US cannabis laws are slackening, and a number of enterprising women are tapping into female interest in the drug through magazines, cooking, health and fashion. Candice Pires meets them
Women are rising to the top in America’s legal marijuana markets
As weed’s legal status loosens across the US, the way cannabis is being marketed, sold and celebrated is evolving. An industry that has been dominated by men is finding a female voice in consumers and new business owners. Search #womenofweed on Instagram and you’ll find a female chef drizzling cannabis oil on to a soup, and a woman relaxing in a rose-petalled bath with a spliff in hand. These are women who are celebrating cannabis as an important part of their lifestyles – an aid to their health, as much as their creativity.
The legality of using cannabis differs from state to state (and within states) in the US. In California, you’re able to possess an ounce if you’re aged 21 or over. In Indiana, possessing any amount could land you up to 180 days in jail. (In the UK, being caught with cannabis in small doses comes with a fine or warning, but production and supply can lead to a prison sentence.)
Still, new business opportunities are emerging. There are now yoga retreats, workouts, day spas, parties, conferences – all for women who like weed. One female artist is making gold-trimmed porcelain hash pipes that look more sculptural than functional. Whoopi Goldberg has started a line of cannabis products, including body balms and bath soaks, that help with PMT.
As the weed market continues to grow, women are shifting perceptions of the drug and its users. Stoner stereotypes are being knocked back and women are talking openly about the place weed has in their lives. Ideas of community and equitable access to the industry are held as highly as enjoyment of the leaf. And aesthetic representations are being made through a female lens.
Anja Charbonneau Editor of women’s weed magazine Broccoli
In Portland, Oregon, a city in one of the nine states to legalise recreational marijuana, Anja Charbonneau recently launched Broccoli (a slang term for the drug). Broccoli looks like a design publication and calls itself “a magazine created by and for women who love cannabis”. The cover of the first issue featured weed ikebana, where a stylist crafted cannabis leaves according to the rules of the ancient Japanese art of flower arranging. Inside issue two, Donisha Prendergast, granddaughter of Bob and Rita Marley, speaks about her grandparents’ legacy. And there’s a photo story set in an imaginary cannabis dispensary for cats. Since Broccoli’s inception, other design-focused cannabis magazines have appeared.
The idea for Broccoli came from cannabis dispensaries and seeing the little stacks of free magazines. “I noticed they were all for men, by men,” Charbonneau explains. Last summer she decided to test her idea of creating a weed magazine for women. She began by speaking to other women who enjoyed cannabis, as well as women in the industry, asking if they’d be interested in a magazine aimed at them. “I almost didn’t have to ask,” she says. “As I was explaining what I wanted to do, I was met with this resounding, ‘Yes! Please do that, we want it.’” She got together a couple of ex-colleagues from the slow-living lifestyle magazine Kinfolk: a writer
she knew and an editor she’d admired online. “Because cannabis is so new as a legal industry, it feels like there’s this opportunity to make women’s voices heard while it’s being built – and that’s pretty much never, ever happened with any other industry.”
Charbonneau has been receiving hundreds of messages of support from women sharing stories of their relationships with weed. “It seems women felt like they didn’t have permission to talk about this really private part of their lives,” she says. “They’ve seen Broccoli as an invitation to communicate about it, and they’re like, ‘Let me tell you about my life.’ It’s unlocked something.”
Andrea Drummond The marijuana chef
Andrea Drummond’s path into the cannabis industry was rocky. Despite her religious upbringing, she tried cannabis aged 12 or 13, but the experience made her uncomfortable and after getting into a fight with a friend, she ended up doing community service. ‘That made me think that if you smoke marijuana, you end up in jail,” she says.
For the bulk of her adult life, Drummond worked largely in roles advising kids to say no to drugs. But when she moved to California in her mid-30s, she looked at people around her and came to the conclusion that cannabis wasn’t the gateway drug it had been touted as. “I worked for a successful attorney who was an avid user and I became more open-minded.”
At 37, Drummond decided to follow her passion to become a chef and signed up for Le Cordon Bleu culinary school, later honing her craft at top Los Angeles restaurants and starting her own catering company. One evening, a friend asked her to make him some brownies from leftover cannabis leaves. “I took it on as a challenge,” Drummond says. “It smelled so beautiful and I’m not really big on sweets so I thought, ‘This wants to be something else.’” Drummond made a cannabis butter for bruschetta. “It completely enhanced the flavour of the dish,” she says. Another friend insisted Drummond needed to sell her creation. That night in 2012, while high on bruschetta, the trio hatched a plan to start a cannabis catering company: Elevation VIP Cooperative.
After obtaining a medical licence, they were able to serve anyone who held a California State Medical Marijuana ID Card, which weren’t difficult to acquire, but “It wasn’t received well,” says Drummond. “People were afraid and I was begging them to come for dinner at ridiculously low prices, like $30 a head for five courses.” But Drummond kept at it, starting a side business in cannabis education to help people understand the plant better. For a while she was homeless and slept in her car. Then, one day, while working on the business from a Starbucks, she received a call from Netflix. They wanted her to cook for a documentary series called Chelsea Does , where host Chelsea Handler would be doing drugs. The exposure led to a flood of enquiries.
