Legal cannabis, CBD and related businesses have seen lightning speed progress in the past couple years. Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo (CWCB Expo) at Javitz Center in New York City is a physical manifestation of that growth. I sat bewildered during my ride home from the event, tipsy with delight over the success of cannabis in a world that would barely have it only a few years ago. I can recall a time when to have a giant expo about cannabis at the Javitz Center would have been out of the question, even laughable, swarming with NYPD and their dogs versus trendy entrepreneurs in biz casual outfits.
I rolled in on Thursday morning of the expo for the press meeting and was a bit surprised at the busy energy of the room. The turn out of media members and business people alike was exciting. Most interesting to me in cannabis right now is the opportunity for women of all backgrounds to succeed. Moms, young women, older women, groups of friends, a lady with a business degree or someone with zero business experience, all have a fair shot.
I spoke to a woman who started her dispensary project while fighting for her life against cancer; another who started her beauty topicals businesses a year ago in her kitchen and since then has been inundated with orders, one who had a small creative company who now manages 40 people, mostly female, and yet a couple more who spent their savings and put in everything to developing an elevated CBD vape company they believed in.
It’s encouraging and exciting to see, and almost makes me want to start a cannabusiness (calling all investors!). Read on to meet some of the women I had the pleasure of getting to speak with at CWCBE who are kicking butt and taking names in the cannabis world.
What: TribeTokes, a line of vape cartridges, user-friendly batteries and accessories and Tribe Revive / Tribe Beauty, featuring pain relief and beauty products
Who: Degelis a.k.a. Dege Tufts (CEO) and Kymberly Byrnes (CMO)
Where: New York City
“We’re a very mindful fit and lit company,” Kym explained at an interview in their breezy, bright Chelsea showroom just a bong’s throw from the Highline. “We are for the conscious consumer and we definitely take a more wellness and holistic approach to our products.” I became aware of Dege (pronounced de-ja, like déjà vu) and Kym through the Expo. They are driven to increase the public’s access to CBD and cater to a high market. Ahem. But seriously.
“Our brand bridges the gap between the cannabis and the professional community. We consume for both recreational and medicial purposes, and we are also business owners,” explained Dege. “Kym is a fitness instructor, we meditate and do yoga and we care about our health and that’s where a lot of people are finding themselves right now, that they don’t fit one stereotype or the other.”
“We’re a lifestyle brand,” Kym adds. “We fit people who are into a quality lifestyle product that makes them look and feel good.”
Dege, a self-proclaimed “stock market nerd” in high school and later a partner at an investment firm, had her a-ha moment after the 2016 election, when she began to get excited about cannabis legalization and wanted to be involved in it. The COO of two businesses before starting her own, she got interested in the market’s move toward cleaner and more discreet ways to vape and how powerful CBD is.
The two women both swear by their own products and use them every day. Dege vapes CBD each night before bed to help with insomnia. Kym says she uses the line’s eye cream beauty product daily, and “slaters that shit on 3 inches deep” at times.
“It’s just insane what stress and environment does to someone,” Kym explained. “So, if I can have all natural ingredients in my beauty products that help me resist the urge to age, that’s what’s up. And if I can give that to my sisters and friends and community, that’s what it’s all about.”
Though the industry is still a very white, male-oriented space, Kym says that some of them have been incredibly helpful allies in getting women-fronted businesses funding and into the public eye. Yet, Dege says the majority of the people they work with daily are women.
Her advice for bringing more women into the forefront: “The only thing you can do to change it is work with women, invest in women, hire women. We can’t change everyone else, we just start here.”
What: Co-founder, CocoCanna and partner, CBD Beauty Corner @ SAKS Fifth Avenue
Who: Anna Pfleghaar
Where: Los Angeles & New York City
Anna, the founder of CocoCanna, a partner in CBD Beauty Corner and a cannabis consultant who helps cannabusinesses grow from seed to sale, launched a CBD pop-up at SAKS Fifth Avenue that was the first of it’s kind in New York City. The pop-up elevated beauty products to a well-heeled clientele for perhaps the first time, to many of their eyes. Anna’s company CocoCanna, is a vegan skincare line, produced by SHO Labs in Los Angeles, an industry leader in cannabis formulations. Her CBD–infused beauty product shop-in-shop, CBD Beauty Corner, carries 14 luxury cannabis brands and counting, including Mary’s Nutritionals, Papa Barkley, Undefined Beauty and Wild Flower among many others.
“I have anxiety and autoimmune issues, so CBD was the perfect thing for me,” Anna explained. ““I partnered with Evie Phillips, founder of Creeds Collective, a creative digital agency and HiFi Exchange, a Los Angeles cannabis showroom. We wanted to do something different than what everyone else was doing. We wanted to make something experiential and female-fronted. The whole thing is super high end, elevated.”
Anna points to the idea that New York City is where it’s at in terms of cannabis culture’s growth. “Lately I feel like that’s where the cannabis scene is flowering, especially in the CBD market. New Yorkers need CBD and cannabis more than anyone.” She adds that Los Angeles also has it’s own bustling cannabis scene, but that it’s a traditional market, versus New York City, which as always, is on the forefront of ingenuity and experimentation. Why would the cannabis world be any different?
Anna reported that she enjoyed being at the CWCB Expo and was pleased by the women contingency that was representing female cannabis users at the event.
