Women Breaking Barriers in Cannabis
Amanda Reiman, PhDDr. Amanda Reiman is a social ethnobotanist and founded Personal Plants, which educates people about the healthy use of natural psychoactives. She also serves as the chief knowledge officer of New Frontier Data, an analytics and technology company covering the cannabis industry globally.
“The very early cannabis activists were primarily gay men and women because many of these early dispensaries were born out of HIV/AIDS. It was really about recognizing and destigmatizing a group of people that needed access to something they weren’t getting, and that no one was willing to stand up for them because of who they were…I think a lot of those same values—which I do believe to hold a lot of feminine energy—were partly due to early dispensaries.”
Anna KaplanAnna Kaplan is the CEO and co-founder of SugarTop Buddery, a company devoted to cultivating and processing cannabis, where she supports a vibrant artistic community with concerts and other events.
“As far as heroes in this space, my female colleagues who have persevered since the beginning are the foundation of my ability to succeed here. That is also something that I did not have in any other industry: a supportive network of women who were that girls’ club rather than the boys’ club.”
“In the industry in general—in any industry in general—more diversity brings more understanding of where everyone is coming from…Having a variety of voices, we’ll come up with better solutions.”
Jane WestJane West is the founder and CEO of Jane West, a chic cannabis product and lifestyle brand. She also founded Women Grow, a professional association dedicated to connecting, educating, empowering, and inspiring female leaders in the cannabis industry.
“So much opportunity lies outside of what we’ve created in the past decades since I started…We really need a second wave of advocacy, fighting for and demanding access to businesses, licenses, and growing your own.”
Jeannette WardJeannette Ward is the CEO of NuProject, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping Black, Indigenous, and Latina/o/x entrepreneurs in the legal cannabis industry with funding, mentoring, and networking. To date, NuProject has distributed more than 100 economic justice loans and grants, providing over $2.33 million across several U.S. states and Canada, with the overarching goal of building generational wealth within communities most affected by the War on Drugs.
“When I got into the cannabis industry, I was surprised by the fact that it was less diverse than corporate America. That felt particularly jarring in light of the economic impact of the cannabis industry on Black families and of cannabis criminalization on Black families.”
Joyce Gerber, JDJoyce Gerber, JD is the creator, host, and executive producer of The Canna Mom Show, an award-winning podcast featuring female activists, entrepreneurs, and other important voices in the cannabis industry.
“Almost universally across the board, the women I talk to have healed themselves or healed someone they love after they came to [cannabis] as their last resort. Now they’re becoming the people they needed, and they are building the industry they needed.”
“I’ve always had a relationship with this plant, and then when Oregon went legal, I knew that the only way to bring down the stigma was to get it to the masses…This would create access for everyone. That’s when I knew I had to get behind it.”
Lisa SnyderLisa Snyder is the co-founder and chief innovation officer of Tokeativity, an international cannabis community for feminists that has hosted hundreds of events since 2015. She also co-created and was an executive producer of Bridges, a web series on diversity, equity, and inclusion.
“I think [cannabis] is more [LGBTQ-friendly] than other industries. I would say that because we’re already thinking alternatively; we’re already thinking about different approaches and different types of people.”
Some Millennials assist their parents with new technologies. Me? I advise my mother on THC and CBD gummy dosage to alleviate her back pain.
Every cannabis consumer has an anecdote about how they came to embrace this transformative plant. A Berkeley PhD used it for arthritic pain in her 20s. An Oregon dispensary owner shared how it relieved her business partner’s MS symptoms. A former family law attorney wished she could have reached for a joint rather than suffering through her most challenging childrearing years. A feminist community icon knows how much this plant could have helped those closest to her.
In the early days of legalized adult use in the United States, an old sexist marketing trope reared its head. The 2016 Marijuana Business Conference (MJBizCon) had a male-heavy audience and panels, and attendees enjoyed charcuterie off the body of a “booth babe” during an afterparty.
But there was something different about these early pioneers of the industry. By 2019, the shares of female and minority executives in cannabis reached 36.8 and 28 percent—a far greater share than other industries. By 2022, however, these figures had dipped to 23.1 and 12.1 percent.
The American cannabis industry is at a crossroads: will it follow the established path of concentrating wealth among a few white men—or will diverse leadership lead a small business and community-building revolution?
