Social equity

The future (of cannabis) is female: 21 women breaking the industry’s glass ceiling

By
Lindsay Crafford
March 10, 2022

It’s no secret that men have long been the target audience for cannabis brands and retailers. However, a recent report by Headset has found that the growth of female consumers in the U.S. is outpacing that of males, at 55% vs. 49%, respectively. 

The increase, while not a drastic shift in the gender makeup of cannabis sales, is noteworthy because men and women purchase for different reasons. In fact, a study we conducted last year with Bain & Co. revealed that wellness was a primary motivator for women; while men reported using cannabis more so in social situations—with an emphasis on relaxing and having fun.

If women are the fastest-growing demographic of cannabis consumers, companies need to revisit how they go to market by adjusting their strategy to better reflect these preferences. This calls for an increase in female leadership, as women have the expertise (and lived experience) necessary to reach this audience. However, as the industry continues to flourish—and opportunities to invest become even more tempting—large, corporate players want in on the action. And without a careful approach, the threat of gender bias looms overhead.

According to MJBizDaily’s 2021 Women & Minorities in the Cannabis Industry Report, executive female representation is down to 22%—a stark contrast from 2019 (36%), and well below the average for U.S. mainstream businesses (30%). The same report reveals just 4.6% of executive positions at cannabis investment firms are held by women. Considering the importance of access to capital when launching a cannabis operation, this statistic is unsettling. With fewer women at the table, experts assume that investment firms will continue to favor cannabis ventures led by men (whether consciously or unconsciously).

TL;DR: With licensing fees now in the hundreds of thousands—and investment bias actively working against them—women are struggling to raise the capital they need in order to be successful.

Despite this, women remain more committed than ever to making the cannabis industry a more equitable and inclusive place for all. So in honor of Women’s History Month, here are just 21 of the many cannabis sheroes we’re grateful for.


1. Mary Pryor

Who she is: Co-founder of Cannaclusive; Co-founder and Board Member at Cannabis for Black Lives; CMO at TONIC CBD

Why we celebrate her: With accomplishments that are simply too long to list, Mary Pyror is an industry titan paving the way for equity and inclusivity in cannabis. Frustrated by the medications she was prescribed for a chronic illness, Mary’s journey began after realizing cannabis was a more effective way to manage her symptoms. Greater accessibility to the plant meant trading her beloved New York for “greener” pastures in California—but things didn’t unfold quite as she had hoped. In an interview with Into the Gloss, Mary reflected on her experience as a Black woman in the LA cannabis scene:

“There were a lot of microaggressions and people asking me why I was there—Black and brown people did not have opportunities to even exist in the cannabis space, and that made me feel very othered. I don’t know how to explain it other than to say it’s just not fun.”

The lack of representation motivated Mary to co-found Cannaclusive—a collective focused on inclusive marketing and business advocacy in cannabis—in 2017. Today, she’s also an Advisory Board member at Cannabis for Black Lives (CfBL), a coalition of cannabis companies working to support Black-led organizations and communities, and is the CMO at TONIC CBD.

Follow TONIC on Twitter (@tonic_cbd) and keep up with the legend herself on both Twitter (@iammarypryor) and Instagram (@iammarypryor).


2. Wanda James

Who she is: CEO of Simply Pure Dispensary; Managing Partner at Global Cannabis Initiative

Why we celebrate her: A trailblazer in her own right, Wanda is the first Black woman in the United States to own and operate a legally-licensed recreational cannabis dispensary. She was motivated to join the industry upon learning her brother received a 10-year prison sentence for possessing 4.5 ounces of cannabis.

In 2009, alongside her husband (and renowned chef) Scott Durah, she opened the Apothecary of Colorado (AOC)—a medical dispensary famous for its cooking classes and edibles. The couple eventually sold the AOC to focus strictly on the latter, first launching Simply Pure as an edibles brand that catered to over 400 medical dispensaries and one hospice program. Three years later, with the passing of Colorado's Amendment 64, Wanda and Scott paused their operation “in anticipation of full legalization and a larger consumer market.” The two re-launched Simply Pure in 2015—this time, as a recreational dispensary in Denver’s LoHi neighborhood.

Wanda’s passion for cannabis reform has made her a household name to those familiar with the space. She’s been the recipient of countless accolades; including 50 Most Important Women in the Cannabis Industry (Cannabis Business Executive), 100 Most Influential People in Cannabis (High Times Magazine), and has been featured in The Atlantic, MSNBC, ViceLand, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and many more. 

