Women In Weed: A Candid Discussion About Equality, Inclusion, And Cannabis

By WeedMaps‘ Hannah Meadows, provided exclusively to Benzinga Cannabis.

Vangst, one of the leading recruitment agencies in the cannabis space, recently gathered data from 166 companies across 17 states concerning female and female-identifying employment in weed. Seen here, their findings suggest that out of 631 total female employees, 17.6% held director or executive roles. Additionally, “of all surveyed companies, 43.4% are more than 50% female identifying,” and “38.5% of [total] cannabis employees are female-identifying individuals.”

These numbers are trending up as the market increases and as more states gain access to legal cannabis — but we can do better. Especially considering that out of all those companies on the survey bill, 12.6% do not have any women in leadership, while 41.2% only have one.

And even as women have gained more access to the professional world over the past few decades, what happens once we enter the space speaks volumes to what needs to change and how we should be constantly working for equal conditions and environments across the entire working world.

We recently had the opportunity to speak to two women with wildly diverse cannabis backgrounds on matters regarding race, inclusion, equality and patient advocacy in cannabis. In this candid interview, hear what it’s like to pursue cannabis from a different lens. 

Meet our interviewees

Tiffany Bowden: MA, PhDc, and founding President, Former Education Chair and Co-Founder of The Minority Cannabis Business Association, Director of Education for the National Diversity & Inclusion Association, mental health advocate, diversity trainer, activist, writer, educator, and speaker (check out her powerful Ted Talk here). 

Adie Wilson-Poe: Ph.D neuroscientist, Co-Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Smart Cannabis (once Habu Health). Adie is also a Subject Matter Expert here at Weedmaps. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

On pursuing a career in the cannabis space. 

WM: Cannabis is so new in regards to its place in the general consumer market, and its rise happened incredibly quickly. What first motivated you to pursue a career in the cannabis industry, specifically? And has that motivational spark changed?

Wilson-Poe: I mean, for me it was the opposite, actually. I was never motivated to be in the cannabis industry at all. I was pulled into the industry because of the science. I started my career as an academic and I wrote my first grant to study cannabinoids as an undergrad in 2004. As a result of doing my undergrad work, my Ph.D work, all of my postdoctoral work looking at the evidence (and being eyeballs deep in it all day every day of my career), it was very obvious to me that here we have a bunch of evidence that’s being completely ignored and disregarded by our policymakers.

And so it was because of that that I became a patient advocate and an outspoken spokesperson for all the harm reduction capabilities that this plant possesses — especially in regards to opioids. So, I was pulled into the industry just because of my passion — and expertise — for the evidence. I never thought that I would end up in this place. But I feel like it’s a moral obligation of mine to my fellow humans to use my knowledge of the literature, and my ability to study this plant, for the greater good.

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Bowden: My career started out in marketing and advertising, and I have historically been very interested in the representation of minorities and women in advertising — and in media in general. But then, in the midst of my graduate studies, my father passed away, and prior to my father passing away, he was able to relate to me that he was utilizing medical cannabis for pain relief and support. I was able to watch that process, and some of the other things that he was using originally were actually causing very negative side effects, including opioid addiction and constipation.

Because my dad was not connected to the community, he was getting [cannabis] from a dialysis friend, but once his dialysis friend passed away, he had to go back to the traditional Western approach. The opioids and all the other medications really took him out of his default personality set. So, once I did finally lose him for good, I was very much interested in helping people gain access to a plant that I thought might have possibly been able to help my father.

But before my father, my initial reaction [to cannabis] was actually fairly negative, considering I came up in the “Just Say No” and D.A.R.E era. Given all of the benefits that I saw him have with it, that was what set me out to say, “Okay, well why did I have such a negative reaction if this is a thing that actually does have benefits?” I took on the search to find out those answers. Then I decided to focus my interest and aims on elevating research and patient advocacy.

I also launched an education company and traveled state to state to help bring [cannabis] education to people. In that journey, I found that I was like one of the only black people that was in that space — which was odd to me. So I created the Minority Cannabis Business Association to help advance the conversation simultaneously. 

However, I suffered a lot of trauma in the space as it relates to what happens to minorities and women when they get here. There’s a lot of people that talk about getting into the cannabis industry, but there’s not a lot of people talking about what happens to us when we’re here. Our businesses being stolen, being sexually harassed and going through all of those kinds of trauma. And so my recent work has been focused more on that space and harm reduction, mental health and support. 

On the science behind cannabis and women’s health. 

WM: On the healthcare front, it’s been reported that women are ignored when it comes to receiving care and that our complaints are usually written off. So, we’re sometimes forced to look elsewhere. In response, there seems to be an explosion of weed products for women’s health, in addition to other women-specific cannabis …

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