The bud­ding cannabis in­dus­try proves weed is more than a gate­way drug for pot­heads and wake ’n’ bak­ers.

The bud­ding mar­i­juana in­dus­try is ready for women to take con­trol.

Fashion (Canada) - - Contents - By Nancy Won

Once the do­main of pot­heads, ston­ers and no-good wake ’n’ bak­ers, weed has gone from il­licit gate­way drug to buzzy new in­vest­ment in just a few years. In the United States (where mar­i­juana is le­gal for adult recre­ational use in nine states and Wash­ing­ton, D.C.), gleam­ing Ap­ple Storeesque dis­pen­saries sell de­signer herb along­side artsy pas­tel-hued pipes; trendy fash­ion pub­li­ca­tions pro­file cool cre­atives and their favourite strains; and bud brands are even get­ting in on the ubiq­ui­tous streetwear trend, selling lo­goed tees and hood­ies to the mil­len­nial masses. Canada, mean­while, near­ing fed­eral le­gal­iza­tion of cannabis, is on the brink of what ex­perts pre­dicted in 2016 could be a $22.6 bil­lion in­dus­try.

Per­haps what’s most ex­cit­ing about the so-called “green rush” is the op­por­tu­nity it presents for women. Be­cause in the cur­rent eco­nomic land­scape, de­spite all the lean­ing in on and seem­ingly daily take­downs of pow­er­ful men be­hav­ing badly, when it comes to real de­ci­sion mak­ers and ac­tual women lead­ers, we have a lot of catch­ing up to do. At the end of the work­day, ac­cord­ing to a 2016 di­ver­sity dis­clo­sure prac­tices re­port con­ducted by Osler, women ac­count for only 15 per cent of ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cers at TSX-listed com­pa­nies and only 13 per cent of board mem­bers.

Weed, in a lot of ways, is poised to blaze a dif­fer­ent path. Ac­cord­ing to a 2015 sur­vey by Mar­i­juana Busi­ness Daily of the le­gal cannabis space in the United States, women made up roughly 36 per cent of lead­ers, in­clud­ing 63 per cent of high-level po­si­tions in test­ing labs. And there’s more ev­i­dence: Women-run dis­pen­saries are pop­ping up stateside as well as here in Canada; last year saw the launch of Broc­coli, a stylish cannabis mag­a­zine for women that was founded by the for­mer cre­ative direc­tor of

Kin­folk; cannabis so­cial clubs for women are a thing now; and fem-for­ward ac­ces­sories are dom­i­nat­ing our so­cial feeds. (Rose-petal rolling pa­pers, any­one?)

April Pride, the founder of fe­male­fo­cused cannabis life­style brand Van der Pop (which is now owned by Toron­to­based Tokyo Smoke), is the un­of­fi­cial god­mother of the women and weed move­ment. A se­rial en­tre­pre­neur with a back­ground in de­sign (she trained as an ar­chi­tect and went to Parsons for grad school), Pride launched Van der Pop in 2016 as a fash­ion­able weed ac­ces­sories brand af­ter she no­ticed a se­vere lack of good de­sign in what she knew was a soon-to-ex­plode in­dus­try. (She’s based in Wash­ing­ton state, where mar­i­juana has been le­gal for recre­ational use since 2012.) A few months af­ter launch­ing the site, she no­ticed that most peo­ple on it were look­ing for advice and in­for­ma­tion about how cannabis re­lates to women’s is­sues. “Women were com­ing to me about their own lives, and men were com­ing to me about their re­la­tion­ships with their wives,” says Pride. “Af­ter a while, I was just like, ‘Why am I not do­ing this?’” And so she did. In Novem­ber 2017, she took Van der Pop’s fe­male fo­cus a step fur­ther,

col­lab­o­rat­ing with On­tario-based li­censed pro­ducer WeedMD to launch a line of cannabis strains specif­i­cally de­signed for women’s needs: Cloudburst, which has a pro­file that’s sim­i­lar to va­ri­eties known to help with pain man­age­ment and stress, and Eclipse, sim­i­lar to strains that pro­mote re­lax­ation and help you sleep. “Canada has a dis­tinctly pro­gres­sive at­ti­tude to­ward cannabis,” says Pride. “It has the po­ten­tial to be the global leader in cannabis, and our brand wants to be part of that mo­men­tum.” For Van der Pop, it’s a log­i­cal—and likely lu­cra­tive—next step be­cause, chic ac­ces­sories aside, the in­dus­try re­al­ity seems to point to ac­tual cannabis as the real money-maker.

