(Note to reader: This article, written by Kari Paul, appeared today on Elle.com)
Female entrepreneurs are carving out a space for themselves in the burgeoning sector
Marijuana prohibition in the US is quickly losing ground, with 13 states having passed decriminalization laws since 1973 and at least 20 states poised to vote on similar measures in 2016. As cannabis inches towards broader legalization, it has created the country’s fastest-growing industry––and women are investing early. While people have been using and consuming the plant for ages, its ‘official’ market is growing almost from scratch, allowing female entrepreneurs to carve out a space for themselves in it from the beginning.
More women hold executive positions in the cannabis industry than in any other
The cannabis industry, like many others, is stereotypically thought of as largely male-dominated, but today women hold more executive positions in it than in any other field. Melissa Meyer, head of the New York chapter of women cannabis entrepreneurs networking group Women Grow said women’s participation has grown due to women supporting and educating each other through groups like these, and women from other fields being drawn in by the flexibility of the burgeoning industry.
“Many industries that attract really smart women, like tech, media, and finance are largely male-dominated,” she said. “Some very talented women aren’t satisfied there, and are bleeding from those industries and taking the opportunity to start a culture from scratch. In the cannabis industry, we are able to set our own agenda, so even though it is still male dominated in terms of numbers, we are creating a space where the cultural agenda is being set by women.”
Decriminalization of marijuana has resulted in an emerging industry
Meyer is the founder of HealthMJ, a resource that helps patients to learn more about the benefits of medical marijuana. She founded the company after two close friends died of cancer and she saw that drug prohibition had created a dearth of accurate health information about cannabis use. HealthMJ is an example of what is called an ancillary business––one that serves the main cannabis industry in some way, but does not actually distribute cannabis products. Such ventures can include informational services like Meyer’s, as well as software and hardware, like vaporizers for consumption. In places like New York, where medical marijuana is legal but dispensaries are few and far between due to heavy regulation and a costly licensing process, ancillary businesses are more common than in Colorado, where recreational marijuana is legal and dispensaries are plentiful.
Meyer said Women Grow’s national membership is split between women owners of ancillary businesses, growers, distributors, and average consumers and advocates who just want to learn more about the business. Its 34 national chapters hold meetings, workshops, and networking events for all of these constituents, and the organization is growing rapidly, recently becoming the largest networking group in the industry. According to Meyer, only eight people attended the first meeting for Women Grow in October 2014. Now, there are 15,000 people on its mailing list, and more than 90 attended the most recent networking event in New York City last week.