The green revolution is here ― and it’s mostly black, brown and female.
This month, California became the largest state in the nation to allow and regulate recreational cannabis. With marijuana legal in some form in 29 U.S. states, many are rushing to cash in on the wealth and opportunity the industry can provide.
But as legalization spreads and more people ― and more money ― enter the market, not everyone is interested in reckoning with the devastating effects of criminalization or with preserving the industry’s relatively progressive gender balance.
Fortunately, women, specifically women of color, have already been doing the work.
Though mainstream images of cannabis users and industry executives might suggest otherwise, the industry is sustained by a diverse community of supportive women pursuing wellness, wealth, joy and justice through the plant. They are entrepreneurs, healers, lawmakers, scientists, doctors, activists, artists and immigrants. They’ve been in the field before most people called it one, and together they’re creating a just, equitable future.
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Here are 27 women who will shape the future of the plant.
Shaleen Title, marijuana attorney; commissioner, Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission
“We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create an industry from scratch, but the product itself has been used since the beginning of history. That dynamic is unique and provides an opportunity for anyone with expertise and drive to become a leader. It’s an honor to be one of the youngest women of color in a regulatory position like mine.”
Nina Parks, co-owner of Mirage Medicinal and co-founder of Supernova Women
“The cannabis plant is a female plant. Its essence is feminine. My position, and Supernova’s position, how I see it, is to bring the feminine wisdom, the beauty, the strength that this cannabis plant has and that we have as women ― that’s what we’re here to represent and for us to be able to build it. We already live it, we walk in it every day, but for people to start seeing that.”
Wanda James, first black woman to own a dispensary in Colorado
Andrea Unsworth, consultant and co-founder of Supernova Women
“You are going to respect this plant. As women, we’re finally getting the chance to scream that as a group. You’re going to respect what we have to bring to the table.... That’s been so empowering, and now that I’m seeing women on the other end becoming investors in the space, not only just running companies, but real estate investment trusts to give properties to people going into cannabis ― it’s amazing. It’s stuff that women do every day. Why not do it in cannabis as well?”
Ophelia Chong, founder of StockPot images, Asian Americans for Cannabis Education
“StockPot wasn’t created because I saw this huge cannabis industry coming at all. My sister, who has an autoimmune disease, was trying to use cannabis to help with some of the symptoms. I was looking at her, and I thought, man, she looks like a stoner. And then it hit me: I thought, I’m stereotyping her. I hurt my own feelings. Then I was thinking about the lack of diversity and how people of color are viewed when they use cannabis. People talk about a ‘stoner grandma,’ which is not so bad of a term when it’s a white woman. But when I saw images of an African American man holding a joint, they would be labeled ‘convict,’ ‘illegal,’ ‘drug dealer’ or ‘addict.’ That was the day I started StockPot ― to change the way we look at the cannabis community.”
Tsion Lencho, attorney, Supernova Women co-founder
“The reason I was attracted to this industry in law school was it was one of the few issues I had stumbled across where you had conservatives and liberals both coming to the same table about the failed war on drugs.... When I was in law school, California was first dealing with reentry and with over-incarceration and trying to reduce criminalization ― the timing [to make an impact] was pretty perfect.”
Shanita Penny, founder and CEO of Budding Solutions; Minority Cannabis Business Association president
“The movers and shakers in the industry and activist space are phenomenal women who broke down barriers in corporate America, politics and in every other aspect of life, out of necessity. These women are mothers, partners, wives, sisters and daughters to the men killed and imprisoned and left with few options in life as the war on drugs rages on. We don’t have the option of not speaking up for ourselves and not actively pursuing restorative justice in addition to creating an equitable industry. As a black woman helping to build this industry and as a longtime consumer, I had no choice! I not only advocate for myself and my interests but also those of my community. My personal experiences with cannabis are just as important as the professional skill set and expertise I bring from other industries.”
Angela Mou, founder of Elevate Jane
“Elevate Jane aims to destigmatize cannabis culture in support of the plant as medicine. You shouldn’t feel you have to hide your pipes in a shoebox in the closet; there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Your favorite painting hangs in your bedroom, and you should similarly be proud to display your beautiful, handmade piece on your coffee table. Within the industry, there’s an incredible force of women leading the charge to mainstream cannabis. There are vastly more female-owned and run businesses in the cannabis space compared to other industries, and we’re growing stronger together by collaborating and supporting each other.”