See what Wanda’s up to on LinkedIn, and follow her (and Simply Pure) on Instagram (@wandaljames, @simplypurecbd) and Twitter (@wandaljames, @simplypuremj).


3. Mary Bailey

Who she is: Managing Director, Last Prisoner Project

Why we celebrate her: Mary is a 20-year cannabis industry veteran and Managing Director at Last Prisoner Project (LPP), a non-profit organization dedicated to cannabis criminal justice reform. Motivated to right the wrongs of the United States’s war on drugs, Mary felt a moral obligation to help those who continued to suffer from the effects of prohibition despite the state-by-state legalization of cannabis. Founded in 2019, Last Prisoner Project is focused on reuniting families, overturning cannabis convictions, and providing educational resources around strategic legal actions that support its mission of driving critical reform. Mary and her team will not stop until every last prisoner of the war on drugs—starting with the estimated 40,000 individuals currently serving time—are reunited with their families and given a second chance to rebuild their lives.

Keep up with Mary on LinkedIn, and follow LPP on Twitter (@lastprisonerprj) and Instagram (@lastprisonerproject).


4. Stephanie Shepard

Who she is: Development Associate at Last Prisoner Project

Why we celebrate her: Stephanie’s story—like so many others—is a heartbreaking reminder of the human impact behind cannabis-related convictions. In 2010, after relocating to New York in the hopes of becoming a real estate agent, Stephanie’s life was turned upside down. She was convicted of conspiracy to distribute 1,000+ kilos of cannabis and sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. As a first-time, non-violent offender, Stephanie struggled to make sense of the severity of her punishment: “I thought to myself, ‘I’m a good person, it’s just a little bit of weed.’”

Stephanie served nine years of her 10-year prison sentence. She was placed on 5-year federal probation in 2019, when her ankle monitor was finally removed. Under tremendous pressure and given two weeks to find a job, she began working at a coffee shop, where she remained for one year before joining the Last Prisoner Project (LPP). In her full-time role at LPP, Stephanie is driven by her work with grant constituents and families that have been torn apart by cannabis convictions: “Knowing these roadblocks and knowing how [constituents] feel is what drives me. It makes every day worth it.”

Keep up with Stephanie’s work on LinkedIn, and follow LPP on Twitter (@lastprisonerprj) and Instagram (@lastprisonerproject).


5. Amy Margolis

Who she is: Founder of Oregon Cannabis Association; Founder of The Initiative; Attorney at Margolis Law

Why we celebrate her: Amy is a cannabis advocate and experienced attorney who was responsible for founding the Oregon Cannabis Association—one of the largest state cannabis groups in the United States. Having touched the industry for over two decades, she frequently travels to speak on cannabis policy, implementation of medical and recreational legalization models, and investment strategies. In 2018, Amy founded The Initiative, a business accelerator helping women-led cannabis businesses achieve success. Born out of a desire to right the wrongs of gender discrepancy in the space, The Initiative provides mentoring, education, and access to investors. Amy has also received several cannabis-related accolades—including 100 Most Powerful Political People in Cannabis (Cannabis Business Executive); 12 Pioneering Women of Cannabis (Stoner Magazine); 40 Under 40 to Watch in Oregon Politics (Business Journal), and more.

See what Amy’s up to on LinkedIn, and follow The Initiative on Instagram (@intheinitiative) and Twitter (@intheinitiative).


6. Mykel Selph

Who she is: VP of Social Equity and Education (SEED) at Cresco Labs

Why we celebrate her: A well-established thought leader on all things social equity, Mykel is often called upon to lend her perspective and expertise on restorative justice. She has over 15 years in both the public and private sectors and participates in a wide range of industry events, including Chicago’s NORML’s Women in Cannabis and the Chicago Cannabis Entrepreneurial Roundtable. At Cresco, she oversees programs designed to connect the communities most harmed by the war on drugs to the economic opportunities created by states’ legalization of cannabis.

Keep up with Mykel on LinkedIn, and follow Cresco Labs (@crescolabs) on Twitter.


