How Big Pot Is Wooing Women

The marijuana industry is working to win them over, one business suit at a time.

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National Journal
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Lucia Graves
Aug. 6, 2014, 1 a.m.

Think of your ste­reo­typ­ic­al marijuana user — it’s prob­ably a man. What you’ve ima­gined isn’t wrong. While roughly half of men ad­mit to hav­ing tried marijuana, only a third of wo­men say the same. But the dis­par­ity high­lights a prob­lem for the marijuana in­dustry: They’re leav­ing half the pop­u­la­tion’s money on the table.

One way they’re com­batting it is by help­ing more wo­men achieve seni­or po­s­i­tions with­in the in­dustry.

In her 2013 re­search pa­per on gender-dy­nam­ics in the marijuana in­dustry in North­ern Cali­for­nia, so­ci­olo­gist Kar­en Au­gust ob­served something rather re­mark­able. “Nearly all” of the busi­ness trans­ac­tions in the year she spent ob­serving were made by men, where­as wo­men were much more likely to be in­volved in trim­ming plants and mak­ing ed­ibles and selling knick-knacks. (Among her il­lus­trat­ive an­ec­dotes was a Craigslist ad of­fer­ing ex­tra pay for wo­men who’d trim top­less.) Au­gust con­cluded: “Rarely are wo­men en­cour­aged to set up and main­tain their own op­er­a­tions.”

That may be chan­ging. At least, if Jane West, the own­er of Ed­ible Events Co. and founder of Wo­men Grow has any­thing to say about it.

West’s new or­gan­iz­a­tion seeks to ment­or fe­male busi­ness ex­ec­ut­ives in the emer­ging can­nabis in­dustry, sta­ging monthly events and edu­ca­tion­al sym­posi­ums around the coun­try. “I was ob­serving that wo­men wer­en’t equally in po­s­i­tions of power in the in­dustry,” West told Na­tion­al Journ­al on Tues­day. “There are a lot of eager young pro­fes­sion­als and so little in­form­a­tion about who enters it.”

That’s a shame for wo­men, from a strictly fin­an­cial stand­point. In the first four months of 2014, Col­or­ado marijuana stores saw more than $200 mil­lion in sales, and that was be­fore the state’s re­cre­ation­al pot in­dustry began a trans­form­a­tion in Ju­ly ex­pec­ted to cre­ate hun­dreds of new pot busi­nesses: In­dustry new­comers can now ap­ply for re­cre­ation­al busi­ness li­censes (pre­vi­ously only own­ers of ex­ist­ing med­ic­al shops could ap­ply). The num­ber of jobs in the state’s weed in­dustry is cur­rently es­tim­ated at between 7,500 and 10,000, ac­cord­ing to Mi­chael El­li­ott, the ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Marijuana In­dustry Group.

Na­tion­ally, the leg­al marijuana mar­ket was es­tim­ated to be worth $1.53 bil­lion in 2013, ac­cord­ing to a re­port from Ar­cView Mar­ket Re­search, an in­vestor group spe­cial­iz­ing in the marijuana in­dustry. And in five years, factor­ing in re­cre­ation­al leg­al­iz­a­tion in at least Col­or­ado and Wash­ing­ton states, it will be worth $10.2 bil­lion, ac­cord­ing to the same re­port.

Those num­bers are not lost on the or­gan­izers of Wo­men Grow. The goals of the group are threefold: To rebrand pot as an in­dustry that’s fe­male-friendly; to foster fe­male lead­er­ship at the highest levels; and to per­suade more wo­men to buy can­nabis and par­ti­cip­ate in con­sumer cul­ture. Out­reach for the later in­cludes pot-themed spa and yoga re­treats, up­scale culin­ary events and art soir­ees. The group’s in­aug­ur­al net­work­ing event will be held in Den­ver on Aug. 14.

One of the ways West is hop­ing to reach wo­men is through rebrand­ing. “When you think of the word to de­scribe a great wine or a lux­ury item you think of words like ‘clas­sic,’ ‘styl­ish’ and ‘cos­mo­pol­it­an,’ ” West said. She wants to re­define weed to bet­ter fit that bill, and there’s good reas­on to think she’ll suc­ceed.

Pot shops in Col­or­ado are in­creas­ingly go­ing gour­met, and, as an art­icle in Mar­ie Claire titled “Stiletto Stone­rs” once ob­served, the wo­men who light up very of­ten come from priv­ilege. One in five of them lived in a house­hold earn­ing more than $75,000 a year, ac­cord­ing to the story, and that was be­fore it was leg­al.

More than half the states  have lib­er­al­ized their pot laws in some way since 2000, either de­crim­in­al­iz­ing the drug, al­low­ing for the dis­tri­bu­tion of med­ic­al marijuana, or, in the cases of Col­or­ado and Wash­ing­ton, leg­al­iz­ing re­cre­ation­al use al­to­geth­er.

Bey­ond be­ing less likely to use, or ad­mit to us­ing, marijuana, wo­men are much less likely to be en­tre­pren­eurs in what could be a mult­i­bil­lion-dol­lar in­dustry. That, West says, is the single biggest thing she wants to change. “We want wo­men to know that there’s a big op­por­tun­ity now,” she said. “And they should get in on it.”

At the na­tion­al level, West has sup­port from the Na­tion­al Can­nabis In­dustry As­so­ci­ation, one of the ini­tial spon­sors of West’s or­gan­iz­a­tion. “It’s def­in­itely a pri­or­ity as far as we’re con­cerned,” NCIA’s Taylor West told Na­tion­al Journ­al, “be­cause it’s an in­dustry where both the cus­tom­er base and the pro­fes­sion­al base are not as evenly di­vided across the genders as they could be.”

It also means mil­lions of new cus­tom­ers for this bur­geon­ing in­dustry.


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