Gender, Race and Disenfranchisement in the Cannabis Industry

Women in Cannabis

It’s clear that the cannabis industry is a burgeoning one, and we’ve all heard the encouraging narrative that women are leading the way in the green arena. But is it true? We can look to author Hanna Rosin, who recognized the rise of the economically powerful woman and the associated cultural shift with her 2010 article in The Atlantic, “The End of Men,” which she followed with a book of the same name in 2012. Rosin explores the ways in which the U.S. patriarchy is ending, and how women are becoming the more dominant sex: “Men dominate just two of the 15 job categories projected to grow the most over the next decade: janitor and computer engineer. Women have everything else—nursing, home health assistance, child care, food preparation.” Apparently, women now have cannabis, too.

Gender, Race and Disenfranchisement in the Cannabis Industry

Marijuana Business Daily published a report in October 2015 that showed 36 percent of executives in the cannabis industry are women, compared to a 22 percent average for all U.S. industries. Then, in August to September 2017, they published four installments of a series of charts regarding women and minorities in the cannabis industry; the updated statistics show 27 percent of executives in the cannabis industry are women, compared to a 23 percent average for all U.S. industries. While it’s encouraging that the cannabis industry is more populated with women than other enterprises, should we be content with these figures—and potentially complacent? After all, according to the U.S. Census, 50.8 percent of the country is female, so the cannabis industry is hardly equal—yet.

It’s worthwhile (or, at least, it’s fun!) to explore why the cannabis industry is so female-dominated. Whether or not you believe that the female cannabis plant has an agenda to bridge the gender gap and feminize our culture, we have evidence that the latter is underway. Women are uniquely poised to support the female cannabis plant by normalizing it with our families and communities, make smoking weed as normal as drinking wine, and raise the next generation without the stigma currently associated with cannabis. Women are also well-suited to the more compassionate side of the industry, particularly with medical cannabis, having historically played the role of nurturer and caretaker.

Minorities in Cannabis

Are women excelling in the cannabis industry while minorities are being left behind? What role are women playing in the whitewashing (or ushering in the gentrification) of the cannabis industry? Historically, Latino and Black men have been the ones mass incarcerated by the War on Drugs. We know that systematic racial prejudice drove cannabis arrests in communities of color; the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch reports that in 39 states that provided sufficient data, Black people are four times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than white people, although they use cannabis at similar rates. The word “marijuana” itself (or “marihuana” in some cases) is the result of a 1937 federal campaign to criminalize cannabis by associating it with Mexicans.

Gender, Race and Disenfranchisement in the Cannabis Industry

In a 2017 report, Marijuana Business Daily revealed that “the percentage of minorities holding executive positions at cannabis businesses stands at 17 percent, according to first-of-its-kind data,” compared to a 13 percent average for all U.S. industries. reported in 2015 that 33,280 people whose most serious offense was a drug charge are incarcerated in state prison, and the Drug Policy Alliance provides further detail that the “proportion of people incarcerated for a drug offense in state prison who are Black or Latino . . . is 57 percent.” There are an estimated 19,000 Black and Latino people incarcerated in state prison whose most serious offense was a drug charge.

According to Marijuana Business Daily, there are at least 165,000 workers in the cannabis industry, and we can extrapolate that 44,550 of the total are female, given the assumption that women comprise an average 27 percent of the cannabis industry. Imagine the impact if every woman in a position of power within the cannabis arena hired a Black or Latino person who was previously jailed for a drug charge—we could change the tide of racial inequality and begin to repair the effects of systematic racial prejudice associated with the War on Drugs. Women may not be the majority in cannabis yet, as evidenced by unequal and recently reduced female representation, but women could make an impact by partnering with those who have also faced adversity, rising together for true equality.

We’re All In It Together

White women seem to benefit from this recent feminine cultural shift, as well as the varied opportunities in the booming cannabis industry—more so than their minority counterparts. White women should consider the impact of their success and how they can help the minorities who came before them in cannabis. We have the opportunity to set a precedent of equality in the cannabis industry if we are mindful and consciously drive towards this intention. Meanwhile, cannabis maintains its illegal, Schedule I federal status. The Drug Enforcement Administration considers crystal methamphetamine, cocaine and PCP to be safer than toking up. We have the opportunity—and responsibility—to continue to fight the stigma attached to cannabis. Women will shape the future of our beloved plant and its blossoming industry. Join us.

Gender, Race and Disenfranchisement in the Cannabis Industry

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