Think about all the stoner buddy movies you’ve seen: “Half Baked,” “Pineapple Express,” “Harold and Kumar,” “Dude Where’s My Car?,” “Grandma’s Boy.” They’re about men, right? That’s hardly a coincidence. Celebrities who identify publicly as stoners are largely male, as well – Snoop Dogg, Seth Rogen, Willie Nelson, Cheech and Chong. Several Judd Apatow comedies like “Knocked Up” feature uptight stick-in-the-mud ladies, annoyed by their male partners’ proclivity for getting high. Even Mary Jane, the female love interest for David Chappelle’s protagonist in “Half Baked” is aggressively anti-marijuana. Her pretentious disapproval of his smoking habits is a pretty ludicrous overreaction.
But the pop culture tide is shifting. Women are growing more comfortable admitting to their own pot use. Smoking weed was once unladylike, but now sexy musicians like Rihanna or Miley Cyrus post Instagram shots of themselves, scantily clad, cloaked in heavy smoke drifting off a joint. Abbi and Ilana on Comedy Central’s “Broad City” light up unapologetically in their crappy Brooklyn apartments, just two normal girls navigating the muddy waters of adult life. While women’s prevalence in marijuana pop culture continues to grow, the effect can be felt in real-world participation in cannabis culture.
Women GrowThe “Broad City” girls might be fictional, but they would probably join Women Grow in a heartbeat; it’s a very real national networking organization through which women in the cannabis industry can meet and connect with each other. On the first Thursday of every month, events are held in more than 35 cities across the U.S. and Canada, offering a supportive environment for the curious to learn more about the business and hobnob with dispensary employees, owners, growers and educational speakers. Women Grow will be hosting an event in Durango next week called Terp Talks, focusing on the flavor and aroma of cannabis. The guest speaker is Amy Spencer, a senior microbiologist at Aurum Labs, a local cannabis testing facility.
“It’s basically giving women in the marijuana industry a chance to take the reins and get leadership roles,” said Aubrey Belisle, founding chairwoman for the Western Slope chapter of Women Grow. “This industry has a high ratio of women CEOs compared to other industries. There’s not so much of a glass ceiling yet, it’s so new. So a lot of ladies who are using cannabis or have enjoyed it for whatever reason have a platform now to say, ‘Hey, I’m a woman, I smoke pot, it’s nothing to be ashamed of, these are the ways it’s helping me.’”
Almost every other powerful industry in the world is male-dominated, but we just might break the mold with this one. “Women have a legitimate chance to be key players and have an actual voice here,” said Tay Peter, a co-chairwoman for the Western Slope Women Grow chapter. “At least 30 percent of our membership is male, so there is no discrimination. It’s all-inclusive.” Also an employee at Santé Durango, Peter appreciates the chance to chat with vendors and other dispensaries at Women Grow networking events, getting outside her “dispensary bubble” and gleaning more info about the products she regularly provides. She lovingly compares her job as a budtender to working with coffee (she was a barista for years at the Durango Coffee Co.). “There are so many different flavors and aromas you interact with by smoking, vaping or eating,” said Peter. “The similarity of the number of processes coffee and cannabis go through from seed to cup or seed to joint – those are all variables that impact what you taste and feel. To me, that’s fascinating.”
Female leaders With cannabis legalized in Colorado and several other states, this booming business could become “the first billion-dollar industry not dominated by men,” as the cover of Newsweek optimistically crowed. It’s certainly an exciting prospect. “When you look at magazines like Skunk or High Times, a lot of the time you do see women, but they’re scantily clothed,” said Peter. “So it’s nice to see key players like Dahlia Mertens from Mary Jane’s Medicinals or Julie from Julie’s Natural Edibles. These are powerful women who have made their names in the cannabis game.”
Indeed, multiple women began launching their own Colorado companies over the past few years, post-recreational legalization. Mertens, owner and founder of Mary Jane’s Medicinals (they make organic topical cannabis products in Telluride) is proud to be shaping a burgeoning industry. She notes the overwhelming “purchasing power” women possess. According to Forbes, women drive 70 to 80 percent of all consumer purchasing through a combination of their buying power and influence.
The Durango women interviewed for this article alleged predominantly favorable experiences in the marijuana trade. “I’ve been a cannabis user for over 35 years, and never once did I think it wasn’t for women,” said Elizabeth Caldwell, former general manager at Santé and current employee. “I knew when I tried it that it was the medicine for me.” Caldwell says their dispensary employees are a majority of females, although they get a lot more male applicants for open positions. “That could be because of the population in Durango, too,” suggests current General Manager Maggie Gallagher. “We have a higher male population here.”
Although Women Grow caters to curious newbies looking to enter the industry, Belisle warns there are plenty of obstacles to be aware of. “This is the most scrutinized industry that exists right now,” Belisle said. “You have a lot of extra regulations and taxations from local municipalities and from the states. You have to really be paying attention to compliance – if you break one rule, you risk losing all this work you put into your company.”
Why women should tokeThough she is an entrepreneur in the world of cannabis salves and oils with MJ’s Medicinals, Mertens came to cannabis relatively late in life. “When I was growing up, I definitely bought into the whole, ‘It makes you lazy; it makes you stupid,’ and I didn’t smoke that much pot,” Mertens said. “Then living in Telluride, I got exposed to really high-quality cannabis and grew an appreciation and a respect for it. I now recognize the herb as being very therapeutic in a lot of ways, and a healthier alternative to alcohol.”
Peter grew up in a conservative household in Farmington and didn’t admit to her parents she was working at Santé until several months into the job. “I told my dad, and he was like, ‘Wow that’s cool!’” she remembers. “He’s always been supportive. My mom is still a little apprehensive. She doesn’t quite know what to tell the rest of our family, and I say, ‘Just tell them I’m in pharmaceuticals or something!’”
Working in the pot industry isn’t extremely different from working in the alcohol biz. Budtenders (dispensary workers) are basically bartenders who sell an alternate mind-altering substance. But our nation is a lot more accustomed to bartenders. Alcohol has been legal for a long time, and there is very little stigma left. The weed industry is extremely regulated (bartenders can easily drink at work, but dispensary employees would be in deep shit if they were to light up on the job). There is still a notable taboo surrounding herb, and lots of people worry that it’s unsafe; but Peter is reassuring. “All the retail herb you buy in any dispensary goes through a testing facility,” Peter said. “They’re doing microbial reports, contaminate reports, potency reports. We know what’s in your bud. We know that it’s not going to be contaminated.”
Cannabis use isn’t merely about getting stoned and having fun – lots of women ingest marijuana medically, to deal with physical or mental ailments. Belisle believes strongly in these healing benefits. “There’s a company called Foria, and they’re revolutionizing the way we address menstrual cramps and period pain through cannabis,” said Belisle. “They have some pretty impressive products.” They also sell natural sensual enhancement oil. “For some women, it may awaken arousal and heighten sensation making orgasms more intense, fuller or easier to access,” promises the Foria website.
Peter has personally used activated hash oil for help with bad joints, also citing it as effective for anxiety, depression and general inflammation. She’s content with the changing trends and dazzled by Colorado’s level of progressiveness at the forefront of all this commerce. “Sometimes it’s, ‘Oh hey, let’s go get a drink after work,’” said Peter. “Now maybe it’s, ‘Let’s go hang out in the backyard and smoke a joint!’”