- Out of the Green Closet: The New American Legal Landscape
- How Female Leaders Led (and Fled) the Green Rush
- The Grass Ceiling: Why Aren’t There More Women in the Industry?
- Budding Potential: How Having Female Executives Affects Business Outcomes
- Let’s Be Blunt: A Call for Institutional and Legal Reforms
- Higher Together: How to Increase the Representation of Women in Cannabis Leadership
Out of the Green Closet: The New American Legal Landscape
“[The cannabis industry] had been operating literally in the dark, and so everyone was just growing, cultivating their practices; all of the growers who built the industry that we now have are the masters of this plant, if you will, but the systems for actually making it in this business, they didn’t exist: rules, regulations, retail outlets…none of those things existed.” (Anna Kaplan)
As of June 2023, roughly 246 million Americans live in states with legalized cannabis (medical and/or recreational). Nearly half of adults in the U.S. live in the 23 states with recreational adult use, and almost three-quarters have access to medical cannabis, which is only expected to increase in the coming years.
New Frontier Data’s “2023 U.S. Cannabis Report” identified 18 states likely to embrace legalized adult use by 2030. Of those, Delaware and Minnesota already approved adult recreational use by spring 2023. The same report found 52 million cannabis consumers in the U.S. in 2022. That is expected to grow roughly 4 percent annually, reaching 69 million by 2030 (legal and illicit use).
No wonder legal cannabis sales in the U.S. reached almost $30 billion in 2022—but that’s only a small fraction of what folks spend on the plant. Illicit markets continue to flourish in many states, and it’s estimated that there was $76 billion spent on illegal sources nationally in 2022, including $6.4 billion in Texas alone. As new state markets become activated, legal sales will overtake illicit sales by 2028 (projected $62 versus $58 billion, respectively).
The support for legalized cannabis has skyrocketed in recent years, with Gallup (April 2023) finding that 90 percent of Americans approve of legalized medical or recreational use.
And there’s much more to the cannabis industry than cultivation: companies are springing up nationwide to handle the processing, packaging, lab services, retail, investment, marketing, and business services for this popular and growing market.
How Female Leaders Led (and Fled) the Green Rush
“I think the only reason we had that bump at the beginning was because the people that held the institutional knowledge at that point in time were women. But once that institutional knowledge was passed on, the idea was that the women went from being an asset to being a liability.” (Amanda Reiman, PhD)
At the inception of the legalized American cannabis industry, company ownership demographics looked promising. A 2022 report (“Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in the Cannabis Industry”) found that the shares of female and minority executives peaked in 2019:
|Female Executives in the Cannabis Industry||Racial Minority Executives|
What happened? It’s been widely reported that the pandemic hit women and minority groups especially hard. Women are much more likely to be unpaid caretakers, and both groups were overrepresented in healthcare and other “essential” customer-facing occupations, which suffered high rates of burnout and exposure to Covid-19.
But it’s more than that: as the cannabis market has matured and become more competitive in various states (especially in the West), white men’s advantage in capital access has played a significant role. Ward put it poignantly: “It’s a fallout of the smaller players; those are the ones without the capital. Those are the women. Those are the minorities. Those are the Black owners.”
These days, 14 of the 15 top-paid cannabis CEOs are white men. (Trulieve’s CEO, Kim Rivers, remains the only woman on the list.)
Further, even in legalized adult-use states with social equity provisions (e.g., business license priority for folks convicted on cannabis charges), female entrepreneurs have been largely left out. In New York, for example, only 7 percent of the first round of licenses and 14 percent of the second round were given to women.
By the latest figures, only 8 percent of cannabis companies are run by women. Also, the 2022 “Women in Cannabis Study” (WIC), which surveyed 1,677 female cannabis employees in the U.S., found that only 11 percent consider the industry to be “equitable.”
One of the major, oft-cited hurdles for female entrepreneurs is raising capital, which is even more complicated in an industry ensnared in red tape with varying state legal landscapes. Many banks still will not work with cannabis companies out of fear of federal legal repercussions. And although women started 49 percent of new businesses in the U.S. in 2021, they received a paltry 2.1 percent of venture capital the following year.
The Grass Ceiling: Why Aren’t There More Women in the Industry?
“As capital has become more interested in cannabis, there’s been less investment in women and more investment in white men.” (Heidi Fikstad)
There have been many reasons posited for the persistent “Grass Ceiling”—the barriers impeding women’s rise in the cannabis industry. These barriers include sexism or gender bias, and a lack of networking or know-how in raising capital.
