During the recent election cycle, key states like California, Massachusetts and Florida opened the door to medical or recreational marijuana usage. Now 29 states have legal pipelines for the exploding $8 billion cannabis industry. The unlikely winners of this growing opportunity and finance pipeline? Women.
Indeed, C-suite executives note that the cannabis industry is closer to gender parity than any other industry and a multitude of new verticals are ripe for female entrepreneurs seeking to make their name. In fact, 36 percent of executive C-suite roles are held by woman, which is higher than the national average of 22 percent.
"Right now because there aren’t a lot of players, we can all start businesses that set this industry in the right direction, says Bianca Wakeford, COO of cannabis patch company SIVA. "We can really change the course of people’s lives.”
It is not just opportunity that’s a factor, it's also the environment. With a higher level of gender parity, entrepreneurs are noting that the community is supportive of and inclusive towards new business leaders regardless of their experience in cannabis, vertical focus, competitive slant -- or gender.
“There is something about this moment and this market that’s great for women – they can be rebellious, visionary and creative within an ever-growing structure. Women are great at that, and bring the complex skill sets needed to legitimize this industry but more importantly, we are creating our own community of friendly, helpful supportive voices. We aren’t fighting each other. We are growing together,” says Sarah Blankinship, CEO of RightSciences.
The number of new companies started in the marijuana industry continues to boom – even as a report by the Marijuana Business Daily show that some market categories are experiencing oversaturation. What that means for entrepreneurs is a need to focus on the underserved or newly forming aspects of the industry. Indeed, 63 percent of high-level positions at testing labs and nearly 50 percent of such roles at infused products and processing companies are held by women. Additionally, growth is being seen in retail and product manufacturing companies at nearly all levels.
Jessica Tonani, CEO of Verda Bio, a bio-tech company that has sequenced the cannabis genome and is performing cutting edge research, feels part of a nascent market. She has had to campaign for and help write the legislation that allows cannabis research businesses to exist in Washington State. “Being the first is difficult, but it gives us a strong market position,” she shared and she still thinks there is room for many more people.
It’s not just the sheer number of openings that’s making this lucrative and advantageous for female CEOs: over a third of US women will try cannabis and 7-9 percent of all US women will be routine users. In a recent survey by New Frontier and CannaBit, women were considered as a key market opportunity. They note that given “their tremendous spending power coupled with their unique preferences and priorities... more companies (are going) to target this important but underserved market.” Female consumers tend to be interested in different products than men like pre-rolls, edibles, tinctures and beverages and have a growing interest (like men) in high-quality products.
April Pride, CEO of Van der Pop, a luxury lifestyle cannabis brand for women is enthusiastic about the growth of her market and is using proven “female marketing techniques” to do it. She recently created SESSION a Tupperware-like party for females to discreetly shop premium goods to store, smoke and share cannabis while also asking questions about accessories, variants of marijuana and more.
“We moved into SESSION because the female market isn't being served in product or education. Retail stores offer limited, uninspiring merchandise and women don’t feel they totally identify with the staff who dispel crucial advice,” she notes. “Women are under-marketed to as consumers in this space and yet - like with all consumer products - they are going to ultimately be the biggest purchasers. In order to develop the market, there is a ton of opportunity for women to create specifically for women.”
Maryam Mirnateghi, owner of a recreation cannabis storefront in West Seattle, built on this same theory to open a “female-friendly” store where the environment is cozy, and people can ask questions and educate themselves "I want to make a pot shop that the neighborhood is going to embrace and love,” she says and “that’s one built on community and created under the watchful guise of a woman.”
The legal cannabis industry is expected to be a $50 billion dollar industry by 2026, according to Bloomberg. That is nearly 7x where it is right now. With the new legislation passed, and the growing number of industry verticals expanding, the opportunities are growing. Right now, there is a gold mine for many but specifically women who are willing to take the risk and build the community.