Cannabis

Female Founders: Meet the Ladies of the Cannabiz

by Kate Read

Trailblazing the New Cannabis Industry

Women, trans, and non-binary people are moving into the Cannabis space at a breakneck rate. Not only is this driving more wealth to these groups who have been marginalized and looked over in other business fields, but women are also doing cannabis differently. They’re bringing cooperative and restorative business models to the fore, they’re looking deeply into all realms of their operation from production to pricing, and they’re lifting other people up as they go.

We spoke to some of our CannaPlanners clients about how they’re doing things. All of our interviewees are female leaders in the regional cannabis market: Martina + Jaq from Nutty Steph’s, Rachael and Andrew from RopaNa, and Monica from Heady Vermont, Ashley from Elmore Mountain Therapeutics, and Heather from White Mountain Cannabis. Hear from them directly on how they started their companies, how they’re fighting discrimination, and how they want to use their organizations to bridge the gap between economic and social justice (read: make money and create value while restoring relationships and uplifting peoples who have been oppressed by racist and classist drug laws in the past.)

How did you come into this business?

Jaq Rieke (from Nutty Steph’s):
“With a lot of help from our friends! This industry is all about education, and we have gleaned a lot of it from Hailey Cohn at Satori Foods, Ashley Reynolds at EMT CBD, CannaPlanners and Heady Vermont. The movement into CBD seemed like a fabulous fit for Nutty Steph’s because chocolate is a feel-good drug and so is CBD, so you put them together and the result is euphoric.”

Rachael Henne (from RopaNa):
“I used to work at a large hospital doing genetic testing, however I’ve always been extremely passionate about the healing powers of the cannabis plant. To get and maintain this job at the hospital I was subject to drug testing. I had been a medical cannabis card holder before applying to the job for the treatment of PTSD, however, medical cards were not recognized by the organization and still had to pass a drug test for THC if I wanted the job. For quite a few months after getting the job and abstaining from cannabis, I felt my symptoms of PTSD grow much more severe and I was mentally and physically struggling to get through the day. I had so much physical pain in my body all of the sudden that I could barely even walk to coffee break. I was diagnosed by several doctors with fibromyalgia and pressured to take all sorts of pharmaceuticals to help with my pain and PTSD symptoms. It was then that my spouse (Andrew, the co-founder of RopaNa) started seeking out alternative methods for me to get cannabis without failing a drug test or risking my job since it had helped so significantly in the past.”

Monica (from Heady Vermont):
“I happened to be in Colorado in January of 2014 for a ski trade show. A photographer at the time, I had been hearing the headlines about Colorado’s emerging adult use market. As a lifelong adult consumer of cannabis, I was intrigued by the topic. I made several connections with cannabis businesses and people, with the intention of producing a photo story on growing industry and its impact on cannabis culture. Returning to Vermont, I realized that I didn’t want to photograph the industry – I wanted to be a part of it.”

Ashley (from EMT)
“In December 2016 I found CBD to be extremely beneficial to easing symptoms of Postpartum anxiety and depression.  After many hours on the internet combing through anecdotal information, I realized that more women, especially mothers, were feeling the same kinds of Endocannabinoid dis-regulation and could use a brand ally and spokesperson to grant permission to experiment.  Now 2 years into owning EMT CBD, we find everyday to be more rewarding than the next knowing that we are bringing CBD to a population of women who really need it most.”

Heather (from White Mountain Canna Co.)
“My brother, Joel, has been involved with the cannabis industry for almost 30 years. When he started pursuing a cultivation and retail license, he asked me to come on board to help with compliance which quickly morphed into handling sales and marketing, which then grew into an operations position, which finally ended up with me being named a co-founder of the company in charge of all non-cultivation operations.”

Can you share one example of when you’ve faced or observed gender discrimination in the industry?

Rachael Henne (from RopaNa):
“I experience gender discrimination ALL the time. I would say the best example of this is when we attend trade shows. Andrew is always a great advocate for making me part of the conversation, but it seems that other men only address Andrew when we converse about our business…it seems that they don’t even want to make eye contact with me. Only Andrew is also often asked to speak at events on behalf of RopaNa and I am rarely asked even though I have an extensive medical background.”