Survey respondents in the pioneering WIC Study cited the following “significant” or “extremely significant” barriers to working in cannabis:
- Obtaining resources or funding (68%)
- Being taken seriously (64%)
- Discrimination or lack of respect (60%)
- Balancing one’s professional and personal life (57%)
- Fear of failure (49%)
- Low pay (45%)
These barriers—particularly the first three—were consistent with the eight interviewees’ reported experiences. Everyone mentioned the difficulty of raising capital and offered examples of being treated with less respect than men in the business.
Regarding the difficulty of obtaining funding, Kaplan shared, “Money came in, and with that came all of the male-led boards, all of the big money structures that have always kept women and people of color out of the room. Once boards turned over and once businesses got sold, the leadership started to look like what any other business would look like.” Dr. Reiman pointed out the vicious cycle of capital, which rewards the same demographic: “It’s kind of like a loop because a lot of investors are men, and they innately feel more comfortable funding people that look like them.”
All eight women also pointed to examples of sexism or racism in their careers. Kaplan expressed, “My business partner is my brother, so I do have that mirror to myself in this industry; if we were in the same room trying to do a sales pitch, especially early on, the eye contact I would get was probably 10 percent of what he would get as far as being taken seriously.” Similarly, Fikstad recalled, “I have CEO in my title, but it’s amazing how many of the people that we’re talking to, whether it’s private capital or VCs, will respond and address one of my male business partners.”
Dr. Reiman admitted that getting a PhD helped her to be taken more seriously and it “felt like no one would listen to [her] otherwise.” Snyder added how exhausting it is to get respect, noting, “It’s so much more work and effort to even communicate to a dude that you know what you’re talking about.” Summing up the headwinds women face in business, Gerber quipped, “I want to create a world where mediocre women can achieve like mediocre men. You shouldn’t have to be exceptional.”
Seventy-three percent of the women in the WIC Study conveyed the “need to work harder than male counterparts” to receive the same level of respect. Only 33 percent believed they had the same opportunities as men in cannabis for growth and development, compared to 66 percent of women working in other industries.
In short, especially as the cannabis industry has matured, the patriarchy (i.e., the “Dude-Bro Network”) has largely kept white men in executive leadership.
Budding Potential: How Having Female Executives Affects Business Outcomes
“[Feminism] means equality. It doesn’t mean power over; it means power within, and it means power together.” (Lisa Snyder)
Having diverse leadership isn’t just a moral or ethical imperative—it’s good for business.
Ward cited a famous McKinsey study, which examined data from 366 public companies in various industries and countries. It found that those in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity were 35 percent more likely (than the bottom quartile) to have higher financial returns than their industry medians. For gender diversity, the top quartile outperformed the bottom by 15 percent.
Female-founded (or co-founded) startups may receive far less investment, but they are more profitable. By illustration, women-led businesses yield more than twice the revenue compared to those led by men ($0.78 to $0.31 for every dollar invested). They also produced 10 percent more cumulative revenue over five years.
A Pepperdine University study found that 25 Fortune 500 companies with the best record of promoting women to high leadership positions were 18 to 69 percent more profitable than the median figures of their respective industries.
In 2023, roughly 10 percent of Fortune 500 companies are led by women; boards are still overwhelmingly male (78 percent) and white (82 percent). Overall, women occupy only 25 percent of C-suite roles.
The bottom line is that gender and ethnic diversity (especially on executive teams) is correlated with better decision-making, improved customer satisfaction, and increased innovation. Freeman summarized this well: “It’s important to create a really diverse base—within that, it will be the strongest base.”
Let’s Be Blunt: A Call for Institutional and Legal Reforms
“Equity is definitely a top priority. Not only for the Black, Latin/x, and Indigenous folks but also for women and LGBTQ.” (Kendra Freeman)
The American cannabis industry is still novel and controversial. Although this medicinal plant has been embraced by cultures worldwide for millennia, it’s only recently reached mainstream acceptance in the U.S. through the spread of the legalized market.
At this early stage, we see signs of cannabis becoming yet another American mega-industry, marked by cutthroat competition, exploitation, leadership homogeneity (i.e., the boys’ club), and polarized wealth. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Here is a roadmap to the interviewees’ proposed legal and institutional reforms.
Executive Summary: Institutional and Legal Reforms to Support a Thriving Cannabis Industry
- Create large grassroots political action and lobbying groups.
