Inspiring Women in the Cannabis Industry
“What we know for sure is that cannabis is medicine and women are oftentimes the caregivers of their families,” says Gia Morón, President of Women Grow. “Who better to be at the forefront of this industry than the individuals that make the decisions for their families and themselves?”
The Women Grow organization’s aim is to empower a new generation of women cannabis leaders through education and networking.
In 2014, its founders saw a cannabis and hemp industry primarily led by men, and felt that women needed a stronger voice and larger presence at every level. Although the founding members of Woman Grow are no longer involved, they continue to support its initiatives.
Women Grow held its sixth annual Leadership Summit in June this year, and for the first time, it chose a location on the east coast – in Washington, DC. (When the legalizing of cannabis first appeared, it took hold rapidly on the west coast of the U.S., but now the other side of the country is catching up! There are now 33 legal medical marijuana states and 11 that allow adult recreational use, which includes the District of Columbia.)
Women Grow felt it was important to broaden the reach of its Leadership Summit to include as wide a range of individuals as possible and help develop the business-mindedness of the future cannabis leaders on the east coast.
“We recognize that we need to have a stronger presence on the east coast, and so our recent Leadership Summit which was attended by over 600 women, the majority being from the east coast, was well received because of our mission of connecting, educating, empowering, and inspiring,” says Gia.
Contrary to popular belief, Women Grow was originally a for-profit company; however, it recently launched a new, nonprofit membership program called the Women Grow Foundation. Some members will transition to the nonprofit branch of the organization and will receive similar benefits as the for-profit members. These include attendance to its signature networking events, access to member-only events, and complimentary use of the educational platform that it recently restructured under the name of Signature Education Webinar (SEW).
“The goal with our SEW program is that we have all-women instructors for our courses, and it gives them a greater opportunity for exposure while teaching,” says Gia. “We’re finding that oftentimes when someone has a successful business on the west coast and they’re looking to expand, through our education platform and membership they are reaching people in markets they had not had connections to before.”
Pop-up signature networking events in various locations are becoming increasingly popular for Women Grow. It gives the organization opportunity to learn about the local market, and understand its needs; to ensure that its members receive the highest degree of services and resources.
The culture and regulations surrounding cannabis legalization vary state by state; the west coast is rather advanced and has very different needs from the east coast. Women Grow has gone as far as Puerto Rico to host pop-up events, where the market is at a radically different position. Still recovering from the disaster of Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico is hoping to rebuild its cannabis market, which was growing quite rapidly prior to the hurricane.
Access to capital
The main challenges facing Women Grow are similar to those the rest of the cannabis industry faces. In particular, it has to keep up with ever-changing regulations which are completely different in each state.
A specific problem, however, is the lack of access to capital for Woman Grow members – female, of course – who own cannabis businesses. It is sometimes difficult to source sponsorships and support from the cannabis industry at large. Despite this, there is much talk about inclusion around cannabis in general, and Women Grow hopes that in the next five years being female will no longer be an issue, as companies hold each other accountable to ensure there is diversity in the industry.
The Leadership Summit in June showed that there’s an interesting level of diversity among women entering the cannabis industry. All kinds of women in every stage of life attended the summit to learn how to get involved.
A viable path
“I met with young women who were recent college graduates and also with grandmothers, and I can’t say that I’ve ever been in an industry where senior citizens were looking for opportunities to start a business. I find that to be really unique, not only about cannabis, but also about Women Grow,” Gia says. It is rare for an organization to target three separate generations who have one common goal.
While it is exciting to have such a diverse group of women interested in a single industry, it’s especially noteworthy that such a high number of college graduates are exploring opportunities in cannabis. It shows that a much-stigmatized industry has moved away from an underground market and has become one that young people are encouraged to consider as a valid career or business opportunity.
A big reason for the attraction to cannabis as a career is the opportunity to study a subject that is currently undergoing high amounts of research and development. There are consistent breakthroughs involving agricultural technology, cannabinoids, and medicine to keep the job interesting day in and out, and much more yet to be discovered.
All are welcome
Women Grow is a non-alienating organization and it welcomes all who are looking to inspire women to work in the cannabis industry. It is not exclusive to women; everyone is welcome at Women Grow summits and meetings. Male business owners frequently turn up at meetings in the hopes of finding a dedicated business partner, a service provider, or employees to bring diversity to their staff.
Recognizing that owning a business is not the right fit for everyone, Women Grow points out that there are other ways to get involved in the industry. Indeed, at the summit a number of women were looking to start a career in cannabis, some at an entry-level position, while others with vast business experience were considering a change in mid-career path. The organization itself encourages women at all levels of experience to go for the opportunity in any capacity they feel right.
Woman Grow believes that the United States will eventually legalize cannabis at a federal level, at least for medical purposes. Already over half of the states are medically legal, and many others are considering legalization.
“[Federal legalization] is only a matter of time, and some may see it a slow-moving process, but I see this as the gradual process that perhaps needs to happen for the industry as a whole,” says Gia. She feels that it is possible for an emerging industry to expand too quickly and create more hurdles by rushing the process. The progressive legalization in the U.S., state by state, may help with necessary corrections and fine tuning to regulations and packaging before cannabis reaches a federal level.
A role in history
A word of advice from Women Grow to anyone entering the cannabis industry: Be prepared to pivot and adapt at any point as the landscape changes. For itself, the organization will continue to invite more women into the industry and help and tutor them to become successful, thereby ultimately increasing the share of women in cannabis.
“We are literally living history in the making,” says Gia. “I would have never thought that an industry like this would happen in my lifetime, and the fact that we’re all a part of this, we’re all a part of history, is really exciting to me.”
As part of making history, Women Grow is on a trajectory to make a real difference in the cannabis industry. As it strives to help women create a legacy that can be passed down to their children. It’s refreshing to imagine a future generation of young girls looking at the history of cannabis, and seeing an industry led by strong women.