Takiya Anthony-Price, founder and executive producer of One on One, a cannabis-friendly podcast
“I’m the founder and executive producer of One On One, a cannabis centric media series, that aspires to craft a new perspective on how we view cannabis consumption within multi-cultural communities! Our guests narrate their history with the plant and how it plays a pivotal role in who they are today. I do it because when I began to use cannabis medicinally I noticed that there were very few POC discussing their relationship with the plant. Even fewer were in a position to do so, due to a plethora of issues. The first being the stigma already associated with cannabis and how deeply entrenched its history is with racist tactics that ultimately led to the War on Drugs. The other reason being that I know that my community generally listens to each other. You can give us statistics, you can tell us facts, and that’s all fine and dandy. But, if their Auntie Maxine is talking to them about something, you’re more likely to listen. [Being a woman in weed] means that I have the ability to reshape the cannabis industry in my image. That image happens to be related to who I am ― queer, black, and a mother. All facets of who I am also happen to be underrepresented communities. My hope for the future is that we see more people of color join the cannabis movement, whether it be by, advocacy work or by owning and operating their own business. There’s absolutely enough room at the table, and if they don’t find a table they like, I encourage them to go ahead and build one.”
Safon Floyd, Sirita Wright, Kali Wilder, founders of EstroHaze
Kali Wilder, CEO:
“We decided to start EstroHaze because we saw what was happening as far as industry growth, were enthusiasts and felt we could help close a gap in education within our communities. It angers me that so many people of color are locked up for a plant that saves so many lives. And the last time this whole prohibition thing happened, a lot of people who look like me didn’t benefit. Not this time.
My co-founders and I worked together at a national media company and knew we could use our backgrounds to spread a message, to provide resources, to document what is happening. To spark conversations and amplify voices. There is a growing, evolving, beautiful community that we have the pleasure to share with on a daily basis.
Being a woman in this industry, in this moment in time, and able to contribute in this way is something we don’t take lightly. It’s all new. How does it feel to be a woman in weed? We are women in weed focused on connecting women to weed. So, dope.”
Sirita Wright, CMO:
“Women in weed are either bold, brave or both. EstroHaze started as a podcast and evolved into a media platform where ambitious, career-focused women like us, who look like us, can come together to both appreciate and finally profit from cannabis. The women in the industry are focused on building impactful change both within the cannabis industry as a whole and in their own communities.”
Natasha Singh, henna artist and cannabis advocate
“I am a cosmetologist specializing in henna tattoos and lash extensions. I’m a mom to a one-year-old baby girl and a proud Indian cannabis advocate. My mission? I’m hoping by being vocal about my personal journey using cannabis will open conversations about cannabis in other Indian family homes. Being an Indian woman advocating for cannabis is very rare. My community tends to be judgemental and definitely looks at marijuana in a negative way. But I feel that education is the solution, especially with immigrant parents. I never imagined my parents accepting my own cannabis use. It wasn’t overnight, so I had to educate them and still continue to today. My greatest hope for the future of cannabis is to see it accessible in every country, especially India... I believe in the cannabis industry, and know more research and studies are unfolding every day about this miracle plant. I’m honored to have experienced it firsthand and now seeing it is changing the world.”
Monica Lo, founder, Sous Weed
“I’m a photographer and creative director working to change the public perception of cannabis users. I started Sous Weed, a sous vide weed blog, to document my edibles adventures while creating images that feel elegant, healthy, and mainstream. Sous Weed has since turned from a passion project to more of a content production studio where I work with various cannabis clients to create beautiful imagery for their websites and social feeds that appeal to everyone. As we’re gaining mainstream acceptance, the stereotypical stoner visuals like boobs, buds, and butts just won’t cut it anymore... My goal is to break these stereotypes and elevate our image to reflect the real, every day cannabis users’ lifestyle... It’s 2018 and women are rebuilding the cannabis industry from the ground up to be more diverse and inclusive.”