- Fight to federally de-schedule cannabis and end the racist War on Drugs.
- Overhaul nonsense marketing and banking regulations.
- Follow (and emulate) laws in states with successful, forward-thinking cannabis markets.
- Promote and expand consumption-friendly spaces.
- Advocate for the small business revolution.
- Encourage cannabis tax reform, especially the burdensome excise taxes.
- Just say no to non-compete agreements.
- Revamp and prioritize the medical cannabis market.
- Educate the public about the history and uses of the plant.
- Don’t tokenize women or the BIPOC community in equity licensing.
Create large grassroots political action and lobbying groups.
The industry requires powerful lobbying groups for cannabis consumers and business owners. This can help assure that cannabis interests are reflected in legislation and destigmatize the industry. This will be the foundation for shaping the legal and sociocultural landscape for the plant.
Gerber suggested “creating a national organization, a political organization that’s like the NRA, representing the consumers.” Recounting her experience as a board member of the Oregon Cannabis Association, Snyder reflected, “I [saw] how important it was to be a part of an organization lobbying for the cannabis space.”
Fight to federally de-schedule cannabis and end the racist War on Drugs.
Cannabis is still a Schedule 1 controlled substance, similar to cocaine and heroin. And although Black and white Americans use illicit substances at similar rates (20.1 to 18.5 percent), Black folks are six times more likely to be arrested.
Dr. Reiman shared, “The War on Drugs, as we all know, was never about the drugs. It was about the people using the drugs.” Freeman mentioned that these biases continue to affect the industry regulators in southern Oregon: “It’s a very rural population. When I was down there, in general, lots of discrimination happened. Regulators—especially in Oregon because they hire ex-law enforcement—they have a background and a bias. They used to use cannabis as a way to get even more violations or have a serious arrest.”
Notably, Ward’s not-for-profit organization, NuProject, helps Black and other historically excluded entrepreneurs build their businesses and generational wealth after decades of being disproportionately targetted by law enforcement.
And in addition to the racist legacy of the War on Drugs, treating cannabis as a Schedule 1 controlled substance has severely limited entrepreneurs’ banking and marketing.
Overhaul nonsense marketing and banking regulations.
American pharmaceutical and alcohol companies can advertise on TV—cannabis companies can barely promote their products on social media without their accounts getting shut down.
Fikstad’s business has been negatively impacted: “I didn’t understand how much restriction we would have around marketing. Like we can’t gather customer information without their explicit permission. Also, running loyalty programs: there are certain discounts that we can’t do.”
Banking in cannabis is also a nightmare, and some businesses run cash-only operations, which is inconvenient, precarious, and ripe for abuse. Fikstad mentioned, “It’d be so much easier if we could have cannabis not be such a cash-heavy industry. It’s dangerous on a number of levels, and it’s also exclusive.” Gerber commented, “You can’t have a checking account; you can’t run it like a normal business, and it’s very labor-intensive. There’s a lot of regulation….Stop treating it like plutonium!”
Follow (and emulate) laws in states with successful, forward-thinking cannabis markets.
While no state has nailed it, some legalized adult-use markets have more progressive and equity-minded policies.
Ward pointed to specific laws in three states: In Illinois, “The R3 fund means ‘restore, reinvest, and renew,’ and it matters because they were very much about reparative economic justice for the Black community.” In Colorado, she shared that they’re “distributing cannabis taxes as funding to social equity licensees…They’ve situated a cannabis business office within their economic development office,” allowing the state to grow that fund. And in New York, the economic development offices have intentionally employed a diverse staff. She remarked, “How do you reach the community you intend to reach? Well, let’s get some culturally responsive people who’ve lived it and know it, and who have the relationships to reach the communities.”
Promote and expand consumption-friendly spaces.
One of the most important aspects of destigmatizing and growing the industry is creating areas for cannabis events, businesses, and consumers.
West pointed out, “Think of how many billions of dollars of cannabis have been sold in the United States in the last ten years—and the fact that in most major American cities, you have zero places to go to consume that. It doesn’t make sense.” Kaplan suggested, “If we were able to introduce ‘cannabis bars’ into the already normalized system of bars, then 1) you’re creating a secondary retail outlet for those consumption spaces, which means more dollars in purchases going out into the community in tax revenue, and 2) you’re creating a normalized culture around cannabis consumption, meaning that it’s not vilified and stigmatized.”
