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Women emerging as a potent part of the pot industry

As the cannabis industry continues to grow at breakneck pace, now is the time for entrepreneurs to be entering the sector.

With female leaders already making big moves on the global business platform and the number of women entering the boardroom increasing more and more, it’s understandable that the cannabis industry has become the front-runner in their view.

When reflecting on female tycoons in emerging sectors, the marijuana industry may not be the first thing that springs to mind, however statistics point to evidence that many women are increasingly breaking into the flourishing market with a study demonstrating women holding leadership roles in 27% of 567 marijuana businesses surveyed.

Higher than average

Sadly, the figures are down from 36% of 632 businesses surveyed in 2015. However, the figure still remains higher than the average of 23% of female executives across the wider business sector landscape.

The slight drop in women executives could be attributed to the massive success the overall cannabis industry has seen in recent years combined with the rising acceptance of marijuana, which has attracted vast amounts of investors and entrepreneurs from mainstream businesses.

The shift of the cannabis industry from a predominantly underground sector to the frontrunner within the universal business landscape seems to be emulating the structure of traditional businesses, where men occupy more than 75% of senior roles.

With the sector’s newfound popularity comes a familiar issue – the majority of cannabis industry leaders are male. Greta Carter, an investor in 10 companies in Nevada and California currently growing, processing and selling cannabis said: “I walk into a room and time after time it’s 20 men and me.”

Executive positions

In spite of the drop, women continue to hold a greater share of executive positions within the marijuana industry than all other industries as a whole, particularly in the US.

Another barrier to entry is funding. Dr Chanda Macias, business owner and CEO of Women Grow, states that anyone aiming to open a dispensary must “have at least 150,000 dollars in cash” which becomes an immediate issue.  Alongside the current banking issue that many in the cannabis industry are experiencing, it seems a constant battle to further business in the sector.

However, a positive for female-led marijuana start-ups appears to be that those who do manage to secure investor funding seem to increase their investments to a much higher percentage than their male counterparts. An algorithm-based study simulated an investment into both women and male led companies and found that the women CEOs would end up with a return of 348% in comparison to the mostly male CEOs’ return of 122%.

Karen Rubin of Quantopian, a quantitative investment firm, states: “There’s a lot of the theorising around why the results are dramatically higher for the women, but most think it has to do with how hard women have to work to become CEO at such big companies in the first place. The ones who do really represent the cream of the crop.”

Ladies lighting up the cannabis business sector

The clear disparity in leadership makes female-led ventures within the sector appear inspiring, with it seeming that an increasing amount of women are pursuing their ambitions and business plans to blaze new trails within the industry.

Women Grow, founded by Jane West, who was infamously fired from her events-planner job in 2014 for vaping on national television, is a leading organisation that advocates for women working in the industry while informing likeminded cannabis entrepreneurs.

Touted as the “Martha Stewart of pot” and named one of the “most influential people in cannabis” by the International Business Times, West appears to be banking on the female market of the future.

The inclusive annual Women Grow Summit provides a weekend of networking, education and entrepreneurship with industry advice and talks offering women, men and minorities the “tools to conquer a rigid corporate world”.

“Your teams are stronger if you have diverse backgrounds,” said Leah Heise, CEO of Women Grow. “You’re going to build a stronger company by including people who are more diverse than you than you are if you just have everybody with exactly the same mindset.”

In recent years, West has begun a new business venture in the form of a product and lifestyle company that hopes to redefine the cannabis experience with consumer home goods and an e-commerce website selling cannabis goods such as CBD capsules, coffee, glass bongs and discreet yet stylish cannabis storage containers.

Expert advice

Similarly, The Women Of Cannabis Conference is a female driven organisation aiming to provide annual events offering expert advice from female leaders in the industry open to all genders seeking new market knowledge.

One of the founding members of the California Cannabis Industry Association, an organisation committed to bringing about a more legitimate and professional cannabis business community, is the influential Dr Lakisha Jenkins. Dr Jenkins is a member of the American Herbalist Guild and a registered master herbalist who is committed to traditional and alternative health, striving to educate patients in adopting healthier lives. She has helped write legislation laws for the state of California concerning the cannabis industry and has founded The Jenasis Medical Group, a partnership of enterprises producing medicinal herbs and medical cannabis-based nutraceuticals.

A former Citigroup worker quit her high-flying job to co-found a publishing house with her former boss and aimed to create a how-to publication for legal marijuana dispensary owners before they became part of Colorado’s huge cannabis economy. Cassandra Farrington and Anne Holland then went on to launch Marijuana Business Daily, a highly regarded publication covering the legal cannabis industry in the US. Farrington is often referred to as “Denver’s high priestess of marijuana business intelligence.”

The next few years will be interesting as the possibility of changes in cannabis laws within the US and globally will see the industry most likely change for the better, however there are still many aspects of the booming sector that can innovate to become more inclusive for all groups of people.


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