Today, women are in leadership positions at every level of the cannabis industry, from CEOs of blossoming companies to cultivators taking cannabis from plant to product. Women grow cannabis, make medicines, own their own farms and operate their own dispensaries. Some women are also producing and directing documentaries in order to fight the stigma of cannabis and its consumers, while others are in politics pushing for a form of legalization that will allow minorities still dealing with the toxic legacy of prohibition — past and present — to share in the economic success of the future.
This series of images hones in on female leaders using their influence to promote the cannabis industry as a fair, sustainable and professional space. Most of the women featured in this series are based in California, thanks to the state’s pioneering role in the medicinal cannabis field, which has offered massive opportunities for women and served as an inspiration for many other states.
These women are acutely aware of their groundbreaking position as a minority group that is creating history. According to Marijuana Business Daily, women fill 36 percent of leadership positions within the cannabis industry — more than they do in any other industry, with the national average being 22 percent. Filmmaker Windy Borman was so inspired by this revolutionary fact that she started making a documentary about it: “Mary Janes: The Women of Weed.”
Borman interviewed over 40 women across the United States to create her film. In “Mary Janes,” Borman examines the activist history of the cannabis industry and how it was originally built by women, people of color and members of the LGBTQ community to provide medical pain relief for patients suffering from HIV and AIDS. The documentary aims to serve as a time capsule and a source of inspiration for future generations, especially because a large question still remains: Will these minorities be able to hold their ground now that corporate companies are creating a competitive arena?
Oaksterdam University Executive Chancellor Dale Sky Jones said Wall Street might help legitimize the cannabis industry with their money and power, but once they’ve moved in (and the old-boys-network is put into effect), will there still be room in the industry for the people who helped create it? We hope the answer is yes.
Windy Borman is an award-winning filmmaker and producer, as well as the founder of DVA Productions. She is the executive producer and director of “Mary Janes: The Women of Weed.”
“After speaking with more than 40 women from 10 different states over the past year, I learned that these women saw an opportunity to build an industry from the ground up and to do it right. I would hate for the industry to just add to the wealth disparity — people getting rich off folks going to jail. People are still going to jail in states where we don’t even have medical use. Children are taken away, people are being deported, students are losing scholarships and futures are slipping through their fingertips because they dared to touch a plant and decide what they want to put in their bodies. The image I envision for the industry is one we captured while filming in a hemp field in Colorado: it’s a beautiful shot of a sunlit woman of color who’s looking into the camera at the audience. She’s not a passive subject, but active in what she’s doing. I would like that to be the future of the industry: women touching the plant in nature and the respect that goes into that.”
Valerie Corral founded the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana — the nation’s oldest continuously operating medical cannabis collective. She also helped write and pass Proposition 215, California’s revolutionary medical marijuana law. WAMM provides free cannabis for 30 percent of its members.
“I can’t tell you how many of our members had to borrow couches and stay with their families, throwing up in other people’s toilets through chemotherapy because they became homeless following their diagnosis due to medical bankruptcy. That was hugely impactful to me and it changed me forever. The social injustice of what’s happening with the economy of cannabis right now is that it’s marginalizing access to patients who can’t afford it because it’s too expensive. An economy that was built upon the backs of sick and dying people has been propelled into a market that serves profit. I know that I could also be making a lot of money, but I don’t really work with pot, I work with people. The marketplace is creating a false sense of value, when the real value is asking, ‘How can I help you? How can this plant help the circumstance that you’re in?’ Personally I don’t think my needs are greater than somebody who’s sick.”
Wanda James was the first black woman to own a cannabis dispensary in Colorado. She also founded Cannabis Global Initiative, a communication firm trying to give people of color a place in the cannabis industry.
“I met my brother for the first time at my father’s funeral, when he told me he just got out of prison. I thought he must have killed somebody. I was shocked to hear that he got arrested for possession of 4.5 ounces of cannabis when he was 17 years old and got a 10-year prison sentence, of which for four and a half years he was picking cotton in a maximum-security prison in Texas. It seemed ridiculous to me, especially since I studied at the University of Colorado and would sit on the front steps of my dorm with my white friends — a pound of weed between us — rolling joints for the weekend. If the cops walked by they would yell, ‘Hey kids, put that away.’ I didn’t even know people went to jail for possessing marijuana. My husband and I started digging into it and we realized we could put a minority face on it to talk about this issue. That’s when we founded CGI. We felt embolden to stand up and say, ‘No more jail time for this.’”
Bianca Green was executive producer of the documentary “The Culture High” and is the founder of a non-profit campaign called Spark The Conversation, which encourages consumers to engage in conversation to change the stigma of cannabis.
“Twelve years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer. Two years later, I was on about 13 pharmaceuticals — I felt horrible. I lived in California, where medical marijuana was legal since 1996, so I went and got my medical card. The road to discovering what is best for your body when it comes to cannabis medicines is not easy, but it is worth it if you want to thrive and not just survive. Ever since I found cannabis as a medicine, I’ve dedicated every single day of my life to the mission of changing its stigma, and it’s not over yet. I want to inspire others to come out of the closet and speak up about their use. I know if we all come out together, we could normalize the cannabis culture and encourage more people to be open about it. We are a small industry, but a large community of consumers, and until we realize our participation as a consumer is necessary and prohibition is restricting our freedom to choose what we put into our bodies, we are failing.”