Dr. Reiman also described the destigmatizing impact of having consumption-friendly spaces: “If we change the way society approaches substance use, it changes the way we view people who use substances.”
Advocate for the small business revolution.
Consumers and business owners generally don’t want cannabis to follow the path of other American industries: monopolization. Supporting small businesses promotes product diversity and gives more entrepreneurs a space at the table.
Kaplan warned, “Once Big Tobacco, Big Alcohol, and Big Pharma come in…if we don’t cultivate respect for craft culture the way we have a craft beer culture, then all of the businesses, brands, and the legacy cultivation methods of the plant will go away. We’ll be left with Marinol® and—nothing against them—but the Anheuser-Busches and Marlboros of cannabis.” Gerber got to the crux of the problem with U.S. capitalism: “Americans have become free-market fundamentalists. We have come to believe that anything good for big business is good for small business, which is bullshit.”
Encourage cannabis tax reform, especially the burdensome excise taxes.
The astronomical taxes in the cannabis industry shrink profit margins, putting small businesses at a serious disadvantage. The excise taxes, in particular, overestimate the harm associated with the plant. They also incentivize folks to stay in the illicit market.
Dr. Reiman explained the problem in detail: “Excise taxes are designed to basically fund the public health and safety outcomes of using that substance. So excise taxes around alcohol go to things like DUI injuries and property damage, and people who are in the hospital on public insurance who have cirrhosis of the liver from alcohol overuse…When we’re designing cannabis laws, there’s an overestimation of harm because we haven’t had the opportunity to do the research.” She continued, “Suppose they had decided on a tax amnesty period, where, for example, the excise tax is not applied to regulated sales for the first year. In that case, I think they would have captured a lot more people instead of fighting to get them to move over [from the illicit market], and in the meantime, not making the revenue they want or expect.”
Just say no to non-compete agreements.
Non-compete agreements serve large industry players and strangle emerging businesses seeking new talent.
West shared, “For the few female businesses that did exit or have been able to convert in a manner that could truly be supportive of the next-gen…My understanding is a lot of them have non-competes, a different part of the exit that doesn’t even allow them to actually support the next generation of women.”
Revamp and prioritize the medical cannabis market.
The cannabis industry needs to honor its roots as a therapeutic plant and prioritize the needs of medical consumers.
West remarked, “The very patients, constituents, and advocates who fought for this new industry sector and economy are already left behind. Once rec hits, products are simplified to the mass market in a manner that does not suit patient needs, and in many cases, medical is immediately left to the wayside.”
Educate the public about the history and uses of the plant.
Stoner stereotypes are dying as more people embrace this extraordinary plant. Public health education on cannabis should focus on its life-changing medical applications and its history, considering community-building, inclusion, and compassionate use.
Fikstad commented, “Almost everyone had some kind of medical reason, whether or not they called it medical cannabis.” Geber cautioned, “If we don’t build this industry in the caregiver image, it will just look like every other industry.”
Don’t tokenize women or the BIPOC community in equity licensing.
One recurring issue is the manipulative use of historically excluded individuals to gain access to equity licenses, reparative justice grants, and other tools. When white male business owners pretend to empower disenfranchised communities for their own gain, nobody wins.
Kaplan shared an example: “Chicago tried to do equity licensure, but what happened there was the wrong approach, which was, ‘Okay, let’s just tokenize a person of color and put them on our license, but really, this is just a white-owned business with a single person of color on our cap table.’”
Higher Together: How to Increase the Representation of Women in Cannabis Leadership
“My advice would be to remember, if you’re going the route of accredited investors or finding investors, you’re interviewing them.” (Jane West)
Executive Summary: How to Get More Women Leading the Cannabis Industry
- Educate yourself on how to raise capital.
- Demolish the green closet to destigmatize the industry.
- Don’t let other people’s ignorance get in your way.
- Ensure you have a supportive network of lawyers, accountants, public servants, and executive leaders.
- Become an industry connoisseur and fierce negotiator by knowing the rules.
- Find an underserved market segment—and do everything you can to meet their needs.
- Have healthy boundaries and take time for self-care.
Educate yourself on how to raise capital.
All eight women emphasized the importance of raising capital and being financially savvy. Business loans and venture capital are disproportionately given by (and to) white men, leaving women and other groups at a disadvantage in starting companies.