7. Imelda Walavalkar

Who she is: CEO of Pure Beauty

Why we celebrate her: Imelda studied social justice and began her career working with nonprofits, serving formerly incarcerated people. Jaded by years of fighting institutional racism, she pivoted her career and launched Pure Beauty, an independent cannabis brand, where women and minorities make up 65% of the team. In 2021, Pure Beauty received celebrity-backed support from Timbaland and Nas, and raised $5 million in its latest fundraising round from Gron Ventures, Subversive Capital, and others.

Follow Imelda on LinkedIn, and keep up with Pure Beauty on Instagram (@purebeautypurebeauty).


8. Yvonne Perez Emerson

Who she is: CEO and Founder of Make & Mary; Founder of WeMake; Graphic design extraordinaire

Why we celebrate her: A Latinx woman with over 30 years in graphic design and creative strategy, Yvonne is an entrepreneur with a CBD beauty brand that explores the relationship between cannabis, self-care, and art. She has a clear passion for plant medicine and folk practices, having spent decades creating herbal remedies to care for herself and her family. Yvonne launched Make & Mary in 2016, which began as a series of workshops emphasizing the connection between heritage crafting and plant medicine. A year later, she launched her own line of full-spectrum CBD products, which are sourced from local farms in Portland, OR and available in all seven states.

Keep up with Yvonne on Twitter (@yvonnepemerson) and follow The Make & Mary on Instagram (@themakeandmary).


9. Leah Maurer

Who she is: Owner of The Weed Blog; Co-founder, New Approach Oregon; Founder, Moms for YES on Measure 91

Why we celebrate her: A St. Louis, Missouri native, Leah was thrust into the movement in 2009 after experiencing a frightening paramilitary-style home invasion. Her crime? Growing medical cannabis in the basement. She moved to Portland and immediately immersed herself in cannabis advocacy, helping establish New Approach Oregon, the organization responsible for drafting and campaigning for Measure 91. In 2014, using only grassroots efforts, Leah founded Moms for YES on Measure 91, which was pivotal in the legalization of adult-use cannabis in Oregon. Aside from other community based advocacy efforts, Leah is one of the founders of the Equity Investment PAC, who is currently working for social equity and economic justice in Oregon for those communities hardest hit by the war on drugs. She also serves on the advisory council for Marijuana Matters, a social equity nonprofit, and Mommies and MaryJane, who support and advocate for cannabis consuming parents, both based in Washington, D.C. Leah believes that collaboration and building her network of other incredible women, and especially mothers, in the cannabis movement and industry has been key to making change in regards to de-stigmatization and drug law reform efforts.

For the latest on cannabis news, subscribe to The Weed Blog, and keep up with Leah’s writings on Sweet Jane.


10. Timeka Drew

Who she is: CEO of Biko Flower 

Why we celebrate her: As the Founder and CEO of Biko Flower, Timeka was awarded one of the coveted 200 Phase 3 Round I social equity retail storefront licenses in Los Angeles. An active member of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, she dedicates her life to organizing grassroots efforts that fight systemic racism and economic injustices. Timeka also drove the placement of the very first medical cannabis ads in LA newspapers—including LA Weekly and City Beat.

Follow Timeka on Instagram (@timekadrew) and keep up with Biko on Twitter (@bikoflower).


11. Nidhi Lucky Handa

Who she is: Founder of LEUNE

Why we celebrate her: Nidhi became an advocate for recreational cannabis after noticing it helped her cut back on alcohol. With seed money from both friends and investors, she launched LEUNE, a line of cannabis products aimed at “productive, high-functioning consumers” in 2018. Intent on challenging industry stereotypes, Nidhi has built more than just a brand—she’s creating space for those who feel intimidated by a product that has historically been marketed to (and led by) men.

See what Nidhi and LEUNE are up to on Twitter (@LEUNEbrand) and Instagram (@LEUNEbrand).


12. Solonje Burnett

Who she is: Co-founder of Humble Bloom

Why we celebrate her: Solonje is a community leader and activist who, through her work at Humble Bloom—a cannabis/CBD education and advocacy platform—supports underrepresented communities through seminars and consulting work. Her goal? To dismantle the structural inequities and biased business practices in the legal cannabis marketplace. In a recent interview with Brooklyn Mag, Solonje stressed the need for greater inclusion, stating, “Most of these companies that you see are really leaning into profit over people. And that leads to the destruction of our communities, our environment, and our society.”

Follow Solonje on Twitter (@solonjeburnett) and keep up with her (and Humble Bloom) on Instagram (@solonjeburnett; @humblebloomco).


