The women of pot
Female entrepreneurs get elbowed out as big corporations buy into legal marijuana
THE “BRO” CULTURE OF POT is a dominant image of marijuana. Cheech and Chong are the dudes who most represent the “stoner” generation while the legal industry is increasingly seeing corporations and investors dominated by men.
The reality is a little more diverse, though, and Massachusetts is aiming to hold the door open for previously disenfranchised people who want entrée into the booming business, such as minorities, ex-convicts with marijuana-related records, and women.
Perception often being stronger than reality, though, makes it difficult for women to get a foothold in the industry. Caroline Frankel, who has applied for a retail license for a store she plans to open in Uxbridge, and Angela Brown, owner of T Bear Inc. who is aiming to open a free-standing manufacturing facility in Wareham, joined the Codcast to talk about what it’s like being a women in business and, especially, the emerging marijuana industry.
“When you walk into these networking events, you’re often one of the only women in the room,” said Brown, a Dorchester resident who, like Frankel, became a proponent of marijuana by using it medically. “I have a male counterpart and when we walk into a room with my partner, he is often approached first. When we send [venture capital] emails, his are replied to, mine aren’t. Same email, different signature.”
The numbers show the difficulty for women. While women have a higher representation in executive position in the marijuana industry than as corporations in general in the country, their numbers are being reduced as more state legalize recreational pot. Several years ago, according to a survey by a cannabis industry association, women accounted for 36 percent of leadership positions in the business. In 2017, that number dropped to 26 percent and signs are it will continue to decline.
Frankel says it’s important for women to support other women in the industry, noting she has signed an agreement to buy from Brown’s company. She also noted there are a handful of national organizations such as Women Grow that connects female entrepreneurs and supports women in the cannabis industry.
State regulators appear to be aware of the problems and have made a concerted effort to reach out to female entrepreneurs through roundtables and conferences. While women-led businesses aren’t directly included in the equity regulations that give deference to minorities and disadvantaged communities as well as those disproportionately impacted by marijuana criminalization, the Cannabis Control Commission has promised to regularly monitor race and gender diversity in the business and report the results.A lot of what helps, certainly, is the fact that four of the five members of the commission are women, the commission’s chief of staff is a woman, and women hold at least half of the commission’s management and division posts.
“It puts a female face to cannabis in Massachusetts,” said Brown. “We can all look up from the audience and see someone who looks like us. When you see someone that looks like you, you get a feeling you belong here.”