When asked about women’s unique challenges in cannabis, Ward put it directly: “Yeah, it’s really capital. I feel like a broken record. I can’t give you a better answer than capital.” Kaplan advised, “Don’t be afraid of raising capital. It is still something I struggle with every day, with impostor syndrome, but it is the way to succeed because, without money, these things aren’t possible.”
Demolish the green closet to destigmatize the industry.
Unfortunately, some cannabis entrepreneurs can’t openly discuss their jobs with friends and family. To increase the overall acceptance of cannabis and advance the legal market, consumers and business owners should come out of the closet.
West knew many women affected by this issue personally, “who have great jobs, whose parents or grandparents or some side of the family doesn’t know they work in cannabis. They think they work in marketing.” She continued, “My guiding light was to increase social use and the visibility of the consumption of this product…There’s nothing more critical than embracing, welcoming, and creating accessible spaces for people to consume.”
Don’t let other people’s ignorance get in your way.
Across the Women Breaking Barriers series, the resilience of female leaders in male-dominated spaces is near-universal. And rather than taking personally the entrenched sexism and racism in business, many of the most successful executives focus on larger objectives.
Ward described her approach to everyday slights: “I’ll be honest: if you notice [racism] and you hold it in a way that you remember it, it emotionally doesn’t help you. It’s one thing that you learn to let slide off your back like water off a duck.”
Ensure you have a supportive network of lawyers, accountants, public servants, and executive leaders.
Business owners are only as strong as the company they keep. Especially in the emergent cannabis industry, it’s important to nurture a diverse group of experts to navigate legal, financial, and regulatory challenges.
Snyder encouraged, “The first thing is to get connected and to diversify your networks.” Fikstad advised, “Build your community. Reach out to people in the industry that you admire because a lot of us want to help.”
Become an industry connoisseur and fierce negotiator by knowing the rules.
Few modern industries are as legally dynamic as cannabis, and learning the laws can help entrepreneurs put their valuable time into what’s most important.
Kaplan stated, “Don’t be afraid of rules. I think the biggest asset that anyone can give themselves—but specifically women because we need to figure out ways to get ahead—is know the rules. Knowing the rules allows you to have power, utilize them to your benefit, and understand what is and isn’t important.”
Find an underserved market segment—and do everything you can to meet their needs.
As legalized cannabis spreads across the country, there’s a wealth of new and underserved customers to consider. Business owners have barely begun to scratch the surface of the product’s potential and can increase their chances of success by meeting the unique needs of an underserved market.
Dr. Reiman recommended, “For folks wanting to get involved, think about what’s your niche. Don’t try to build a bigger, better edible. Think about who is your niche consumer…think about who isn’t being served. When you go into a dispensary, who is not represented? And then, figure out what they want and speak to them directly.”
Ward urged folks to build up their business acumen in a different (or adjacent) industry to prepare for working in cannabis: “If it’s your dream to do cannabis, do something else for a little bit: do the CBD version for a little bit, build up your entrepreneurial skills, and then when it’s easier to get in this market—certainly, it’s got to be at some point!—then join it.”
Have healthy boundaries and take time for self-care.
American women still perform the majority of unpaid household chores and emotional labor. Leading a successful business can feel all-consuming, and achieving balance can benefit one’s personal and professional endeavors.
Gerber pointed to her experience raising kids while working as an attorney: “When I had those kids, everything changed. I just could not keep up in the world of professional work. I just couldn’t do it. I could not do it all, and it felt like a personal failure.” Freeman offered, “Women will out-run and out-work men 120 percent, but you can burn out real fast, so it’s really important to have healthy boundaries with your small business.”
Cannabis is a therapeutic plant that has helped people for thousands of years. When the American medicinal and recreational markets took root, there were far more female and minority leaders than in traditional industries. The earliest dispensaries were vital community centers, offering resources and support beyond the benefits of the plant. Reparative justice initiatives and record expungement began to reverse some of the damage of the racist War on Drugs.
However, as the market has matured and spread, free market fundamentalism and the old boys’ club have begun to pollute the waters, steering it into the well-worn tracks of other U.S. industries. The exclusion of women and people of color runs counter to cannabis’s history in healing, creativity, and human connection.
There’s still an opportunity to ensure an equitable future, welcoming a more diverse group of owners and leaders. It will take grassroots organizing, activism, courage, and sacrifice, but it will be worth it for anyone who believes in the plant.