What 7 Women in the Cannabis Business Want You to Know
by Tanisha Pina
To put it simply, the cannabis industry is complicated. From the actual science, to the various social stigmas, to the fight for legalization and relentless criminalization that disproportionately affects communities of color — there’s a lot to unpack. But the tides are turning, slowly but surely, and they have been for awhile. Just at the start of the year, California opened the world’s largest legal pot market, with more than 400 businesses licensed as of January 1st, 2018, according to state estimates. This year also marked the first ever state legislature-legalized marijuana, thanks to Vermont.
Still, it’s important to remember that behind these big “wins” are the small businesses, growers, activists, herbalists, writers, and supporters who have made it their life’s work to flip the script on what cannabis really is, allowing for big legislature changes to even be possible. In many cases, though it might not be widely known, the people pushing for change are women. Whether they’re studying and exploring how the plant regulates our bodies, taking to the streets and facing jail time for activism and legalization efforts, or just changing the conversation around what it means to be a woman who enjoys rolling one or two, it’s hard to deny the work of women in this space. In an effort to recognize, celebrate, and explore this trend, we spoke to seven influential and fascinating women in the business. Here’s what they want you to know:
MILK MAKEUP: For those who might not be familiar, tell us a bit about Broccoli Magazine.
ANJA CHARBONNEAU: Broccoli is a free magazine for cannabis lovers; we’re a women-led publication looking at cannabis from an art, culture, and fashion perspective. Rather than focusing only on the industry like a lot of the weed mags out there already, we’re looking at the ways that cannabis touches the more creative and sensory parts of life. Our readers all have unique relationships to the plant when it comes to how and why they use it, but they have a lot in common, too. They’re creative, passionate people who understand that cannabis doesn’t define them, it’s just one star in the constellation of their lives.
MMU: What made you want to get involved in the cannabis industry?
AC: I was excited to be able to help shape the evolution of cannabis culture. Having a platform like Broccoli is a powerful tool, because we have the opportunity to lift up interesting people and perspectives that are often left out of traditional media. Our audience has quickly become global, and that means we have the responsibility to set a good example for what an inclusive and forward-thinking cannabis scene can look like. Weed has been part of my life for a long time, and it feels surreal to be interacting with it on this global, professional level. Plus, it’s incredibly fun to get to create weird art and writing with weed as the center of inspiration.
MMU: Why was it important for you to focus on women for the magazine? In what ways do you feel the “stoner” stigma affects women differently than men?
AC: At the core, I think it comes down to the societal belief that women must be “good,” while men are allowed to be “bad,” and doing drugs is bad. It’s basic, but real. Women, and anyone who isn’t a straight white man, are judged more harshly any time they break the mold of what’s expected of them according to our world’s sexist and racist frameworks. We’ve heard from women all over the world who are seeing this part of themselves reflected in our pages for the first time, and it’s making them feel more comfortable with being open about their cannabis use. There’s a really interesting, powerful community emerging.
MMU: There’s obviously disproportionate opportunities to be involved in this space, especially when it comes to people and women of color. Do you feel a responsibility with Broccoli to raise those voices, and the issues that affect them specifically?
AC: Absolutely. Communities of color are still more likely to be targeted by police even when cannabis is legal, so there’s a lot of work left to be done to remove barriers for entering the space and to make up for past injustices, for example, through allowing past weed charges to be expunged from a person’s record when a state goes legal and by funding organizations that provide resources to help people of color start businesses. The legal cannabis industry may be new, but it’s following a lot of the same structural injustices that exist in every other corporate world. For Broccoli, we can use our platform to help shift the culture by giving people space to share their stories. The cannabis media sphere is still quite small and our readership reaches far beyond the weed world, so we have an opportunity to make an impact on a cultural level.
DR. LAKISHA JENKINS; TRADITIONAL NATUROPATH, REGISTERED MASTER HERBALIST
MILK MAKEUP: I know you have your hands in a lot of different parts of the industry. I’d love if you could run down what you do as part of your practice.
DR. LAKISHA JENKINS: So there are a couple of different hats that I wear. Primarily though, I’m a traditional naturopath and a registered master herbalist. I use herbs as the basis of nutrition to help to combat the symptoms of chronic, degenerative, and terminal illness. So I guess the major focus points of my profession are living organisms, their life processes, and how they relate to each other in the environment.
MMU: And what does that look like, specifically in relation to cannabis?