Sonia Espinosa, co-founder, Massachusetts Recreational Cannabis Consumer Council
“Prior to graduating with Harvard’s class of 2016, I co-founded the Cannabis Cultural Association (CCA). I’m currently focused on the Massachusetts Recreational Consumer Council, MRCC, whose efforts seek to bridge the gap between communities, businesses and local legislators. MRCC launched the first cannabis consumer education campaign, Consume Responsibly Massachusetts. Legal sales for MA are expected in July. Aside from MRCC, I also collaboratively run @EatMe.Land, a cannabis, femme, art, tech collective.
[I do this work] because weed legalization is not simply ending prohibition and creating the ability to buy legal weed from a storefront. Legalization means creating equity for those who have been most damaged by the war on drugs.... Cannabis is a booming industry, but it’s important to consider who’s making money from it and who’s getting locked up and deported.”
Dasheeda Dawson, president, MJM Strategy, and chief strategy officer for Minorities for Medical Marijuana
“I am The WeedHead, a corporate-to-cannabis cross-over executive. From Target to THC, I am the founder and president of MJM Strategy, a digital-focused management consulting firm specializing in the cannabis and hemp industries. After witnessing the palliative effects of cannabis on my mother as she underwent chemotherapy, I decided to explore the medicinal benefits. When my mother passed away, I moved to Arizona and immersed myself in the industry. My mission is to legitimize, stabilize and diversify the cannabis business. As a black woman, I have faced intersectional barriers because of my race and gender, which have only made me more determined to open doors for other women and people of color. My ultimate goal is to help end cannabis prohibition globally, so that people everywhere can enjoy the health and wellness benefits from the plant. I hope that my work and voice expand the world’s perspective on a myriad of cannabis-related issues, from equitable and sustainable business to social justice.”
Chelsea Candelaria, advocate, blogger and customer success manager, Try Chemistry
“There’s a huge stereotype about women that we don’t smoke or, if you do, that you’re a poor mother, you can’t be professional. That’s especially impactful in my own communities. I’m Latina and I’m also black. Those things run very, very deep. I’m determined to help break that stereotype. I’m an educated woman with a professional background and I use cannabis very regularly. You can be a productive person. You can be a good citizen and use cannabis. There’s such a deep history in my community around cannabis use and the effects of cannabis prohibition. My own family has been affected, significantly, by the war on drugs. That was another huge motivation for me to get into the industry and make an impact.”
Reese Benton, entrepreneur, Posh Green Collective
“I’m the only African American woman that has any kind of cannabis business in San Francisco. I do on-demand hair. I thought: I work on demand, I work with all these tech people, I go to people’s houses. Let me open up a delivery service. So I just read and read and trained myself, and then I opened it up last year. For me to be able to be here after seeing all of this craziness and dysfunction is a dream. And to be able to go to the next level in this business, I never knew how I was going to make it in this world or how I was going to be able to capitalize on anything to be stable, and finally, because of this, I’ll be able to have money. I’ll be stable. And I’ll also have a successful business ― everything I always wanted and that I work hard for every day.
Ashley Brooke and Tahirah Hairston, founders of The High Ends
“The High Ends is a community (and soon to be content platform) for women who smoke and want to explore their relationship with the plant amongst like-minded people. We’re working to disrupt image of what a woman who smokes weed looks like. Too often we were flooded with images that were either oversexualized or super carefree and bohemian—and mostly white. It wasn’t a realistic picture of what our world looked like, and it was important for us to open up the scope and create a space that showcases diverse women across all races, cultures, and professions. As black women in the industry, it has become even more important to carve out that space for women of color as cannabis becomes legalized and the people reaping the benefits remain predominantly white. Black and brown women are often stigmatized and still unfairly prosecuted for our relationship with weed, The High Ends wants to help combat that and create more opportunities for our stories to be told. Our hope is that by amplifying the voices and lifestyles of the many faces of women who smoke for reasons that range from chronic pain to distress to creative brainstorming, we’ll create a new image of what it means to be a woman who smokes.”