“I think there needs to be more of that,” she said. “We’re the fastest growing demo in the cannabis industry, it just makes sense.”
For this female cannabusiness owner operator, business is good. “It’s booming. It’s beyond my wildest dreams. I started in my kitchen last summer, but I didn’t know it would be this big.”
Companies she admires and points to in her community include Humble Bloom, who she says she “looks up to like sisters,” and Women Grow. “They’re amazing people. They’re doing these really cool experiential pop-ups but they’re heavy on education and social justice which is incredibly important.”
What: Ortois cannabis dispensary project
Who: Cindy Ortiz and William Sirois
Where: South Jersey
William and Cindy met in New Jersey when William’s band would come through and perform. “When she got cancer, our band supported her. Then we became friends. I got into the cannabis world and suggested Cindy open a dispensary. She was already doing it herself and it worked out perfectly.”
The two teamed up to form Ortois with a plan to open a dispensary in the Cherry Hill area of Southern New Jersey. Cindy says that though it’s an expensive and exhaustive endeavor, she doesn’t mind the hard work, or that they are competing with large cannabis conglomerates for one of the state’s 14 potential license offerings.
“I truly believe in the product. As a 44-year-old mother, I find a lot of my friends are looking for alternative ways to relieve anxiety and just be able to deal with the day to day of juggling the life of motherhood, of women. We take on so much, and the cannabis helps relieve the stress, anxiety and depression.”
Battling cancer was also an inspiration. She opted for cannabis to help her manage treatment and surgeries versus opioid options for pain management. “I got cancer and thought, something‘s got to come out of it. When I started reading and learning about cannabis, I thought, this might be my thing. This is what is going to come out of it.”
Now that she is educated on cannabis, she finds that people come to her as a resource. “People ask me, where do you get your cannabis, how do you do it?” she said. “I’ve learned so much about it and I want to spread the word. I come from a poor Philadelphia neighborhood where people were getting arrested for having a couple ounces of marijuana, so there’s that.”
They have opted to include women in their process along the way, working on a potential partnership with Women Grow, hiring a female insurance agent, selecting an all-female design team and reaching out to women doctors to get support and information along the way.
William feels confident about their dispensary’s future success. “We spoke to an attorney this morning. We told him everything we have going on, and he said, ‘You guys are sitting pretty well.’ The fact that there are 14 licenses coming out, we think we may have a shot. I sold my house for this, so I’m all in. I’m definitely giving it everything I have.”
As they develop their project, they’ve reached out to family for support and involvement—an example of how careers in cannabis can offer opportunities that extend directly and immediately to community and friends.
William’s straight-edge parents were turned around after he flew them out to California and toured dispensaries with them. “My mom is a nurse and within 24 hours she went from absolutely no, to asking how she can be a part of the team.”
His brother Matthew is the CFO of their company, and Cindy’s husband who works in media communications is very supportive, offering his good business sense to their project. Her 21-year-old son is hopeful that he might be part of the business someday, and her sister is their CPA. “We’re going to onboard her as well. It’s a family business!”
What: Director, Community Engagement and Events, Canopy Growth
Who: Shega Youngson
Where: Ontario, Canada
Shega and I sat beside the Hemp House in Canopy Growth’s exhibit space at the CWCB Expo and discussed what it was like being a woman in the cannabis space now. “A lot of women are in senior roles,” Shega explained, wide-eyed. “In fact, this is my first time reporting to a male in awhile.” Shega was a self-described “one woman show” in 2016, working in cannabis advocacy in Toronto, educating people to build their own teams of experts and specialists who could empower others and offer access to cannabis. Today, she runs a diverse, mostly female team of community engagement specialists and event producers for Canopy Growth, one of the largest cannabis companies in North America. The team of 20 come from all walks of life.
“We want to set an example for the rest of the industry,” she shared. “Be transparent and give back to the community.” She described the economic impact her company has had on Smith Falls, Ontario, a Canadian town with a population of 10,000 where Canopy Growth set up shop. “The town has been completely revitalized,” she said. “We had our first pride parade ever, and were even given credit by the mayor Smith Falls for that,” Shega said.
Shega pointed to other companies that Canopy Growth works with to further set an example in the cannabis industry, such as Subsidiary Tweed and Hemp House, which was on display at CWCB—a group based in Pennsylvania who build homes out of hemp and were supported by Canopy Growth by having a sample home presented in their space at CWCB. She went on to say that Smith Falls is on its’ way to becoming a potential cannabis capital of Canada by way of tourism, research, extractions and infused beverages. Canopy Growth even purchased a former Hershey’s factory there and are joining with a local chocolate businesses to create cannabis confections and a cannabis museum.
Furthermore, Canopy Growth has invested in clinical trials for pain. “Women experience pain in very complex ways,” Shega expressed.
She pointed to April Pride, co-founder of Van der pop, a company out of Seattle which Canopy Growth invested in that has been conducting surveys about how women consume cannabis and the stigmas they face, and are on the road to empower women to have open access to cannabis. “Most women use cannabis to relax and with their partners to enhance intimacy,” Shega explained.
Many of the teams at Canopy Growth are supervised by women, such as creative, community and events and more, which is very optimist to see.
At a crucial turning point in cannabis when it’s still virtually anyone’s game, it’s encouraging to see that many of those anyones are women.