Women and Weed

The cannabis industry is one of the hottest and most promising markets for entrepreneurs of all types, especially women. In particular, one rising star comes to mind from Arizona’s female-lead dispensary, The Flower Shop. Maybe you’ve heard of it? 

Greta Brandt currently serves as President for The Flower Shop of AZ as well as for True North Organics and Perfect Earth Modern Apothecary of Utah. Collectively, these three branches operate five medical marijuana dispensaries, four cultivation sites and processing facilities. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, Brandt is licensed as a corporate attorney in both Arizona and California and serves as a board member and officer for two not-for-profit corporations that currently operate three licensed dispensaries and cultivation facilities in Arizona. Her industry insight and awareness related to company operations under Arizona’s Medical Marijuana Program have allowed her to create valuable connections with various local municipalities and all key Arizona and Utah regulators; the Arizona Department of Health Services and the Utah Departments of Agriculture and Health Services. Amid all of that excitement, Brandt remains an active community member of the Arizona Dispensary Association and serves as President of the Utah Cannabis Association. 

Brandt and others just like her are paving the way for more women and BIPOC organizations to enter the cannabis industry. However, contrary to how effortless she makes it look, it’s not an easy path.

“Competitive markets have long favored men in leadership and ownership positions, but that landscape’s changed significantly in just the last few years,” Brandt explains. “Thanks to the growing sense of awareness around the lack of diversity within the [cannabis] industry, it’s forced companies to reshift focus from gender or race to experience and expertise instead, allowing for more leadership opportunity for women and minorities.”

With so many books, magazines, and even a documentary about women in cannabis, it might appear easy for women to break into the cannabis industry. In reality, there is a long way to go for equality in business ownership for women. In July 2019, Marijuana Business Daily (MJ Biz Daily) reported nearly 37 percent of executive-level positions in cannabis were held by women. In fact, the cannabis industry is 5 percent behind the number of all women-owned businesses nationally. The ongoing problem? The gender gap, of course. Women start with half the capital of men, and only 4 percent of commercial loan dollars go to women-owned businesses. With cannabis not yet being legal federally, banks are prohibited from touching anything related to weed, putting women in cannabis at further disadvantages. But believe it or not, the rate of women-owned businesses overall has never been higher. We’ve come a long way, baby. The slogan was used to market Virginia Slims “cigarettes for women” in the 1970s. Yikes! With that throwback, it makes sense to look at how far women in cannabis businesses and others have come and how far we have yet to go.

A Little History About Women-Owned Businesses

Ladies, we recommend grabbing a blunt of your favorite cannabis before reading this part because you’ll need it to process the enormity of it. Until 1988, it was illegal for women to own a business unless they had a male co-signer. Many of you are probably thinking there is no possible way that can be true. We assure you, it is. 

In 1988, the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) helped the Women's Business Ownership Act pass into law. One of the most notable portions of the bill eliminated state laws that required women to have a male relative sign a business loan. Yes, this practice was just as ridiculous as it sounds today. One of the examples of discrimination cited in the arguments for the bill’s passage was a woman who had no male relatives to cosign a business loan, except for her 17-year-old son! Even well into the 1980s, some states had laws on the books that required a male relative to co-sign a business loan, even if no male relatives were involved in the business! That’s why most women-owned businesses at the time were home-based, with an average revenue of under $10,000 per year. The Women's Business Ownership Act, signed into law by President Ronald Reagan, changed everything for women dreaming of having their own businesses.

According to the annual State of Women-Owned Businesses Report released in September 2020, women-owned businesses now represent 42 percent of ALL businesses — nearly 13 million — employing 9.4 million workers and generating $1.9 trillion. Women are also under-represented on corporate boards, with women holding only 20 percent of Fortune 500 board seats as of 2016. 

Women in Cannabis - The State of Gender Equality in Weed

Breaking into cannabis has its challenges for women, of course. In 2015, women held 36 percent of the senior positions in the cannabis industry. Two years later, that number had dropped to 27 percent, according to Marijuana Business Daily, a leading trade publication. That was almost the same rate of women in executive roles in traditional business sectors — 23 percent, according to Catalyst, a global nonprofit that works to advance women into leadership positions. One very positive note: As of 2019, women of color account for 50 percent of all women-owned businesses! Cannabis industry, look out.

Rising Stars: Women in the Cannabis Industry

In the 21st century, cannabis legalization has simply upped the ante for women and business opportunities. As legalization marches on, we’ve seen all the expected big ‘outlaw stoner’ names get into the branded cannabis game - Leafs by Snoop Dog, Willie’s Reserve by Willie Nelson, Cheech’s Private Stash, and Chong’s Choice, to name just a few. Rappers, actors, athletes, and musicians followed - but as you might expect, these entrants were mostly men. More women are venturing into cannabis now, often choosing to grow or explore niche markets. For instance, Martha Stewart is famous for her cooking empire, TV shows, books, and lifestyle publications and for being a close friend of Snoop Dog. Martha recently grabbed the women and weed headlines when she partnered with Canopy Growth to produce a curated line of CBD products for people and pets. She’s also known to enjoy a good smoke now and then, so who knows - she may venture further into the weeds. As an astute businesswoman and billionaire, can Oprah be far behind? 

Sure, it’s easier to break into the business, especially when you’re already famous and have millions at your disposal. Most women do not get those types of head starts. However, local minority and women-owned companies and artisans have the chance to partner or contribute to the growth of larger operations to create niche products and brands such as hemp oils, CBD, lotions, soaps, new edibles, and the like. Women-owned weed brands are sprouting up everywhere and women-owned dispensary locations are also on the rise, just like your favorite, The Flower Shop.

With legal recreational cannabis launching in a few months in Arizona, we expect that women and weed are on the rise, and we’re hoping to see many new women-owned businesses get a chance at the smoke ring. We’ll keep you posted! 

Want to learn more about women in cannabis? Check out these articles:

Phoenix Business Journal: Laura Bianchi 

Phoenix New Time: Ganja Queens Seek Leadership

Cannacon: More About Women in the Cannabis Industry 

20+ Women to Watch in Cannabis