Nicole Gonzales, marketing assistant, founder of @stigmafit
“I want to give people inspiration to get outside and explore the world around them. To stay active and as a community motivate each other to push to their highest potential. To be a “women in weed” to me means a strong female figure making moves and making a change in the cannabis industry. A woman who can have a voice for the community. Women are taking over this industry and #breakinggrassceilings!″
Maya Elizabeth, co-founder, Whoopi & Maya
“I was always in love with cannabis. Almost 15 years ago, I started working at a dispensary. I just could never see myself going back to a regular job. I go to help people. I got to hold a space for people that was really missing. A lot of these people were suffering, slipping through the cracks and just couldn’t afford health care. I got a cold call that there was a celebrity who wanted to make a menstrual line and I was a good person to talk to, and I said absolutely. Whoopi [Goldberg] wanted to guinea pig some people that she knew who had severe menstrual cycles, and I was told if it worked we’d move forward, and if it didn’t, we wouldn’t. It worked, and it works for a good reason.”
Leslie Valencia, researcher and founder of Cannabis Equity Org
“Women of color have played a critical role in ensuring equity in cannabis. We know that the LGBT community was one of the main reasons that cannabis was legalized in San Francisco and in California, we know that veterans are also playing a big role in the cannabis industry in advocacy and in using it as a medical treatment for PTSD. We know, of course, people of color, of course, women in general, have ties to it. People with disabilities using this, cancer patients, senior citizens have their own coalition. Immigrants, undocumented folks play an important role. In this field, it’s amazing how you can have discussions about all of these topics and interact with all of these people and have conversations that truly address all of these topics. Immigrants, undocumented folks play an important role. By far, of any topic that I’ve studied, it’s had the most intersectionality.”
Kebra Smith-Bolden, registered nurse and president of CannaHealth CT and Cannabis Consultants of CT
“As a ‘woman in weed,’ I have merged my traditional career as a registered nurse with the unconventional cannabis industry. As a cannabis nurse, I focus my energy on researching how and why people consume. I study the effective use of cannabis in conjunction with therapy for inner-city residents suffering from complex traumas. I also have the opportunity to work on ‘righting the wrongs’ of the prohibition of cannabis and the detrimental effects the criminalization of cannabis has had on communities of color as a result of the war on drugs. By providing education, avenues to entrepreneurship and equal opportunities despite race, class or socioeconomic status, communities of color can initiate the healing process and discontinue the suffering endured due to years of racial, social and economic inequities.”
Lisa Sanchez, cannabis artist, speaker and advocate at Visine Queen
“I started visinequeen.com in 2008. At the time, it was for images of cannabis plants, art, clothes and whatever pictures I could find of women smoking. My [advocacy] work came about a few years into creating art and realizing that women of color are not represented properly. At the time, inclusion didn’t seem like a priority in the cannabis space. It was important to me to be a part of the inclusion that needed to happen within cannabis art. Today I create cannabis art to promote women of color and empower any woman who uses cannabis medically, recreationally or spiritually. My hope is that the black and Latino community sees cannabis legalization, cultivation and the businesses that come with it as opportunities ― stepping stones that will restore what we have lost, or what we never have had a chance to build.”
Dr. Rachel Knox, Dr. Janice Knox, Dr. Jessica Knox, co-founders, The Canna MDs
Amber Senter, COO of Magnolia Wellness Collective, Leisure Life founder and Supernova Women co-founder
Verena von Pfetten, co-founder of Gossamer magazine
“I’m the co-founder of Gossamer, a lifestyle publication for the modern cannabis consumer, covering culture, travel, design, art, and food through a ‘green’ lens. One of our goals with Gossamer, particularly as a lifestyle publication, is to change the perception of cannabis and cannabis consumers and, in doing so, help move the conversation around legalization and social justice forward, and perhaps into spaces that have been historically inhospitable to it. Legal cannabis is an entirely new industry in this country, which means there’s an incredible opportunity to build it mindfully, such that it is inclusive and diverse across all genders, sexual identities, races, and classes. It’s going to take a lot of work, especially considering the historical injustices perpetrated by the war on drugs, but it’s something I’ve been both heartened and so, so inspired to see is top of mind for almost all the women I’ve encountered in this community.”
Jean Edrada, founder, Medicated Movement
Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.
A previous version of this article misspelled the names of Sirita Wright and Verena von Pfetten.