For millennia before bong hitting bros and the cowboy culture of today’s emerging industry, women were healers and herbalists, using cannabis for menstrual cramps and labour pain. Today, women are sending the stoner stereotype up in smoke.
Through advocacy, venture creation, and organizing, women are leading the charge to legitimize and celebrate the healing powers of this female plant that has blossomed worldwide alongside human migration.
Last week, Shecosystem brought together a panel of women entrepreneurs to take a look at the industry through a feminist lens and create a safe space to explore the wellness applications of this healing plant. We gathered in a circle, honouring the experience of the diverse crowd – from “cannabis evangelists” to closet consumers, chronic pain sufferers, new moms, industry insiders, and wellness practitioners looking to expand their toolkit.
The cannabis-wellness industry is not just for healers and growers. Women are applying their “straight” skills from other industries to make sure that their stories and needs are represented from the kinds of medical research being done to the way products are marketed.
According to the Canadian Press, women currently make up only 5 per cent of the board seats at publicly traded marijuana producers. With over 80% of household purchasing decisions and over 90% of healthcare decisions being made by women, we have immense power and can shape this industry by getting involved all the way up the chain.
Though their businesses range from an online platform, a dispensary, and event company, the women on our panel shared a similar mission: making space for women’s voices and experiences. Devon Scoble led the panel starting with her experience using cannabis to ease her neuropathic pains, arthritis, and insomnia. As content boss at Hempster, Devon provides education about products and strains and shares recipes, how-to guides, and stories that inspire wellness through healthy cannabis choices.
Tania Cyalume, a chemist and cannabis veteran who has been making edibles for medical patients for over 10 years, first became a patient – and advocate – after an accident which resulted in degenerative lumbar disease. Through her work with the feminist, LGBTQ+ positive dispensary Queens of Cannabis and Bloom High Tea Social Club, she has been building community and helping patients feel comfortable asking questions, not to mention creating jobs for women in weed.
Melody Hassan is applying her skills from the hospitality industry to cultivate educational, stigma-busting events through her business, Cannabuzz. As a Muslim woman, she struggles with the stigma associated with consumption, but is proudly speaking up about weed’s health and wellness benefits.
The evening wrapped up with a cooking demo from Hempster’s Head Chef, Ronnie Fishman – a gorgeous Vietnamese pomelo salad with cannabis infused honey in the dressing (recipe here!). She went over an easy how-to guide for making your own edibles, safe dosing, and food pairing to complement the aromatic terpenes found in different strains.
With legalization on the horizon, cannabis industry events are looking more and more like mainstream business events. As one attendee remarked, “Where there’s money, there are white guys in suits.”
What used to be a subculture of conscious consumers and people on the margins is being flooded by opportunistic players from within the business establishment. An attendee working in the industry noted that she has often been the only woman in the room.
People in the audience commented that there is a need for more places where people can ask honest questions and “come out” in a brave space where their experiences are mirrored by the people around them. They shared stories of fighting with doctors and insurance providers, being told they had to try every alternative including surgery and heavy pharmaceuticals before being covered for a medical marijuana prescription. A new mom shamelessly advocated for using cannabis to relax and get some sleep after a long day caring for a toddler and a 3 month-old.
While the space felt safe and inclusive, questions remained about the equity of the industry. From a feminist perspective, we cannot simply celebrate white women making strides in “rebranding” weed while women of colour continue to deal with the negative consequences associated with cannabis consumption. Black, brown and aboriginal people have been disproportionately criminalized for marijuana related charges in Canada and as weed moves toward legalization, a criminal record means that these people will be shut out of the burgeoning industry.
As a white woman in the audience pointed out, she can freely walk down the street smoking a joint, but for a black woman, this would be much riskier. Devon pointed out that she has had a hard time finding women of colour to feature on Hempster – not because they aren’t out there but because of the risks associated with going public.
Groups are fighting for amnesty for people with marijuana convictions, as well as for lower barriers to entry into this industry. Cannabis Amnesty is urging parliament to pass legislation granting full pardons for people convicted of possessing 30 grams of marijuana or less. Sensible Ontario is advocating for a mixed public-private model that includes legal places to consume. Women like Abi Roach, Annamaria Enenajor and Jodie Emery are among the loudest voices fighting for policies that make the Canadian cannabis industry accessible and safe.
We’re grateful to everyone who came out for this elevated evening and we hope to see more women shaping the industry, policy, and culture of cannabis in Canada!