LJ: For the cannabis industry specifically, the task involves marrying the active mechanical profiles of a number of herbs with the active profiles, or cannabinary profile in cannabis, to come up with proprietary blends of herbs that affect the different systems in the body to induce homeostasis. So, with cannabis, or with the endocannabinoid system that we have in our bodies, there is actually a regulatory system that affects the other systems of the body and induces homeostasis so that you can achieve a balance and actually have a true healing. That’s what I do. I help to induce homeostasis using endocannabinoid system balancing through micro-dosing, and I use herbs as the basis of nutrition to combat the symptoms of chronic, degenerative, and terminal illness.
MMU: How did you get involved in this? How did you follow this path to where you are now?
LJ: First of all, it’s a part of our history. Traditional medicine is a part of the history of every indigenous population on the planet. And coming from the South and Mississippi, being black American and Native American, it’s part of my history. Second of all, my daughter was diagnosed with two different types of brain tumors when she was eight years old in 2002.
As I was researching chemotherapy, radiation, and those conventional treatments and what effects they have, I realized that that wasn’t the route I wanted to take with her, but I didn’t have a choice because she was a minor. She ended up passing away from the treatment, not the cancer. When I questioned whether the treatment was the appropriate course of action, I was advised that unless I agreed to it, I would be acting against medical advice and considered a threat to my child. My parental rights would be at jeopardy. So, when she passed away from the treatment that I questioned, and I had no recourse, it really was like a catalyst to action for me above anything else. It was like, okay, people are dying and they don’t have to.
MMU: Does it unearth any certain feelings for you to be a visible black woman taking a lead in the cannabis industry?
LJ: It does. I think it’s because I’m educated in this particular realm of the health industry, number one. But it’s also because cannabis has made this migration to a lucrative industry. And because of the disproportionate amount of arrests of people of color, and because we are still suffering the repercussions from the historical fact that America was built on one agricultural commodity that was dependent on the backs of our ancestors. Whether you like it or not, cannabis is an agricultural commodity. And this is another lucrative agricultural commodity that has the potential of rebuilding this nation — it’s not going to happen on my watch that we don’t have a place in this industry. That’s the bottom line.
MMU: What’s one thing you really want people to know about the cannabis industry and the work that you’re doing?
LJ: Number one, our brain produces cannabinoids naturally. The cannabinoids that our brain produces naturally to regulate our endocannabinoid system mirror very closely in chemical composition the cannabinoids that are found in the cannabis plant. There is no other botanical on the planet that mirrors more closely in chemical composition what our brain produces naturally than the cannabis plant. We’re hardwired to interact with this plant. It would behoove you to research that, because of the medical disparities that exist around the misinformation regarding these realities. And all of that is literally the civil rights issue of modern day times, right now.
CHRISTINA SHEEHAN; CANNABIS CHEMIST, CANNALYSIS
MILK MAKEUP: Tell us briefly about your role as a cannabis chemist.
CHRISTINA SHEEHAN: Essentially, the work that I do in the lab at Cannalysis enables companies and individuals that produce cannabis and cannabis-infused products to know exactly what is in their products. We run tests for potency (the amount of THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids), harmful pesticides, and microbial contamination.
MMU: How did you discover that the job even existed? How did you land it?
CS: When I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry, the thought of working in the petroleum industry or any of the traditional chemistry routes was really unsettling. My search for a non-traditional industry and the addition of recreationally legal cannabis to California’s already thriving cannabis industry were the serendipitous combination for me to find this position. My enthusiasm for the position and industry as well as my chemistry background were ultimately what landed me the job, but the ultimate plus for me with this particular lab is that the science team is made up almost entirely of inspiring women.
MMU: What piqued your interest about the industry initially?
CS: I’ve used cannabis recreationally, as a form of self-care, and for anxiety relief for years. Being aware of the strides science was making in the uses of CBD to treat conditions like epilepsy and PTSD is initially what made me start to consider it as a potential future. Seeing validated medicinal uses come from this plant that has been stigmatized for so long was amazing. It feels like we’re just at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to uses for cannabis. The way that the science continues to evolve has held my interest the way no other industry does right now.
MMU: How did your family react when you shared your career goals?
CS: My family was initially skeptical of the industry in general. Although not very traditional themselves, my parents come from a generation that thinks of cannabis as a drug people use at concerts and parties. Safe to say they did not think of it as a viable career option until we had a more expansive conversation about the rapidly growing industry, new regulations, and huge market in California.
MMU: What is something you want people to know about working in the industry that they might not otherwise know?
CS: Working in the cannabis industry is immediately labeled a “cool job” and it definitely is, but we’re also doing important work. Making sure consumers know what’s in products and that they’re safe is essential for a user’s sense of well-being.
CHRISTINE, NINA, JENNIFER; CO-OWNERS, MELI JEIN
MILK MAKEUP: Tell us about Meli Jein for those who might not be familiar.