13. Amber Littlejohn

Who she is: Executive Director at Minority Cannabis Business Association; Board Member at International Cannabis Bar Association; Director at U.S. Hemp Authority

Why we celebrate her: Amber is a deeply experienced attorney who has spent over 15 years advocating for policy change in several emerging and embattled industries, including cannabis. She currently serves as Executive Director at the Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA), using her learnings and insights to advocate for policy change within the minority cannabis business community at the International Cannabis Bar Association (ICBA). Before joining the MCBA, Amber was a business owner, counselor, and advocate in the natural products and dietary supplement industries including roles at the American Herbal Products Association and Natural Products Association. 

Follow Amber on Twitter (@alittlejohnESQ) and Instagram (@amberlittlejohnESQ), and keep up with her work on LinkedIn.


14. Linda Mercado Greene

Who she is: Co-founder, Board Chair, and CEO of Anacostia Organics

Why we celebrate her: Linda Mercado Greene is the powerhouse behind Anacostia Organics, a minority woman-owned medical cannabis dispensary in Washington, D.C. She first gained national recognition in the cannabis industry as Chair of the D.C. Medical Cannabis Trade Association, and currently serves as Chair of the D.C. Cannabis Trade Association. Linda is also intimately involved in the CTF Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force—an initiative comprised of the country’s top civil rights leaders and advocates, and one of the largest cannabis coalitions. Linda continues to use her personal political relationships to drive the progress of diversity and inclusion legislation, decriminalization, policy development, banking, and record expungements in cannabis.

Follow Linda and Anacostia Organics on Twitter (@lindagreene, @anacostiaO) and Instagram (@lindamercadogreene, @anacostaorganics).


15. Toi Hutchinson

Who she is: President & CEO of Marijuana Policy Project; fmr. Sr. Advisor to Gov. JB Pritzker (IL); fmr. State Senator (IL)

Why we celebrate her: Toi is a former Illinois state senator and a key figure in its legalization of recreational cannabis. In 2019, she was appointed Illinois’s Cannabis Regulation Oversight Officer by Governor J.B. Pritzer. As the first “cannabis czar”, Toi was responsible for overseeing the rollout of statewide legalization, in addition to related activities within the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Public Health, the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, and more. She left her post in 2021 to join the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), where she continues to develop and support legalization legislation focused on equity and clearing hundreds of thousands of arrests and criminal records.

Follow Toi and her amazing work on Twitter (@ToiHutchinson).


16. Frederika Easley

Who she is: Director of Strategic Initiatives at The People’s Ecosystem; Founder of The People’s DAO

Why we celebrate her: Frederika is a strategic planning expert with over a decade of experience in campaign development and crisis management. As Director of Strategic Initiatives at The People’s Ecosystem—a coalition focused on empowering communities harmed by the criminalization of cannabis—Frederika is responsible for analyzing federal and state policies. Her passion for coalition building and inequity work drives her in addressing (and reversing) the harm caused by the war on drugs, proposing equitable solutions and challenging the stereotypes associated with cannabis.

See what Fredericka’s up to on LinkedIn, and follow her (and The People’s Ecosystem) on Instagram (@klassik84, @thepeoples.ecosystem) and Twitter (@peoplescannabis).


17. Christine de la Rosa

Who she is: CEO & Co-founder at The People’s Ecosystem;  Founder of The People’s DAO; Founding Member of The People’s Group

Why we celebrate her: A two-time recipient of Greentrepreneur’s 35 Most Influential People in Cannabis, Christine is a well-established thought leader and one of the most sought-after advisors in the cannabis industry. She was motivated to join the movement at the height of her 20-year career as a database architect, when complications from undiagnosed Lupus suddenly posed a significant threat to her life. Pursuing cannabis as an alternative to traditional medication inspired Christine to launch The People’s Ecosystem, a large coalition transforming the lucrative cannabis market by tapping into the buying power of the largest segments currently being ignored by the industry. 

Christine sits on several advisory boards, including those at Regennabis, Cannabis Doing Good, Medicus LP, and the Access + Innovation Project.

Follow Christine on LinkedIn, and keep up with The People’s Ecosystem on Twitter (@peoplescannabis) and Instagram (@thepeoples.ecosystem).


