“Jane,” a caregiver in Oxford County, has been growing cannabis for more than a decade; an older female friend of her mother was the one who initially introduced her to the plant’s medicinal properties. These days, Jane serves multiple patients and has years of expertise under her belt. Yet sometimes, she still finds herself forced to assert herself among her male counterparts. Jane has resorted to “interrupting, talking over — even raising my voice — to be heard in a discussion about cannabis in a group of men numerous times,” she told me.
Jane, who asked to use a pseudonym while Maine’s marijuana laws remain nebulous, finds that being a woman in the cannabis industry comes with various challenges, including working alongside “predominately male associates and competitors...and lack of acknowledgement by these male growers of my knowledge and experience.”
But as a pot boom sweeps Maine and the nation, will Jane have to fight to be heard a little less often?
Recent surveys have shown that women (including moms, but that’s fodder for another column) now comprise roughly half of cannabis consumers in the United States, and that the gender gap has narrowed on the business end, as well.
A report released this month from Marijuana Business Daily shows that within the cannabis sector nationwide, women own and/or founded roughly a quarter of all businesses; they hold 27 percent of executive-level roles; they comprise 42 percent of the senior positions at “ancillary services companies” — such as law or marketing firms — and 35 percent of leadership roles at medical dispensaries and recreational stores. When it comes to cultivation, that number drops to 22 percent.
This level of female representation is higher than in any other industry (leading Newsweek to once declare, “Legal Marijuana Could Be the First Billion-Dollar Industry Not Dominated by Men”). And as more and more states implement medical or recreational marijuana programs and the sector grows, many see an opportunity to proactively promote inclusivity from the get-go, as opposed to tackling it once sexist or otherwise discriminatory structures have already been established (ahem, Silicon Valley).
After all, this is an industry with abundant opportunities for females, says Gia Morón, director of communications for Women Grow, a national organization founded in 2014 to empower and encourage women in cannabis. From moms introduced to the plant because their children rely on it as medicine, to retirees for whom a marijuana business can provide increased financial security, there are many entry points for women in all stages of life. Indeed, Morón notes, “the beauty of the industry, in my opinion, is that women...are not aged out.”
Still, control over roughly one-quarter of the industry is far from parity. Female farmers like Jane continue to face challenges specific to their line of work, including physical ones. For those who see cannabis as a commodity, rather than medicine, securing capital can be a struggle. Stigmas around marijuana persist, making it hard for some women to break into the business.
And in fact, the percentage of women at the helm of cannabis-related companies is down nine percentage points since the last time Marijuana Business Daily put out its survey, in 2015. Two years ago, 36 percent of executive-level positions in cannabis were held by women. Since then, the industry has expanded dramatically.
Is the mainstreaming of marijuana responsible for that nine-point drop? Marijuana Business Daily analyst Eli McVey thinks so.
“The cannabis sector has grown quickly, with new businesses and markets opening at a rapid clip,” McVey noted in a piece accompanying the survey results. “This expansion, combined with rising social acceptance for marijuana use, has attracted scores of entrepreneurs and investors from more mainstream businesses. Cannabis companies also are increasingly plucking executives from corporate America as they mature and the industry becomes more attractive.”
“Consequently, the executive structure of businesses in the traditional economy — where males occupy more than 75 percent of senior roles — has begun to seep into the marijuana industry,” he said.
There are clear signs that although the world of cannabis was historically dominated by straight white men, the swiftly shifting legalization landscape is creating openings for women, minorities, and LGBTQ people to gain footing and get ahead. These opportunities must be supported, in Maine and beyond, in order to ensure that the marijuana industry doesn’t go the patriarchal way of corporate America at-large.