March is Women’s History Month, and through the history of marijuana use (so like, forever), there have been powerful women behind its success (also forever). Women in the marijuana industry have been a driving force in the legalization, destigmatization, policy reform, business, and diversification of how marijuana plays a role in our culture. A survey by Marijuana Business Daily found that 36.8% of executives in the marijuana industry are women. Additionally, 61% of women support marijuana legalization. This is just the surface of how women interact with the world of marijuana, and as that world grows, we can expect them to continue as leaders and trailblazers in a modern industry.
A Brief History
Though there is evidence of marijuana being a part of ancient practices with plant healing, women still encountered difficulty in being able to engage with it. Female plant healers, many of whom used marijuana in their practice, were often persecuted for being witches (nothing is wrong with witches, they just really used to spook men *eye roll*), and during the middle ages and dark ages, there was a halt on progress in herbal medicines and the female roles that allowed women to work with them. Despite the difficulties, women have been able to use marijuana in a number of early medical practices. Historically and cross-culturally, women have used cannabis in menstrual relief, from early Mayan and Aztec women to Queen Victoria, to modern women today utilizing it (often topically or through ingestion). Even patients with Endometriosis, an extremely painful condition that surrounds the uterus, have been able to find relief with cannabis.
Obviously, women’s use of cannabis goes beyond what is just considered “feminine troubles,” and despite the ban on cannabis in the 1930’s, many famous women have still praised its use. Maya Angelou, one of history’s most iconic poets, civil rights activists, and feminist leaders, was a major cannabis enthusiast. Novelist, short story writer, and poet Louisa May Alcott (she wrote Little Women; please contact me if you’d like to discuss Florence Pugh’s performance in the 2019 film adaptation), often wrote about the pleasures she found in marijuana use, going so far as to say “Heaven bless hashish” and having characters in her plays eat marijuana edibles. Famous women of today like actor/comedian Whoopi Goldberg and best-friend-of-Snoop Dogg Martha Stewart have outwardly praised the use of marijuana and used their influence to create their own helpful marijuana-based products. So although the history of marijuana for women comes with its complexities, it is the contributions of these women (as it is for everyone who has historically been a part of the cannabis movement), that has helped drive the marijuana industry to where it is today.
Notable Female Figures
There are a number of women leading the field to even bigger horizons. One such woman is Ellen Komp, Deputy Director of California NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), and author of the book Tokin’ Women: A 4,000 Year Herstory. Komp has been a hemp/marijuana activist for the past 20 years, and NORML, the organization she helps run, is a group that aims to move public opinion of marijuana to legalize responsible adult use as well as advocate for consumers. She has worked throughout the marijuana industry, including co-founding The 215 Reporter, and currently managing the website VeryImportantPotheads.com.
Another notable woman is Cat Packer, director of the Los Angeles Department of Cannabis Regulation (sometimes referred to as the “Pot Czar”). Packer uses her position to push Cannabis into a safe and legal future, as well as helping those who have suffered from the War on Drugs by issuing licenses to people who have prior marijuana-related convictions, helping them join the industry. She was also previously a policy coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance, an organization that aims to advance drug policies that end the racially-charged War on Drugs.
Shaleen Title is a commissioner of Massachusetts’ Cannabis Control Commission, a group whose mission is to safely, equitably, and effectively implement medical and recreational marijuana laws in Massachusetts. Title is also an award-winning marijuana activist, recognized for her passion for social justice and bringing in more women and people of color into the marijuana industry. She is also a founding board member of the Minority Cannabis Business Association as well as THC Staffing.
Monica Lo is a photographer, creative director, and the founder of Sous Weed. Lo aims to change the public perception of marijuana users and created Sous Weed to show how cannabis can be used as a nutrient-rich superfood ingredient in cooking, showing its potential beyond being a psychoactive additive. Sous Weed offers a number of techniques, recipes, and educational information for those who are looking to cook with marijuana and better their health.
These outstanding women are only but a small fraction of the women leaders in the marijuana industry, and one can only imagine how many more women leaders are to follow. However, the effort to bring women into the marijuana industry is not done yet. The industry still has much more room for women to become involved, especially for women of color (and all people of color), who, due to systematic racism and harmful policies from the War on Drugs, have been largely excluded from the industry. The future of the marijuana industry and is constantly evolving, but its success will rely on its ability to evolve into a safe and inclusive environment for more women and minorities, who clearly have so much to bring to the table.