Societal structures cast long shadows and cultural chauvinism infiltrates all sectors of society and business. The cannabis industry, once seemingly a paragon of modern inclusivity, has regrettably reflected traditional patriarchal imbalances as well, relegating women to the margins. Such skewed representation necessitates an unyielding commitment to raising awareness and instigating tangible change. It underscores the importance of amplifying women’s voices, experiences, and perspectives. My exploration of this pressing issue has been enriched by engaging with feminist women from Chile, Mexico, Ecuador, the U.S., and Argentina, whose diverse cultural and individual experiences have significantly amplified this discourse.
Peeling back the layers of these complex issues has been an eye-opening journey. As Polita Pepper, a Mexican cannabis activist and educator, poignantly remarked, “This isn’t about you, a privileged man, taking an evening off to discuss women. This is a journey you’ve accompanied and observed, a dialogue that many friends and individuals involved in different social movements, including feminism, have shaped.” The dynamic cannabis industry thrives on inclusivity, and women, armed with competence, have staked their claims across the spectrum, from patient advocacy and government lobbying to pioneering businesses, technologies, and products.
In the face of these revelations, I recognize the value of my privilege and the responsibility to leverage it, casting light on areas that are often overlooked. The realization, though disconcerting, is starkly realistic: unless we, as men, consciously vacate our privileged spaces to facilitate dialogue, the chorus of diverse perspectives risks fading into silence.
Despite the leaps and strides women have made, the ghost of patriarchal imbalance continues to haunt the cannabis industry. This imbalance manifests itself in various forms: sexist jokes, wage disparities, restricted leadership opportunities, scarce mentorship, and inadequate financial backing—all serving to devalue women’s ideas, trivialize their concerns, and underplay their accomplishments.
These musings are not isolated reflections; they contribute to ongoing dialogues, debates and discussions that fuel the engine of change. To escape the chains of the status quo, we must face our privilege head-on and curb behaviors that perpetuate systemic sexism. It’s a call to action for allies, particularly men, to realize we are facilitators in this struggle, serving to empower women without imposing ourselves in their spaces. Our duty lies in helping aplify women’s voices so that they echo loud and clear, their ideas receive due recognition and their rights are fiercely safeguarded. To put it simply, often, the best way to help is to shut up and pay attention.
As I delve deeper into this subject, it becomes crucial to recognize my privilege once more. My educational background has granted me the capacity to explore these issues that others face in the cannabis industry, an industry I’ve studied intensely but one where I have not personally experienced these biases. My vantage point doesn’t mirror the lived realities of many within the cannabis industry, especially women and other marginalized communities, who have entrusted me with their stories. In sharing these narratives, I seek not to center myself, but to amplify these voices and contribute to the wider conversation surrounding representation and inclusivity within the cannabis industry.
Persistent Inequality and the Road to Empowerment
With an optimistic gaze toward the horizon, we anticipate a future cannabis industry teeming with women set to make substantial contributions. But, as the sector grows, so does the urgency to tackle gender disparities, champion diversity, and nurture a fundamentally inclusive and equitable environment. This transformation can take several forms, from organizing networking events, initiating mentorship programs, and supporting research initiatives focusing on cannabis-related women’s health issues, to championing female leadership within cannabis organizations.
The impact of women’s historical and contemporary contributions to the industry is clearly encapsulated by Ellen Holland, editor-in-chief of High Times Magazine. “Women have helped shape and define the culture of cannabis in a variety of ways,” she asserts. Yet, she’s also quick to reveal the sobering reality: “Despite this history, women have generally had fewer career opportunities than men in this field.” Holland contends that addressing the underrepresentation of women in the cannabis industry necessitates a systemic change, one that extends beyond the industry itself. “To solve the issues surrounding the disadvantages women face working in cannabis, we need to consider bigger picture issues like women’s reproductive rights.”
Despite our hopes for a brighter future, it’s alarming to witness a declining trend in the number of women thriving in the sector. A study by Marijuana Business Daily unveils a decline from 37% of women in executive roles in 2017 to a disappointing 22% in 2023. This downturn is especially disturbing given reports suggesting companies led by women tend to register higher profitability, as indicated by a study from the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
Dr. Chanda Macias, a prominent figure in the cannabis industry and an ardent advocate for women’s representation, shines a spotlight on this critical issue. “Women in the cannabis industry and the workforce at large, are met with disparate treatment. Despite women earning advanced degrees at a higher rate than men, they are not considered for advanced positions equally. Moreover, women statistically receive less pay for performing the same roles as men and lack adequate representation across all corporate levels,” she observes. Dr. Macias also draws attention to the compounding disparity faced by minority women, whose participation is further curtailed. She recounts instances where she was the sole woman of color in high-level meetings, a striking illustration of the limitations of a singular perspective and the transformative potential of diversity.
Beyond simply achieving balanced representation in the corporate world, Dr. Macias harbors a fervent desire to see more women occupying a spectrum of roles across the industry. “Our presence in the workforce should mirror our presence in society,” she insists.
