Women Behind the Movement!
written by Dianna Benjamin
Cannabis prohibition has been worse for women. More women are incarcerated today than at any other time in history. The war on drugs’ enforcement of non-violent drug offenses is largely responsible for this increase. Bias against women exacerbates the impacts.
Sadly, believing that the novelty of the cannabis industry is enough to draw women into leadership roles is naïve. Yes, the cannabis industry is still developing and there are many avenues to enter it. But those avenues are not equally accessible. Not to women. Especially not to women of color.
Despite these obstacles, these are some of the women who are paving the way.
Founder of Marijuana Matters and Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility at Curaleaf.
At the heart of Khadijah’s work is compassion-driven action. She is on a mission to pull people out of poverty, and she has targeted social equity within the cannabis industry to do that.
Marijuana Matters, her most recent venture, is an advocacy think tank that educates cannabis stakeholders about the impact of local cannabis laws. M2 advocates for inclusive language as those laws are developed and implemented. M2 is specifically focused on targeting and removing barriers to opportunities in regulated markets disproportionately affected by the war on drugs.
Prior to receiving her MPA from the Harvard Kennedy School in 2018, Khadijah served as a public and political health consultant for over 15 years.
Founder and President of Ardent
The driving factor behind cannabis’ recent wave of legalization is its medicinal use. However, harnessing cannabis’ therapeutic properties is complex. As a medical marijuana patient, Shanel understood this first-hand. She struggled to understand the best way to process the plant into effective medicine. The need for accessible technology became apparent.
In 2012, Shanel collaborated with MCR Labs to create Ardent, LLC. Ardent develops innovations that improve the therapeutic use of cannabis for patients. One of these innovations is NOVA, a device that allows patients to dose their cannabis plant with unmatched precision.
Founding Board Member and Executive Director of Chicago NORML
Social justice has been at the center of Edie’s work for over 2 decades. Edie’s experience as a construction project administrator and compliance director have given her vast experience in improving communities and supporting the growth of small and mid-sized minority and women-owned businesses.
NORML is a national advocacy group that works to legalize and regulate the responsible use of marijuana. In 2017, Edie Moore founded the Chicago chapter of NORML. This was a critical time for the state of Illinois as it prepared for the implementation of its adult-use cannabis laws.
Edie lent her experience and passion for social equity to the development of Illinois’ adult-use cannabis legislation, the country’s first set of laws that built in intentional, multi-layered social equity provisions.
President of Women Grow and Founder/CEO of GVM Communications, Inc.
Women Grow is a national professional network with the mission of educating, connecting, and empowering diverse leaders across the Canadian and American cannabis industries. Equipped by nearly 3 decades of public relations experience, Gia oversees day-to-day operations, internal and external communications, educating programing, and strategic partnerships for the company.
In 2012, Gia founded GVM Communications, a public relations, brand and business development consulting firm. GVM serves corporations, non-profits, speakers, authors, and entrepreneurs both in and out of the cannabis space.
In addition to her role as President of Women Grow and CEO of GVM Communications, Gia serves on the board of Minorities for Medical Marijuana and is a coalition member of Start SMART NY.
Dr. Chanda Macias
Owner of National Holistic Healing Center Medical Marijuana Dispensary, CEO of Women Grow, and CEO of Illera Holistic Healthcare
Dr. Chanda is widely regarded as one of the most influential women in the cannabis industry. She has over 15 years of experience as a biomedical researcher, entrepreneur, and advocate for women and minorities.
Her career began in the lab. Her innovations have received several global and US patents. She also served as the Director of STEM Education in the College of Engineering, Architecture, and Computer Sciences at Howard University.
Through her leadership at Women Grow, Dr. Chanda has provided women and minorities with industry support. Since 2014, Women Grow has nurtured thousands of women-owned cannabis businesses.
Dr. Chanda founded the National Holistic Healing Center in 2015, a major medical cannabis dispensary located in the District of Columbia.
Her latest accomplishment is an unprecedented partnership between her CBD company Illera Holistic Healthcare and Southern University. The collaboration has made Southern University the first HBCU to launch its own cannabis line.
Oppression is Not the End of the Story
Canadian researcher Jacquelin Kittel identifies these obstacles to women leadership in the cannabis industry:
- Cannabis users have been stereotyped as men, so the idea of women engaging with cannabis feels “inappropriate.”
- The ideal image of a “legitimate” cannabis business looks like a corporation. Corporations are overwhelmingly white and male.
The sexualization of women in the cannabis industry has been prevalently used as a marketing tool. This tactic has been seen as both beneficial and detrimental to women in the industry, creating unhelpful divisions among women.
The lack of representation of women in leadership positions is troubling. Blocking such an enormous segment of the population out of business robs the industry of valuable insight and skill.
The women described here have had to overcome barriers created by the patriarchal and racist infrastructure undergirding United States laws and business culture. However, their accomplishments remind us that oppression is not how the story ends. These women contribute to a legacy that has existed since the beginning of civilization. Women have been and continue to be oppressed. They contribute, create, and uplift anyway.