests seriously, even if it’s difficult for you to understand the severity of their concerns.
Legal cannabis is young, and, therefore, resilient. Sexism is an insidious contagion, and it has already infected the nascent industry. However, like any good story, a turning point has arrived. The fight for legal cannabis is a fight for justice: the plant is a powerful and inexpensive therapy for an array of conditions, and its prohibitionist history is entangled in racism and xenophobia. The flower’s therapeutic and political symbolism naturally puts the industry in a great position to get ahead of history while rebranding itself as a space where the greatest high is the premium it places on the diversity of race, health, class, and gender.