18. Rep. Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-NY)

Who she is: Majority Leader of the New York State Assembly, 141st Assembly District

Why we celebrate her: Representative Peoples-Stokes was the driving force and champion behind New York state’s legalization of recreational cannabis in 2021. But for the Buffalo-based democrat, legalization wasn’t just about personal freedom—it meant recognizing the unfair drug enforcement efforts and arrests that disproportionately affected communities of color. Despite the state’s decriminalization of cannabis in 2019, Rep. Peoples-Stokes continued campaigning for full legalization, emphasizing:

“For too long, communities of color have been the target of discriminatory criminal justice policies and have suffered serious consequences for the possession of small amounts of marijuana, while others were never arrested or charged.”

As a result of her unwavering commitment to reversing the harms caused by the war on drugs, nearly all of those involved attribute the legalization of recreational cannabis in New York solely to Rep. Peoples-Stokes’ efforts.

Keep up with Rep. Peoples-Stokes and her team on Twitter (@cpeoplesstokes).


19. Hope Wiseman

Who she is: CEO of Mary and Main

Why we celebrate her: At just 29 years old, Hope is the youngest Black woman in the United States to own a legally-licensed medical cannabis dispensary. Following Maryland’s legalization of medical cannabis in 2014, Hope left her job as a sales analyst and embarked on a new journey as a cannabis entrepreneur. In 2017, after successfully fundraising and obtaining a dispensary license, she opened Mary and Main alongside her mother, Dr. Octavia Simkins-Wiseman, and family friend, Dr. Larry Bryant—both of whom have a combined 40 years experience in medical dentistry.

Hope remains motivated by her desire to break the industry’s barriers and show communities of color how to create generational wealth. The dispensary—a haven for folks looking to purchase medical cannabis products—also provides educational resources on the effort to end America’s war on drugs.

Keep up with Hope (and Mary and Main) on Instagram (@iamhopesodope, @maryandmain). 


20. Kika Keith

Who she is: Owner of Gorilla Rx Wellness, Co-founder of Social Equity Workers and Owners Association

Why we celebrate her: Kika is the first Black woman to own a dispensary in Los Angeles. Her cannabis brand, Gorilla Rx, has grown substantially since becoming viral on social media—staff even refer to it as an “adult candy shop.” But behind its bright and fun color palette lies Kika’s passion for cooperative economics and cannabis justice. 

Frustrated by the slow rollout of the first 100 social equity commercial cannabis licenses by LA’s Department of Cannabis Regulation (DCR), Kika joined her fellow applicants in starting the Social Equity and Worker Association (SEOWA)—a coalition aimed at helping her fellow community members get verified for the program. Initially motivated to enter the industry as a way to provide for her children and create jobs for her community, Kika found her groove in fighting for applicants who struggled to get license approvals from the DCR:

“That’s where this cannabis industry should be so effective in repairing the damage [from the war on drugs]. I’ve spent 90% of my hours fighting for this, not just my business, but to make sure that there are droves of us that cross the finish line along with me.”

Follow Kika and see what she (and Gorilla Rx) are up to on Instagram (@bigkika, @gorillarxwellness).


21. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC)

Who she is: Representative for South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District

Why we celebrate her: Congresswoman Nancy Mace is on a mission to get cannabis legalized at the federal level with her newly-proposed States Reform Act. The bill, which would end the federal government’s 85-year prohibition on cannabis, has been well-received by democrats and even garnered support from more conservative stakeholders, including Charles Koch and Amazon. According to the legislation proposed by Rep. Mace, cannabis would be removed from the Controlled Substances Act—where it’s currently classified as a Schedule I drug—and regulated, much like alcohol.

While Rep. Mace acknowledges the hard fight still ahead (including the likely possibility that her bill will fail), she remains committed to her ultimate goal of getting as many politicians as possible on-board with cannabis reform; emphasizing its importance as a campaign issue in 2022 and beyond.

Keep up with Rep. Mace and her continued push for federal legalization on Twitter (@RepNancyMace).


Challenging the status quo and advocating for change in this industry is a full-time job, and women deserve to be celebrated and thanked every day, not just in March. We encourage all cannabis leaders and businesses to pause and reflect on the tremendous impact of women’s contributions—and instead of just humoring them—listen, ask questions, and take actionable steps to include them as executive decision makers.

About the author
Lindsay Crafford
Sr. Content Marketing Manager @ Dutchie