Michelle Lilly-Hester & Drayah Sallis
Michelle Lilly-Hester is the educational officer of Healthway Educations Systems and Drayah Sallis is its executive director. They provide medical education to patients and physicians all over the world, bridging the gaps between medicinal cannabis, physicians and patients.
Drayah: “My mother, who recently passed away, was chronically ill. She was from a different generation that has been influenced by the War on Drugs — a generation that doesn’t know they can use cannabis as a medicine to expand their quality of life. What if I could have allowed her to understand that cannabis could be the solution to her care, only to realize then that I was too late? Luckily, I had time to introduce cannabis to my mother responsibly and she became my biggest advocate. But that’s why my work is worth it to me — to have these conversations. My goal is for cannabis to be mainstream, and part of that vision is equipping healthcare providers and state municipalities, as well as delivering a public health solution in the lifestyle of medical cannabis. Being involved in this cannabis revolution is heartwarming. It means changing the lives of those directly affected by an illegal market.”
Sister Kate works with Sisters of the Valley, a non-denominational order of nuns producing cannabis medicines “during moon cycles, according to ancient wisdom.” Her mission: sustainability, progressive activism and spirituality through sisterhood.
“Our origins are of the Occupy Movement. As an activist sister, I was frequently out among the people and, as they understood that I was an anarchist, activist, self-declared nun, they began asking me to formalize the order. Working with cannabis is a way of meeting our goals of creating jobs and career paths for the women. We are focused on the women simply because women bear the brunt of all poverty in all societies. To us, holy living is living in harmony with Mother Earth. We know there are cannabis growers all over the world, prohibited or not. That means that there are women everywhere that could, and should, be making the tinctures and salves the same way their ancient mothers did. I envision the blossoming of the Sisterhood as a global movement unifying women. Not by being a religion, but by being self-sustaining. Earning our way, by uniting women everywhere, by creating honorable jobs and a very intentional lifestyle. My vision is to have women in long blue-jean skirts, white blouses and white veils in every town and province across the planet and for people everywhere to know, when they see them: ‘Those women know cannabis.’”
Ophelia Chong founded Stock Pot Images, an agency dedicated to providing quality pot photos for commercial use, trying to break its stoner stigma.
“The main reason I got into doing this was I realized there were only a few pictures available. Often you saw the same bush reappearing everywhere, one that had been used before for over fifteen hundred times. That would be like having the same woman reappearing in every ad — it wasn’t representative of our industry. These images really influence the way people think about cannabis, because they show up with every news story that appears in the media. There is much more to weed than that same bush or the stereotype of the stoner, sitting on the floor with a joint and a bottle of alcohol. All my images are of real people, not models, who are willing to be photographed and shown smoking weed. My goal is to show the real user. I want to put the face of cannabis out there.”
Menkin Nelson, owner of a cannabis farm, is growing cannabis for medicinal use and assisting other local growers in the compliance of their farms.
“My first job in the industry was trim work while I tried to figure out what I wanted to do with the next chapter of my life. Medical marijuana was already in effect, so it wasn’t ‘illegal’ on a state level. However, it was on a federal level, and busts in the area were common. There were times when we’d hear helicopters fly over and we’d all just stop working to listen. Several times we would see the feds staging for a bust at the bottom of the road and we would pack everything away and take an unexpected weekend. Right now, I do a small-scale garden and I have started helping local growers with administrative assistance throughout the compliance of their farms. Ideally, I would love to see marijuana be left with the mom-and-pops, who backyard garden organically and do some small-scale farming. Unfortunately, with all the regulations and extra costs required for becoming compliant and competing in the industry, it feels like it’s being pushed in the direction of major production and commercialism.”
Dale Sky Jones
Dale Sky Jones is the executive chancellor of Oaksterdam University. She was the spokeswoman for the Prop 19 Campaign in California and is chairwoman of the board for the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform (CCPR), and a founding board member of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA).
“I was blessed to get to know cannabis first from the patient perspective: those seeking relief and safe access to their medicine. This experience hammered home the importance of patients’ rights, and later, working on policy with Prop 19 in 2010 solidified my priorities with respect to civil rights and social justice in how we write laws. An example is Florida, where they first offered applications for five permits, but to be eligible you had to have owned a licensed nursery 30 continuous years to even apply. How many people of color, women or veterans owned nurseries in Florida 30 years ago? The very expensive and exclusive application process immediately weeded out most responsible minority small business owners. Those who have been involved in changing the laws, doing the work, or getting busted trying to work are excluded from participating in the new legal atmosphere. I focus on the education and empowerment of those seeking the knowledge of how to enter the industry. It’s important for women, people of color and veterans to get involved with the regulatory process early and often, because the glass ceiling has yet to be built.”
Text and photos created by Green Gold Stories, a media collective specializing in stories about cannabis and its consumers. See more at greengoldstories.com
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