Women Cannabis Entrepreneurs Come Together in Portland
The legalization of marijuana – no matter how sticky the parameters – will undoubtedly bring the people behind the scenes of a billion-dollar industry to the forefront.
Women, in fact, comprise a large portion of growers, dispensary owners, and canna-business professionals.
To help them emerge from the shadows and connect, Women Grow was established last year in Denver, Colorado. Since then, it’s provided a professional network for both established entrepreneurs and newbies of the cannabis industry.
With monthly events for women – and men – in 25 plus cities across the country, Women Grow is launching a Portland chapter this week with its first networking event on May 7th at McCormick Mansion.
“I have spent my career working in male-dominated industries and always gained a lot of value and support from networking with women,” said Sara Batterby, co-chair of the Portland chapter and CEO of an early-stage cannabis cultivation company.
“Starting Women Grow Portland seemed like the natural thing to do, and the incredible support and enthusiasm that I experienced as I set out to do it really validated the need for it here in Portland.”
Leah Maurer, also co-chair of the Portland chapter, has been a marijuana activist since 2009, when she and her husband experienced a traumatic paramilitary-style home invasion for growing medical cannabis in Columbia, Missouri.
After moving to Portland, she began working to change the failed Oregon and Missouri cannabis laws. Maurer was a founding member of New Approach Oregon, which drafted, funded and ushered through Measure 91, effectively legalizing cannabis in Oregon last November.
“Portland is in need of a Women Grow chapter because the medical cannabis industry in Oregon is flourishing,” she said. “And with a recreational cannabis industry on the horizon, it’s about to get much bigger.”
A Gateway For Female Leaders
Each month in Portland, Women Grow events will serve as a summit for females (and males) at different stages of their cannabis careers.
“My hope is that by bringing those women together we will build a strong framework for delivering education, meaningful connections and supporting a broader community of women who are interested in learning about and entering the industry,” said Batterby.
Jazmin Hupp, co-founder and executive director of Women Grow, says the Portland chapter is a top priority of the national organization because of Oregon’s long-standing cannabis culture.
She hopes Oregon will follow Colorado’s licensing model and give more people, especially women, the chance to start new businesses.
“Having women organized and educated about the issues as Oregon regulates this industry will help create a fair, sustainable, and safe industry for all,” said Hupp.
Prior to entering the cannabis industry, Hupp launched six companies in retail, eCommerce, business services, and media. But her core practice is customer experience design, which combines product design, branding, and business operations.
Like Hupp, many professionals in the Women Grow network have been serving other industries and are now applying their skills – marketing, human resources, training, among them – to the weed market instead.
“Others have been participating in cannabis as a hobby and are looking to grow that into a full-time career and business,” Hupp explained. “In Oregon, many women are already experienced in the industry, but might be coming out publicly for the first time. Many attend their first meeting to find out where they fit.”
The Power of Knowledge
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, a national advocacy leader of drug law reform, marijuana prohibition is at the heart of the drug war.
Roughly half of the 1.5 million drug arrests made each year are for marijuana offenses, and almost 90 percent of those are for nothing more than simple possession.
Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) advocates the removal of marijuana from the criminal justice system.
“Marijuana prohibition has devastating impacts on families and women across the country,” said DPA’s deputy director of development Ellen Flenniken, a panelist at the Portland launch this week.
As the recreational marijuana industry emerges in Oregon, Flenniken said the DPA is hopeful that those most impacted by prohibition, including women and people of color, have the opportunity succeed.
“We’re thrilled to see organizations like Women Grow offering tools and support to empower women to thrive in this new industry,” said Flenniken.
Education is the key, believes Tina Cox, a Seattle-based producer and processor of recreational marijuana.
Cox owns her own growing company, Lady Earth Botanicals, and is a member of Women Grow and the Women’s Cannabis Alliance.
“In my own experience, I know that people just getting into the recreational side of cannabis on a legal platform really need protection,” said Cox. “Everybody, in general, needs education if they don’t know about the plant. They need to make sure that they’re really informed (because) traceability and compliance are big issues for the legal lead-up.”
Women in the Background
Cox, also a panelist at the Portland launch, attributes much of Washington’s success in legalizing marijuana possession to the work of women.
“I think what people don’t realize is that it’s been the women in the background who have been really moving this forward,” said Cox. “It’s been a man’s world for a long time, and it’s very difficult to navigate that in this industry, with men being on the frontlines.”
Yet Women Grow is not an answer to marginalized women in the cannabis industry, according to its organizers.
On the contrary, Sara Batterby says the cannabis industry behaves quite differently to sectors like tech and finance, where she often witnessed women taking a backseat to men.
“There are many, many women in cannabis and, with the exception of some brands that objectify women, they are largely respected,” said Batterby.
“Now there is an opportunity for women to have a clearer voice and articulate their positions in relation to how the industry grows,” she continued. “As a woman myself, I have found the industry incredibly welcoming and friendly.”
Jazmin Hupp affirms that her organization was founded so that women don’t miss opportunities in the cannabis industry due to outdated stereotypes.
And like most new industries, people with little access to capital need extra support to be successful.
“That is why Women Grow provides a place for women and men to network, learn about the local industry, and get information about starting their business,” said Hupp.