Why Should Consumers Care?
As the cannabis industry garners acceptance and its consumer base continues to grow, the spotlight must be turned onto the gender disparities that persist within the sector. This conversation isn’t exclusive to industry insiders or women striving to carve out their niche in this space; it invites everyday consumers of cannabis products to become key stakeholders. This is important as their purchasing power and preferences can significantly influence the shape of an equitable industry landscape.
For consumers, recognizing the integral role that diverse perspectives play in the growth trajectory of the cannabis sector is key. It is well-established that enterprises with diverse leadership teams tend to be more innovative and profitable, resulting in an expansive product range tailored to their needs, superior customer service and potentially competitive pricing driven by efficiency and creativity.
Research from Cone Communications emphasizes how consumer choices can considerably alter the market landscape. An overwhelming 87% of consumers revealed they would opt for a product because the company championed a cause they resonate with, while over 75% would refuse a product if they discovered the company supports an issue contrary to their beliefs. This powerful influence can be harnessed in the cannabis industry. By choosing to support businesses that prioritize gender equity, consumers can play a substantial role in dismantling the barriers women face.
Being well-informed about the companies behind the products (their values, their practices) can help guide our choices. By supporting products developed by women-led enterprises or companies with robust diversity and inclusion policies, consumers can exercise a profound influence. Each purchase signifies our endorsement of the kind of industry we wish to see and the world we aspire to inhabit.
The Role of Men in Advancing Women’s Agency
Marian Venini, editor of the cannabis-focused media outlet El Planteo, offers an insightful reflection on the constructive role men can play in spaces traditionally dominated by women: “Men can be feminists. They can be part of a space without hoarding it.” Venini’s perspective emphasizes that male contributions need not overshadow those of women, but can add value and depth to these arenas.
Venini further elaborates, underscoring that feminism opens the door to a better world, not just for women, but for men as well: “Not everyone gets this, but feminism also proposes a better world for men, where men feel better and can lead more fulfilling lives. It can open its doors to men who no longer want to be part of certain behaviors, who no longer want the world to be the way it is, who feel anxious and insecure.”
Venini’s poignant remarks highlight that feminism can indeed transform societal interactions, with the cannabis industry being no exception. “For instance, some feminist spaces in the Latin American cannabis industry tend to prioritize the sharing of information and mutual growth, instead of the competition, hostility, and rugged individualism, more often seen in some male-dominated fields,” she observes. This provides a glimpse into the potential of feminism as an engine for change, creating opportunities for both women and men who aspire for a more equitable world.
Venini’s insights catalyze a pressing need to challenge patriarchal norms and advocate for equity within the cannabis industry. They underscore the significant part that men can play in fostering this transformation. This involvement aligns with the strategies outlined in the World Bank Group’s report, “Engaging Men and Boys in Advancing Women’s Agency: Where We Stand and New Directions.” Such strategies encompass active allyship, sparking conversations about gender bias, advocating for equitable hiring and promotion practices, and creating safe channels for reporting sexist behavior.
In the present landscape, women are successfully leading the charge for legislative reform in the global cannabis sector. They stand at the helm of new businesses, technologies, and products that cater to diverse public needs. Organizations such as Women Grow, Ellementa and the Cannabis Women’s Alliance, are playing pivotal roles in creating professional networks, fostering personal development and building a sense of community for women in the industry.
Prominent figures like Dr. Chanda Macias, chairwoman of Women Grow, ardently champion the cause of women, especially women of color, within the cannabis industry. Their advocacy underscores the value of diversity and inclusivity. Dr. Sue Sisley, a psychiatrist and researcher, has made significant strides in researching the therapeutic uses of cannabis. Notably, Dr. Sisley secured the first U.S. federal approval for a randomized controlled trial investigating cannabis use in veterans with PTSD.
Despite numerous challenges, women in the cannabis industry are breaking barriers, pioneering research, and influencing policy. To sustain this momentum and accelerate progress, concerted efforts are required to reduce gender disparity, promote diversity, and encourage inclusivity. This involves amplifying networking events, initiating mentorship programs, propelling research initiatives on women’s health issues linked to cannabis, and advocating for more female leadership in cannabis corporations.
Cultivating an equitable corporate culture is a critical step toward this goal too. Unconscious biases must be addressed and inclusivity should be actively promoted. This may involve educational programs aimed at enlightening employees about these biases and a conscious effort to increase female representation on boards, a move supported by evidence that diverse boards are associated with financial benefits.
In our pursuit of a more inclusive and equitable future, recognizing and challenging gender biases, advocating for fairness, and tapping into women’s potential in the cannabis industry are pivotal. This journey demands commitment and concerted action but promises a more resilient and successful industry in return. As Venini eloquently puts it, “Men can be feminists, yes, please and thank you.” This powerful assertion serves as a compelling reminder that men not only can, but should, play a role in this progress toward inclusivity and equality.