Monica (from Heady Vermont):
“In general I have noticed a gender disparity in the cannabis industry, with men generally being given preference in terms of speaker lineups, key positions at companies and higher pay.”

Ashley (from EMT)
“I had a rude experience early on in the development of EMT CBD when an older white man said he didn’t have a problem with my products, but had a problem with me. This was after he stood me up on a business meetings, didn’t call to apologize, and then put me in the hot seat saying I wasn’t professional. This further fueled my flame to collaborate with as many women as possible. Power in numbers has been a huge support system for me as I navigate through the ever changing landscape of cannabis.  This was an isolated experience and 99% of the time I’m treated with the utmost respect.  I feel I always have a seat at the table in Vermont and the northeast.”

Heather (from White Mountain Canna Co.)
“About a year ago I toured a cannabis cultivation facility with my brother, a (future) member of our Board, our future landlord, and a few tech guys who were looking to break into the industry. So five guys and me. Just before we began, I joked that the gender representation of our group was a pretty accurate representation of the industry at large. That was basically the last thing I said that was heard by the group. I was pretty much sidelined for the next two hours as, “Joel’s sister” and my input and questions were basically ignored by all but Joel and our board member.

Additionally, I experience hundreds of ‘little injustices’ during almost every meeting. During face to face meetings with potential partners and investors they almost always address my brother first, assuming that he has all of the business knowledge and answers to their questions. It’s only after he defers to me multiple times that these guys finally realize that I’m the partner with more business experience. “

Does your business seek to join the two aims of economic development and social justice? if so, how?

Jaq Rieke (from Nutty Steph’s):
“We do seek to address economic and social justice through our work, especially using our Worker Owned Cooperative model as a vehicle toward shifting the destructive power dynamics of the employer/employee relationship. As far as CBD is concerned directly, we imagine that the popularization of CBD among diverse populations will help to lift the stigma related to hemp and marijuana, and that this will ultimate lead to the much needed reform to the prison industrial complex and the stigma surrounding incarceration, which harms the African American population in drastic disproportion to other populations.”

Rachael Henne (from RopaNa):
“Our business is greatly focused around the goal of providing CBD to anyone who is in need. We are currently working out all the logistics for launching the Ropana Compassion Program, which will allow customers to purchase a membership in order to receive any product at 40% off retail price. We are always able to provide people a discount when requested, because we believe everyone should have access to natural healing. It should not be a question of economic status whether or not you can afford alternative healing.”

Monica (from Heady Vermont):
“Yes! We provide affordable opportunities for new and emerging cannabis businesses to promote their brands, and have worked tirelessly to build various platforms on which industry folks to engage and network. A couple of years ago at our first Vermont Hemp Fest, we organized a Pitch Competition which awarded $1,000 to the winning business. On our various content platforms, we frequently talk and post about social justice issues and make it a part of our ongoing dialogue. We also promote expungement clinics and donate to organizations such as Pennywise, which promotes expungement efforts.”

Ashley (from EMT)
“From the infancy of our company, I have seen a need to incorporate as many women as possible into the industry. Growers, chocolate makers, herbalist, skin care, dog treats, coffee makers, bakers. Nothing has brought us more reward than seeing a new women entrepreneur get her first account or even create her first logo. Women entrepreneurs are the fastest growing economy booster in Vermont. All of our decision to collaborate are vetted with how we can encourage economic development in our state and among women, and how can we make their voice louder in the cannabis industry.

Heather (from White Mountain Canna Co.)
“Yes! This is a huge part of our our business plan/philosophy. I have attached some documentation we presented with our license application. Additionally, we would like to hire a diverse workforce, provided they have the experience we need. Unfortunately, given the legal requirements set forth by the state we don’t know if we’ll be able to hire those directly affected by the war on drugs but we will if we can.”

Our team at CannaPlanners is incredibly proud of all the work we do for our canna-clients, but it is especially rewarding to see our crew of Female-founders go out and crush it.