Grass ceil­ing

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

The Observer Magazine - - NEWS -

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

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