While Bob Dylan’s 1964 release of “The Times They Are A Changin’” became an anthem among frustrated youth, many of whom would go on to call themselves “hippies,” the lyrics ring ever true today. Some six decades later, our society is facing different challenges, different battles. But despite the hard times, progress has been made. Cannabis is becoming ever more normalized—not just for flower children or gangsters or those high school surfing stoners whose name might as well be Spicoli (Google it, kids). No, the culture has evolved and continues to look different with each passing day. And this couldn’t be more true when it comes to the presence of women in cannabis.
Cannabis culture and the legalizing industry springing up from it (or alongside it, depending on whom you ask) is often touted as one that’s male-dominated. On the surface, this is demonstrably true. Just walk into any smoke sesh, dispensary, conference or these days, a board room, and most of the faces you see are indeed male.
Empirical analysis corroborates this. Take 2022’s Women in Cannabis Study which surveyed 1,500 women in the cannabis industry and found that only 11 percent of respondents “considered the industry equitable.” Furthermore, reporting in Marijuana Business Daily shows that women held 37 percent of executive roles in cannabis in 2019; by 2022, that number dropped to 23 percent (many states have legalized in that time, making the pool wider and larger). Yet, the same study shows that 78 percent of women currently working in the cannabis industry entered between 2014 and 2019. This is undoubtedly due to legalization.
While smoking is generally considered in popular parlance to be a masculine activity, especially smoking intoxicants, that’s not the whole reason women have been historically sidelined in cannabis. As child-bearers, there were real and significant risks in being professionally involved with the plant—risks that were relieved only once legalization began accelerating beyond the medical realm.
Change, particularly concerning gender parity, takes a long time to foment. Still, despite the clear challenges, it’s undeniable that women have come a long way in cannabis culture and the industry itself. Where once a woman’s domain was in a support role—keeping the home while the grower did his duties (which included sometimes going to jail for cultivating and selling); trimming; organizing caregiver networks; manning the dispensary counter; or occasionally taking up the grower reins herself, today she’s taking more managerial roles. That includes starting or becoming CEO of cannabis companies or pioneering ancillary avenues, such as public relations, advocacy, law, consulting or finance. More women growers are finally coming out of the shadows, too, revealing decades-long expertise they had to work hard to cultivate (pun entirely intended).
On the consumer side, women are gaining more market share than ever. Statistics compiled by Flowhub, a cannabis tech company, report that from early 2020 to late 2021, cannabis sales to women customers increased by 55 percent. As for new customers, 48 percent were women in 2021. That’s a not insignificant ten percent increase from 2018 when the study first ran.
Today, as society and the law become more accepting, women who’ve been in the business for the long haul are finally getting recognized for their achievements, ushering cannabis into the future from its difficult past. There’s the Dank Duchess, a protégé of the legendary late hashishin Frenchy Cannoli and whose own work is already cemented in hash and cannabis lore. Brownie Mary risked it all to ensure that patients had access to her potent medicine, and she was instrumental in helping San Francisco’s Proposition P and California’s Proposition 215 pass. There’s anthropologist Margaret Mead, who gave an impassioned speech denigrating cannabis’ illegality in front of Congress in 1969; and, yes, even Hatshepsut, one of the few women pharaohs in ancient Egypt, who was said to use hemp to ease menstrual symptoms.
See? Women and weed have been in the same sentence for as long as time has been recorded. We’ve always been here, now it’s our turn to burn a little bit more brightly. Who’s ready to run the world?