In Canada, this means be­ing, be­com­ing or—like Van der Pop—work­ing with li­censed pro­duc­ers. Cur­rently, only com­pa­nies hold­ing an ACMPR (Ac­cess to Cannabis for Med­i­cal Pur­poses Reg­u­la­tions) li­cence are au­tho­rized to pro­duce or sell mar­i­juana through the med­i­cal sys­tem. Come le­gal­iza­tion, it might get eas­ier, depend­ing on where you live, since pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments will be over­see­ing li­cens­ing and distri­bu­tion in­stead of Ot­tawa. But if you do the math, this means that the qui­etly il­le­gal dis­pen­sary you fre­quent now could eas­ily be just as il­le­gal af­ter le­gal­iza­tion. “In the le­gal reg­u­lated mar­ket, we have high stan­dards set by Health Canada that re­quire sig­nif­i­cant costs and at­ten­tion,” says Ali­son Gordon, CEO of 48North Cannabis Corp., an ACMPRli­censed com­pany based in Toronto. “It’s a hugely cap­i­tal in­ten­sive in­dus­try, so there are con­stant meet­ings with in­vestors, bankers and share­hold­ers.” In other words, it’s hugely white-male in­ten­sive. “It seems that there are some women lead­ers in the life­style or cul­ture side of the busi­ness, but un­for­tu­nately I don’t see many women at ex­ec­u­tive or board lev­els in the com­pa­nies in the le­gal reg­u­lated space, which is where the in­dus­try is go­ing. This is still very male dom­i­nated,” con­tin­ues Gordon. “I am the only fe­male CEO of the 92 li­censed com­pa­nies that I am aware of…but it’s hard to keep track as the list of li­censed com­pa­nies changes weekly.”

Be­fore join­ing the cannabis in­dus­try, Gordon was the ex­ec­u­tive vice-pres­i­dent of Re­think Breast Cancer, which she co-founded in 2001. When a close fam­ily mem­ber was di­ag­nosed with stage IV ovar­ian cancer and be­gan us­ing med­i­cal mar­i­juana to help with sleep, anx­i­ety and pain man­age­ment, Gordon re­al­ized that the cannabis in­dus­try had a per­sis­tent im­age prob­lem. “I was like, ‘Some­one needs to re­brand this. Why does it al­ways have to be just about hip­pies and rap­pers?’” she says. “I re­al­ized that I have this per­fect storm of ex­pe­ri­ence with mar­ket­ing and fundrais­ing and work­ing with pa­tients, physi­cians and gov­ern­ment, so I jumped into the in­dus­try.”

Her first role was chief mar­ket­ing of­fi­cer for a cannabis pro­ducer—tech­ni­cally a de­mo­tion. Three years later, she took on a sim­i­lar role at 48North. And less than a year later, she was ap­pointed CEO. “It’s a chal­lenge across the board, whether it’s women or men, to find peo­ple who’ve worked in the cannabis in­dus­try,” says Gordon. Her best advice for boss bitches want­ing to get in on the lu­cra­tive le­gal ac­tion? “It’s a new in­dus­try, and we do move very quickly, so if women can get in now—maybe not at ex­ec­u­tive lev­els but at the se­nior level—and get a few years un­der their belts, they will be the lead­ers of this in­dus­try be­cause we’re at such an early point in time,” she says. “I’m con­sid­ered a vet­eran be­cause I’ve been in it for five years.”

Of course, as with any in­dus­try on the brink of a boom, there’s al­ways the risk of fail­ure. But when it comes to mar­i­juana, the ROI is about so much more than the bot­tom line—es­pe­cially for women, many of whom aren’t just jump­ing on the cannabis band­wagon be­cause it’s edgy or trendy or a buzzy in­vest­ment. For most, it’s about tak­ing con­trol of their own health. Ac­cord­ing to a Van der Pop-spon­sored sur­vey of 1,530 women who use cannabis mul­ti­ple times a month, the top four rea­sons why they con­sume it are well­ness-re­lated (pain re­lief, re­lax­ation, stress and anx­i­ety). Which means the same woman who does yoga, drinks cold-pressed juices, med­i­tates with her crys­tals and adds spir­ulina to her kale smoothie in the morn­ing is prob­a­bly also open to smok­ing a lit­tle pot to un­wind or deal with a headache or get “in the mood.” And if you con­sider how mas­sive the #self­care move­ment has be­come, well­ness is very likely go­ing to be the thing that breaks weed into the main­stream. “Women are start­ing to re­al­ize, es­pe­cially in the States, that de­ci­sions are be­ing made on our be­half ei­ther by the gov­ern­ment or by phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies,” says Pride. “Those in po­si­tions to make the de­ci­sions around which med­i­cal chal­lenges to pur­sue re­gard­ing prod­uct re­search and de­vel­op­ment and/or reg­u­la­tory change have rarely been fe­male, so our true ar­ray of needs have rarely been met. As more peo­ple leave their ‘re­spectable’ nine-to-fives and start tak­ing best prac­tices from the es­tab­lished in­dus­tries, I think we’re go­ing to see an in­cred­i­ble rate of in­no­va­tion. It’s ex­cit­ing—we get to make the rules and break the rules at the same time!”

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