From the Editor
We fucked up. Yes, that includes you [and me] and just about everyone else involved in the early days of legal cannabis.
Forgive the blunt opening [and the ‘blunt’ pun], but this was supposed to be the industry that got gender equality right from the start. Legal cannabis was our chance to build a brand new 21st century industry capable of avoiding the institutional sexism that has long dominated the business world.
Instead, we let the Old Boys Club of high finance join forces with the Old Boys Club of penny stock promoters to produce an industry that has more in common with 17th century cultural norms than those of today. Even tech and other infamously dude-dominated industries seem to be doing a better job of acknowledging and addressing their sex problems these days.
It is, frankly, embarrassing.
Rather than remind you of how we arrived at such an unfortunate place, this issue of Weekly Chronicle is devoted to potential solutions. We asked some of the most prominent women in weed what would help, but their ideas are just a starting point. Remember: we *all* fucked up here, so now, each and every one of us has a responsibility to make it right.
Yours in pursuit of progress,
Volume 1: Issue 4
What Women in Weed Really Want
by Jameson Berkow
Much has already been written about the massive female underrepresentation in legal cannabis. Not just within the industry itself, but even in the way products are designed and marketed. Tired of continuing to define the extent of the problem and watching their calls to action fall on deaf ears, those women who managed to beat the odds and break into the legal cannabis boys club are starting to take matters into their own hands.
Making the legal cannabis industry “equitable was never a priority for anyone who was ever in charge of anything” related to cannabis policy formulation, laments Tabitha Fritz.
The founder and CEO of Fritz’s Cannabis Company still struggles with people assuming her husband is the “Fritz” behind her brand. Despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau constantly talking up his feminist bona fides, Ms. Fritz said his government actively avoided equity issues during the legalization process.
“We told them,” she said in an interview. “All along the way there were so many voices saying ‘you are doing it wrong’ and ‘you need to fix this or we are going to have a problem. Everyone who sounded the alarm about it was ignored. A lot of us were women.”
Not only did that result in male domination of yet another sector of the economy, but it also helped support the mistaken belief that the vast majority of cannabis consumers are men.
Producers ended up “giving lip service to women by making a pink product instead of providing something that was actually valuable to women,” Ms. Fritz said.
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Pamela Hadfield, co-founder of HelloMD, agreed “there has been a lot of lip service” given to the lack of women in legal cannabis “and not a lot done about it.” Much of that, she said in an interview, stems from overly idealistic expectations in the earliest days of the industry.
“Why would you assume [cannabis] would be any different than any other industry? Why would you assume, when there is tons of money at stake, that this would be any different? Everybody thinks that if we talk this big game that it is going to just naturally happen, but then the big money always moves in,” Ms. Hadfield said.
“You are looking at an industry where people had hopes and dreams that this is going to be different and women are going to be a part of this and people of every race and gender are going to have equal and fair opportunities, but largely I think that comes down to regulations,” Ms. Hadfield said.
In Canada, for example, the legal cannabis industry was designed in a way that specifically gave preference to those capable of securing hundreds of millions of dollars in highly-speculative investment capital. Other jurisdictions – such as Massachusetts and Illinois – have instituted cannabis social equity programs, but they have been widely criticized as both ineffective and easily corruptible by the usual old white dudes with money.
“The problem comes when you try to do something too broad like saying we are going to award X amount of licenses to women or visible minorities,” Ms. Hadfield said, “because then people with a bunch of money come in and it is the same old, same old.”
Hyperlocal focus on equitable regulation tends to be more effective, Ms. Hadfield said, noting San Francisco has seen great success with its own program. That program – which allows anyone from a community “negatively impacted by the war on drugs” to access incubators and avoid costly application fees – is not without its own problems related to red tape and “straw man” concerns, but has at least started to move the needle.
The problem with regulation and policy-based solutions, however, is they are perhaps the least effective way of changing how people think on an individual level.
“Policy is great, but it is also forcing someone to do something they may or may not want to do and still putting people in a box in terms of defining proper behaviour,” said Christina Michael, founder and CEO of Marigolds Cannabis. “It is a double-edged sword because many of these [social equity] programs are clearly necessary [but] as a woman, you’re always walking a thin line: am I going to offend other women or am I going to emasculate a man? I don’t know half the time.”
Short of legislating a solution, Jess Moran believes providing aspiring female cannabis entrepreneurs more direct access to financing would help to close the cannabis gender gap.
“Women in cannabis are constantly having to go to men and sell to men,” Ms. Moran, founder and principal of consulting firm JESSCO, said in an interview. “To get funding… that is not attractive for women right now because the people doling out those funds are typically that stereotyped white man that takes control of your business and doesn’t listen.”
She said governments or private players such as VC firms could offer a service “where women, if they have an idea, [can] get access to financial resources that doesn’t necessarily involve [impressing] a panel of white men where you feel almost like they are preying on you.”
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There are scores of industry groups and advocacy organizations already mandated to push for those kinds of options, but “key at this point,” Ms. Fritz argues, “is making it easier for smaller businesses to get involved and to be significant players in the industry.”
“This industry cannot be sustained if every single player needs to be huge and very well capitalized with major investments in expensive equipment and facilities,” she said. “That is not a way to make an equitable industry, because the only people able to access that are wealthy, well-financed and well-established; white guys in suits.”
Studies show women are indeed more likely to start their own businesses than men, yet entrepreneurs are also the group most likely to be ignored by cannabis policymakers when legalization measures are written.
Despite those setbacks, over the past year, Ms. Moran said the number of women choosing to take matters into their own hands has been increasing.
“I have seen women like Tabitha and others who know what women want, they are women themselves, and are saying fuck it we are doing it.”
That includes companies like Daye, a British producer of CBD-infused tampons conceived and launched as a single-person business by Valentina Milanova (she did not respond to The Chronicle’s requests for an interview, though she gave a great one here about the challenges she faced just trying to get male investors to say the word “tampon” out load!). Ms. Fritz’s company, meanwhile, is preparing to launch a cannabis-based suppository.
“That is obviously a product that men can use as well and do with great success, but it is definitely a female-oriented product,” Ms. Fritz said. “From the beginning I have been very pro-suppository, they are not hard to make and women will buy them. Now that we have them coming out into the market they’ll be in the news and people will ask about them and will learn about them and start using them. I think that is starting to happen.”
COVID-19 has created an environment capable of accelerating that trend, Ms. Michael said, “where virtual is our new normal and it is often just a voice at the other end of the conversation and not necessarily even a face [so] perhaps it won’t matter quite as much if that voice is feminine.”
Ms. Fritz agrees “COVID has created an excellent opportunity to reexamine and reevaluate.”
“We are not going back to the world as it was six months ago, we are just not,” Ms. Fritz said. “The sooner we can settle into that reality and start asking ourselves ‘well, what can I do now to try and make this new world a better place in the best way that I can?’ the better.”