On a personal level, she started using cannabis to treat the sciatica she’d developed while working in kitchens. “I didn’t want to take prescription drugs but there were times I was completely immobile,” she says. “But as soon as I tried cannabis I knew it was the alternative for me.” ‹
‹ Last year Drummond published a cookery book, Cannabis Cuisine . “I hope I’m bringing some normalcy to cannabis with it,” she says. “I don’t think I look like a stoner,” she adds. “Hopefully that helps normalise it, especially for other women.”
Tsion ‘Sunshine’ Lencho and Amber Senter Supernova Women, marijuana advocacy organisation
In Oakland, California, Amber Senter focuses daily on getting other women into the cannabis industry. Her own introduction to weed came via pain relief. As an adult, Senter was diagnosed with lupus, and credits smoking with alleviating sore joints and digestive issues. Her medical condition led her to research the plant extensively and gave her a career in the industry.
In 2015 Senter was working for a consulting firm that helps entrepreneurs apply for cannabis dispensary and cultivation permits. At a networking event she met Tsion “Sunshine” Lencho, an African-American, Stanford-educated lawyer who was looking for a job in the industry. Senter recruited Lencho and the two began working closely together. “We noticed that the groups that we were writing applications for were all well-funded, all male and very white,” she says. “This is an industry that was built on the backs of black and brown people. We thought, ‘Man, we’re gaining all this knowledge and essentially gentrifying our industry.’”
The pair decided to start Supernova Women, to help people in the black community get into the cannabis industry. They recruited two other women with existing cannabis-delivery businesses, Nina Parks and Andrea Unsworth, and the four now work in advocacy, education and networking, primarily for women of colour.
“The biggest barrier to the cannabis industry is funding,” says Senter. “And all the people who know each other with money are white guys. We’re teaching women of colour how to raise money and how to be good negotiators. The women we work with are equipped with the skills to run businesses – they just don’t have the resources or the pathways to money.”
On 1 January 2018, cannabis went from being medically to recreationally legal in California. There is a finite number of dispensary licences available. Supernova is now working with city councils on equity legislation for creating licensing programmes that give priority and assistance to marginalised groups.
Ultimately, Supernova wants money made from the industry pumped back into the communities it’s affected. “We don’t just want people in the community becoming owners – we also want to see the money reinvested in social programmes and education,” says Senter. “The plant can be used to heal our communities,” she says, “even though it’s been used to destroy them.”
Harlee Case & Co
Ladies of Paradise, cannabis creative agency
I don’t think I look like a stoner. I hope that helps to normalise cannabis’
Harlee Case started smoking behind her “super-religious, strait-laced” parents’ backs when she was 17. She had grown up around cannabis without knowing it. Her small hometown of Central Point in southern Oregon is surrounded by land and perfect cannabis-growing conditions. “Now I understand why everyone had these big farms in their back yards,” says the 26-year-old, “and why people always had cash.”
Case is one third of Ladies of Paradise, a “women-incannabis blog and creative agency”. The collective, which includes co-founder Jade Daniels, 30, and new recruit Leighana Martindale, 23, creates cannabis marketing for the female gaze.
Case and Daniels met three years ago. Daniels’s boyfriend was buying a cannabis farm in southern Oregon and the couple moved to work on it. Both Case and Daniels had fashion backgrounds and large online followings through their Instagram shops, which led them to collaborate on photography and styling.
Last autumn, working the harvest season on the farm and burnt out from their online work, they decided they wanted to “redirect people’s eyes to the cannabis industry in a female-driven way”, says Case. “Our first idea was to spotlight women working in the industry by interviewing them about what they’re doing and styling them in a unique way.” They took Daniels’s online jewellery shop, Ladies of Paradise, and set it off in a new direction. “It felt risky and we lost a few followers, but most people were really up for it,” says Daniels.
Having recruited Martindale, who had been managing a cannabis dispensary, the trio now work with small cannabis brands that want to bring a female perspective to their photography, styling and events. When a vape pen company approached the women for a revamp of their Instagram feed, the first thing Case decided had to go were the “bong girls”. “They’re all over the internet,” she explains. Case, who’s a photographer, likes to feature different types of women. “It’s about women being women. When we do boudoir stuff, it’s for us. Not men.”
They are keen to broaden the appeal of cannabis among more women. “Ideally, if you’re my mum and you’ve never smoked cannabis, seeing a photo of a woman your age with a joint might make it seem less intimidating,” says Case. “We want to help remove the stigma.” ■
Flower power: the inaugural cover of Broccoli magazine, created by Anja Charbonneau (right), featured a cannabis take on Japanese ikebana
Heaven sent: (left) Tsion ‘Sunshine’ Lencho and Amber Senter of Supernova Women. Below: Harlee Case and Jade Daniels of Ladies of Paradise