MELI JEIN: We wanted to bring something new to Chicago and to the web in general — a stylish shop with smoke accessories and sex toys for women of all lifestyles. As the laws change towards decriminalizing and legalizing marijuana, women are finding positive benefits with cannabis, especially in terms of sex. And we wanted to have a store that can cater to both of those needs.
MMU: How did you get interested in the cannabis industry? What were you doing beforehand?
MJ: We are three varied personalities with different interests, but what we all have in common is our love of relaxation through mind and body. We actually met working at a sushi restaurant together years ago and having late night hours meant there wasn’t much to do after work except drink. But, funnily enough, we had the same after work routine: go home, get our smoke on and practice “self-care.” It’s a great way to pamper yourself and get a good night’s rest. And after speaking to other women of all different backgrounds and careers, we realized that a lot of us were replacing a glass of wine with a toke of high grade kush.
MMU: What is something you want people to know about working in the industry that they might not otherwise know?
MJ: The industry, whether we’re talking about medical marijuana, recreational, or adult toys is not new. It’s been around for a long time, relegated to the dark dirty corners of the web. And like almost every industry, it is run by men who employ typical marketing tactics to appeal to other men by using highly sexualized females in their advertising. But, as the stigma is being lifted and these industries are being embraced by an increasing number of informed and open people, women and minorities are breaking through at an unprecedented rate. Because women smoke and have sex just as much as men do, we need equal representation.
JODIE EMERY; CANNABIS ACTIVIST, CIVIL LIBERTIES ADVOCATE
MILK MAKEUP: I know that you’re an activist first and foremost. I’d love to hear where you feel you spend the most time.
JODIE EMERY: Well, there’s a lot to cover. I started in 2005; I ran for office five times, and was the magazine editor of Cannabis Culture for many years. Then, when my husband Mark [Emery, Owner of Cannabis Culture] was being extradited to a U.S. prison, we had to go to court a lot here in Canada to try to prevent that. When he was extradited in May 2010, I spent years running for office, taking care of him, and running our head shop and baker lounge. The magazine had stopped printing by then, but it was online. So I did a lot of campaigning in the U.S. and Canada, travelled a lot in Georgia and Mississippi and marched the streets, doing over 420 rallies every year — lots of different things. For me this is a civil liberties issue, because people shouldn’t be criminalized, arrested and harmed for dealing with a plant that not only is harmless, it’s helpful. It helps people.
MMU: What was your first entry point? When did you start to get involved in the cannabis industry?
JE: Well, in high school I was against marijuana. Against drinking, drugs, sex — anything teenagers did, I was opposed to. I was a leadership student, teacher’s pet. My best friends started smoking pot, and I gave them a lot of grief about it. But they introduced me to Cannabis Culture magazine and Pot TV, which were run by Marc Emery, who that year was running a full slate of cannabis in the provincial elections, the BC Marijuana Party. So my first introduction was through all that and my friends, and I decided to try smoking it in 2001. I decided to try alcohol as well. Didn’t like the beer. Stuck with the weed. Everything kind of started changing then, because I started questioning authority, and I learned a lot through Cannabis Culture magazine. I realized that cannabis consumers were not as evil as the government said they were.
MMU: Things just took off from there?
JE: Over the years, I got more and more involved. But for me, the top priority is to stop the criminalization and the stigma and the arrests. That’s the most important thing, and then we can figure out who gets to sell it and where and how.
MMU: What are the biggest avenues in advocating for that kind of change?
JE: Well writing letters to newspapers was my first big focus, because online we often end up speaking to people who agree with us already. But when it comes to opposition to cannabis, that’s typically an older audience that isn’t on the internet getting the latest info. They’re usually reading newspapers or listening to the radio. So I was always trying to get messages out to the mainstream media. Granted back then in 2004 and 2005, it was nearly impossible to find marijuana in the news, and it was always bad news. But it’s really important to reach audiences outside of our own circles, so definitely engaging with the mainstream media is really important in local areas.
MMU: What would you say to someone who maybe feels the same way you felt when you were younger, where you just felt completely opposed to the whole thing?
JE: It’s always better to be open-minded on every issue and to bear in mind that you might be wrong about something you believe. One of the hardest things to accept was that I had been told marijuana was bad all the time by DARE classes, teachers and police. Everybody said marijuana was bad, and I believed that. When I found out that was a lie, I started to question everything I had been told. We can just remind them that things change over time, information gets updated. We found out the world wasn’t flat. It’s one baby step at a time. But for anyone who moves along down the path, you start to realize you don’t even have to be pro-marijuana to support legalization. In fact, many of our greatest allies have been cops and politicians who were against pot and then changed position. Like my husband’s prosecutor, John McCain. They don’t like marijuana, they don’t use it, they’re not in the business of it, but they know that it’s better to legalize it than to prohibit it. So sometimes opponents can still be great allies if they support the policies ending prohibitions. But it does take baby steps.
