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Women in Cannabis: Fewer Job Opportunities, But More Respect

Born out of the efforts of activist “Brownie Mary” Jane Rathbun and her San Francisco cohort in the 1980s and ’90s, legal medical cannabis has long been the domain of women, just as caretaking and nursing so often are. Yet since those early days, non-males have been relegated to gender-specific roles in the cannabis culture and community, such as caretakers, bakers, bikini-clad bong holders and exploited migrant trimmers.

There was a momentary bright spot in late 2015 when a Marijuana Business Daily survey indicated women held 50% more C-suite positions (CEO, COO, CFO, CIO) in cannabis than in the average American industry. There were panels on “women and cannabis” at every major conference. Dynamic non-male leaders were being lifted up in every sector of the industry.

So how is it is that, two years later, we find ourselves with shrinking representation in C-suite jobs and continued marginalization in the rest of the industry? We’ve yet to shift—or even properly examine—some of the endemic characteristics of the cannabis industry and community that contribute to gender disparity, like aversion to risk and systemic bias.

Cannabis cultivation, trade and consumption remain high-risk activities. While men are often socialized to admire and engage in these activities, the opposite is true for women. The dangers of losing our children, freedom, hard-won opportunities, control or autonomy leads us to be more protective and risk-averse in professional and personal activities.

Thankfully, the tendency in the cannabis-aficionado community to use women as sexualized props in photo spreads has been largely replaced with respectful imagery. 
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The inevitable result was that men were the dominant force in the early development of the cannabis consumer community. While many, perhaps most, are and were respectful of the women in their midst, I wouldn’t be surprised to find a higher rate of misconduct in the cannabis space than in other more mainstream communities.

Thankfully, the tendency in the cannabis-aficionado community to use women as sexualized props in photo spreads has been largely replaced with respectful imagery. And business types are supplanting bros who come to trade shows to check out chicks holding bongs. It’s one thing to say you value diversity, and another thing entirely to cultivate a workplace environment where people are valued for what they bring to the team, not how they sound or look when they bring it.

The next generation of cannabis leaders are coming up through Students for Sensible Drug Policy, a community that values equity and diversity.

About the Author Latest PostsAbout Betty Aldworth

Betty Aldworth is the Executive Director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. She also served as Spokesperson and Advocacy Director for Colorado’s successful 2012 Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.

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