The world of weed: Where the grass is greener for feminism

Date

Olivia Clement

Broad City: The face of marijuana is now female.

Broad City: The face of marijuana is now female.

Cheech and Chong are no longer the face of weed. The "stoner bro" image that has long been associated with marijuana usage no longer applies to the eclectic mix of people who consume cannabis products today, women included. Pop culture has largely influenced this facelift—wealthy, L.A. locals in their active wear regularly toke up in Transparent, as do Broad City's lead comediennes; Mary Louise Parker is a soccer mum-turned-marijuana dealer in Weeds, and celebrities like Rihanna and Miley Cyrus frequently brandish their love of the plant.

With its legalisation in certain states in America, marijuana is now an emerging industry and despite its stereotype, it is women who are capitalising on this. In August last year, Newsweek declared legal marijuana could be the first billion-dollar industry not dominated by men. In the US, women are at the forefront of advocacy groups, have been instrumental in the legalisation process and also make up a large percentage of cannabis product business owners. 

The fact that marijuana isn't yet an 'old boys club' has really, in my opinion, allowed women to take on many new and powerful roles in what is really still an emerging industry. 

"From attorneys to entrepreneurs to consulting, women are breaking through gender barriers and norms," says Hilary Bricken, a Seattle-based attorney who works in marijuana reform and policy. Bricken says women were "probably the number one tactical tool in getting the initiative to pass in Washington". The Initiative 502, which legalised recreational pot use in Washington state, passed in 2012. "The lead author of the initiative is a woman [Alison Holcomb]. Many of the campaigners were women. And they were brilliant in the rhetoric and facts they used to get the initiative to pass," she says. "They emphasised how superior legalisation and control is to prohibition, in almost all contexts including but not limited to market access, child welfare, criminality, incarceration and social justice. They were extremely strategic in putting the initiative together."

Mary-Louise Parker in the TV series Weeds.

Mary-Louise Parker in the TV series Weeds.

Ah Warner is one of these women. Warner is the CEO of Cannabis Basics, a producer of cannabis flower and hempseed oil-infused heath and beauty aids; a guiding member of NORML Women of Washington, an organisation dedicated to marijuana reform outreach and education; a member of the Cannabis Women's Alliance; and the founder of Women of Weed, a private social club with over 200 members. Warner also co-authored the recent legislation that has removed low-percentage cannabis products from the Washington State Controlled Substances Act. The new law, the first-of-its-kind in the country, allows her topical, cannabis-based products to be sold in the mainstream marketplace. 

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Warner says the cannabis industries are "ripe with opportunity" for women like herself. "It's like we're starting fresh and we get to design what this actually looks like for us. Maybe there's just a little more opportunity to get in at the bottom floor...What's great about it is because there are so many women-owned businesses, women have more of an opportunity to be a part of those businesses." She describes her own company as a "female strong" enterprise, almost entirely staffed by women. 

"I do think women enjoy working in community and that affects how we do business," says Warner. "I've seen women go out of their way to support their sisters in the industry that I have not experienced with the men."  While she acknowledges the support she gets from her male counterparts, she says there is a very strong network of women supporting one another in the business. She highlights the social media campaign, #notbuyingit as an example, which calls out sexist advertising in the weed world. 

"The fact that marijuana isn't yet an 'old boys club' has really, in my opinion, allowed women to take on many new and powerful roles in what is really still an emerging industry," agrees Bricken. "There are no nationally recognised power players yet, everything is still local, and large corporations don't really exist yet—so women can really get in a first position set up to create and lead."

American rock singer Melissa Etheridge is among those taking advantage of this emerging industry with her successful line of cannabis-infused wines. Whoopi Goldberg has also jumped on board with the launch of Whoopi & Maya, which is set to include weed-infused products for women who suffer from menstrual cramps. "I don't want this to be a joke to people. It's not a joke to women," Goldberg told USA Today. With increased regulation, the opportunities for women to legitimately monetise and make waves in the weed industry have grown dramatically.  

"As the laws and policies regarding marijuana on a state-to-state basis become more plentiful and clearer, I personally am seeing more women get into entrepreneurial roles and leadership positions with trade and advocacy groups," says Bricken. 

In Australia, the legislative and regulatory process of marijuana reform is still underway. In February this year, the Australian Parliament passed a measure allowing cannabis to be legally grown for medical and scientific purposes. It's potentially the first step towards fully legalising marijuana and cannabis-derived products in the country.  If the US model is anything to go by, this untapped industry could be considerably advantageous for Australian women—a profitable market where the grass looks to be a little greener for feminism.