ANDREA BURNETT; FOUNDER, THE 4TWENTY GROUP
MILK MAKEUP: Tell us briefly about your company, The 4Twenty Group. How did it come to be, and what was your goal for it starting out?
AB: I launched the 4Twenty Group as a reaction to the last election. I was deeply concerned for where the economy might be headed (after living through the Bush years and the great recession) and also as a desire to work in an industry that was doing something good in the world. Building an agency that focuses on women-owned and women-centric products was a no-brainer for me. Whether they are our clients or not, we’re all about supporting women in business.
MMU: How did you get interested in the cannabis industry?
AB: As I mentioned above, founding the agency was both a reaction to the new administration and a deep desire to work in a category that does so many good things for so many people. Growing up in the 60s in Berkeley, cannabis was part of my life. My parents grew and smoked weed. As an adult, it was always a part of the social scene, but never a focus in my life. Once I saw and read about the incredible healing power of CBD and realized how many people were using it for its healing properties, I made the decision to be a part of the industry, too.
MMU: What were you doing before you launched the agency?
AB: I’m actually still doing it. I also run a lifestyle PR agency (Andrea Burnett PR) that specializes in publishing. I’ve been doing book PR for over 20 years. Another noble industry. Who doesn’t love books?!
MMU: Was finding a slew of like-minded cannabis clients for The 4Twenty Group difficult?
AB: Not at all! I truly think there was a need for more PR agencies who were “specialists” in this category. There are a number of amazing agencies out there, but most of them are generalists. We almost exclusively work with women-owned and women-centric products – or brands that have a desire to reach more women.
DANIA CABELLO; FOUNDER, OJO DE LA SOL
MMU: How did you get involved in the cannabis industry?
DC: When I started, it came from a very personal place of trying to find alternate solutions for healing for both myself and my family members who were dealing with chronic pain and arthritis. I’m a former professional soccer player, so after many years of all sorts of western medicine to try and combat some of the issues I was having — particularly in my feet — and then dealing with depression, cannabis in different forms was providing significant relief — for both mental and physical health.
MMU: Could you explain what you mean by different forms?
DC: When I say different forms, I mean not your traditional just smoking the plant, which is one way to engage with it, but juicing it has really incredible effects, kind of like wheatgrass shots. It’s great for balancing moods, for stabilizing anyone dealing with depression. And then topically as an anti-inflammatory and for pain relief. So my journey to getting here was kind of personal, figuring out what worked for myself and my family. It was when I really started sharing with the next layers of my community that it stopped being about just providing relief for myself and launched me into the business and making it more accessible.
MMU: Was it ever stigmatized in your family?
DC: Oh yeah! My parents are both from Chile, and while not just in the Latino community, but very much so there, there are a lot of misconceptions around what cannabis is and what it does. It’s taboo. My parents were uncomfortable with it because their only relationship to it was people smoking it and it being physcoactive. But when they witnessed my journey and saw the benefits it’s had on me, combined with being my first consumers, they realized that sometimes you just have to try it first to understand what people are talking about. And they became believers. You know, it’s funny now seeing my mom post pro-cannabis messages on Facebook — ten years ago she never would have done that.
MMU: What is something you want people to know about cannabis that they might not know?
DC: Something I would like for people to know is more about the quality of the product they’re consuming. I want people to know that Ojo De La Sol prides itself on making really clean products that are safe for mostly all bodies. And I say mostly because every now and then you might have someone who’s allergic to one of the ingredients, and is unable to use beeswax or coconut oil. So I’m not going to say that everybody can use it, but it’s clean! It’s safe enough to eat, and I think that’s really important. Another thing I think is important is to be curious and ask questions about the industry. Right now there’s a lot of marketing going on, and there’s a lot of misinformation or information that’s not really backed by actual research. It’s important for people to continue questioning and challenging folks and raising their concerns. Know what’s in your product and know who you’re buying from. If you’re going into a dispensary and you have the option to buy one brand versus another, to me it’s important to know who started that brand, where did it come from?
For me personally, I get reached out to a lot because people are like, you’re a Latina in the industry. There aren’t a lot of us out there. That’s something that is unfortunate in this industry, but hopefully we can shift it to being the norm. Right now, women are really leading the way, but there still are a lot of women of color who aren’t getting the same type of recognition in the media, so that’s a big one for me. Know the hands behind the products you’re buying.