By Marguerite Arnold
As Legalization 2.0 hits its 18th month stride, women are increasingly making their presence felt in every level of the business and regulatory space. According to some estimates, including Marijuana Business Daily’s 2015 Factbook, the American market is an approximately $45 billion-a-year industry. While institutional capital is mostly staying out of the game until federal reform, startup funding in the space has blossomed by an estimated 900% since the start of Colorado’s recreational market last year.
Women are involved in this green rush. But how exactly?
During 2014, just as stories began to appear regularly in the media about how white and male dominated the “industry” was, at least at its most lofty and profitable levels, women’s cannabis business industry groups also began to pop up, and with an almost instant national footprint. Women Grow, started in the summer of 2014, has so far been the most publicized marijuana trade association started for and by women. But it is far from the only one.
No formal surveys have yet been conducted about women in the business so it is unclear where women are working in the business and at what level. That said, they are a vocal presence. And not everyone agrees with the categorization of the most prominent in the industry so far as monotone or male-dominated—yet.
“I don’t agree that the industry is being led by white men. Many entrepreneurs in this space are women,” said Julianna Carella, CEO and founder of Auntie Delores, an edibles company. “We work with many women growers, and have for many years. Women from all backgrounds are entering this space now, and many positions are being filled according to skill set and experience, instead of sex.”
That said, Carella is not unconcerned about the future as the industry continues to become more consolidated and corporate, beyond the concept of “professional.” As Carella noted, “The concern that this industry may turn into one being led by mostly white men is a bigger concern for us.”
The growth of women in the industry has also been fueled by senior women in the business organizations that are forming to support the industry as a whole. Women are taking senior positions as industry spokespeople, business lobbyists, lawyers and all of the above.
It was also very clear from the beginning of Legalization 2.0 that women did not want to feel sidelined into any one part of the vertical as reform really got underway, and from the perspective of some established vets, they haven’t been. This includes the presence of women as the heads of companies—for now all overwhelmingly getting their start via venture capital funding as the price of establishing a business in legalizing states skyrockets beyond the immediate means of most.
“Most investors are more interested in a business that has potential, and the sex of the business owner seems to be less important,” Carella said. “Many male entrepreneurs may see advantages to investing in a woman-owned company.”
“We see women gaining more interest in becoming entrepreneurs and leading the charge in business, investments, and strategy,” said Salwa Ibrahim, a Senior VP at Terra Tech (OTCQB: TRTC), an agricultural technology company. “Now more than ever women are leaving their corporate jobs to pursue the Green Rush and bringing their respective skills and a different perspective to organizations that may have lacked structure in the past.”
Ibrahim also thinks that women actually have some competitive advantages in an industry that is still defining itself. “In this industry you have to be able to play well with others and at times make deals with people you may perceive as competition,” she said.
Ibrahim also believes that decisions based on gender might also work in women’s favor here, including cooperative rather than competitive behavior. “Mistakes can cost you money and more importantly time,” she explained. “Time is of the essence in this industry especially when competing for permits or first mover advantage.”
The one thing however that women in the cannabis business now all agree on is that it is still a good time to enter the business if you are a woman and the opportunities are continuing to expand. “Get in now, don’t wait,” Carella said. “There is plenty of room for innovation, and women are great at this!”