The stereotyped dazed and confused stoner has long been male — think Cheech and Chong, Harold and Kumar, Bill and Ted or any number of buddy comedies — an image the emerging legal cannabis industry would like to keep firmly in the past. In fact, women have emerged as a potent force in a post-legalized universe. From such pioneers as Dina Browner, who opened one of the first California dispensaries and helped inspire the titular character of “Weeds,” to ex-presidential candidate and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), a sponsor of the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, female leaders of cannabis, like the plant itself, have seen parallel growth. Who’s pushing forward in business and culture? A diverse baker’s dozen (including two sets of pairs) for whom the cannabis flower is most certainly female.
CEO Founder, Kush Queen
The founder of a Los Angeles-based luxury cannabis brand that specializes in wellness and lifestyle products — both CBD- and THC-infused — including bath bombs, pain relief lotions and edibles, Alexander was 18 years old when she started working in a dispensary in 2006. Eyeing entrepreneurship, the one-time Louisiana beauty queen started her first company, Crystal Cult, manufacturing vape pens, before segueing into advising other marijuana businesses with marketing, creative direction and digital strategy as part of her Third Eye Agency. “Women have a special power in cannabis,” she says. Of her own use, Alexander adds, CBD helps “to balance my mood, relieve anxiety and sleep better.” Touting her own brands, Alexander predicts a growth in the pot beauty category.
CEO/Co-Founder, Fruit Slabs
Dennant’s company, launched in 2015, specializes in all-natural, non-GMO fruit leather rolls infused with high-quality THC extracts and now boasts offices in Los Angeles and Oakland. Her “deep personal relationship” with weed started with her own bout of anxiety. “It was the light that brought me out of the dark, allowed me to breathe easier, relax and feel calmer and 10 years later, it still does,” she says. After stints in the fashion and beverage industries, Dennant applied her expertise to the emerging cannabis business. “My hope is for global legalization,” Dennant adds. “Everyone should have access to this powerful plant as a medicine or a stress-reliever.”
Owner, Fire Flower Farm
This upstate New York native and Mendocino County transplant learned how to cultivate cannabis on a woman-owned property and hasn’t looked back, recently linking with Lowell Herb Co. for her own the Gossip line of high-quality flower and pre-rolls. “I craved open space, hard work and a flexible lifestyle,” says Gerhart. “I credit a lot of who I am today to those first formative growing seasons.” Diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2015, she credits cannabis for providing the sort of positivity that not only helped throughout her treatment, but may have contributed to a bumper weed harvest. “Plants have an intelligence all their own,” Gerhart offers. “It isn’t just the end result of pot that is magical. The plant has a lot to tell us throughout its life cycle, which is a different kind of magic
Sarah Gersten and Mary Bailey
Executive Director/ General Counsel, Last Prisoner Project
Managing Director, Last Prisoner Project
Gerston and Bailey are two of the principals in longtime cannabis activist Steve DeAngelo’s nonprofit criminal justice reform organization designed to release those who are still incarcerated from this country’s drug laws. After working as an attorney at a congressional agency, Harvard Law alum Gerston (pictured at left) co-founded a cannabis-centric law firm, where her pro-bono clientele included taking on clean slate and social equity initiatives. “Having to face the injustice of so many individuals whose lives have been devastated by prohibition while others are making immense profits is really challenging,” she says. “Legalization has spurred a huge surge in states enacting criminal justice reform measures.” A pot user as a teenager who found it helped with depression and anxiety, Gerston is encouraged by seeing more of an emphasis on social responsibility in the industry. “Corporations recognize the dark history of this industry, and that the founders and legacy operators have been unfairly punished.” Bailey’s passion for weed advocacy led her to become a producer and founder of the Hawaii-based Maui Cannabis Conference. “It’s our responsibility to give justice-involved individuals the chance to share their stories and know that they are not criminals, but the victims of unjust laws,” Bailey says of the LPP’s goals.
Founder, Gallery PR
Sporting over a decade in event production and brand-building, the doyenne of cannabis marketing and publicity is ubiquitous on the burgeoning scene, commuting between offices on both coasts. Bringing the worlds of high fashion and high times together is Hendrix’s specialty. The Asheville, N.C., native was raised in the shadow of the aptly named Smoky Mountains, where getting stoned came with the bluegrass festivals. “I grew up as a flower child and what the plant provides never really left me,” she says. “I’ve lived the spectrum of reasons why people need cannabis to create, to heal and to have a little fun.” As for the current state of the industry’s female representation, Hendrix says: “When you look at the numbers, women aren’t being financially supported. My clients and I are often the only ones at the table. Investors still don’t support women.” Battling a second front, Hendrix hasn’t stopped pushing for the federal government to legalize pot everywhere. “The plant requires devotion to the community, budtenders, dispensaries, fans and customers.
VP of Government Relations, Weedmaps
In her own words, Hennessey isn’t one of those people who woke up one morning and said, “I want to be in the cannabis business.” She had been working in government relations, campaign management and policy development and strategy since graduating from Fairfield University 20 years ago. Now an expert in marijuana regulation, Hennessey works to ensure that minorities have a seat at the table for the new cannabis economy and seek reparation for those unlawfully imprisoned for drug offenses. “I came to realize that technology plays an important role in this effort,” she says. “When the world’s largest tech firm in the cannabis space called, I felt like we found each other.” Hennessey is heartened by female inclusion in the space. “The women in this industry are incredibly supportive of one another,” says the mother of three, who heads up the company’s Women of Weedmaps affinity group. “As the industry matures, and more women take leadership positions, this will become a laboratory for workplace innovation for other businesses to replicate.”
Kate Miller and Anna Duckworth
Co-founders, Miss Grass
Business partners Miller (pictured at left) and Duckworth have raised $4 million to launch their in-house marijuana brand dubbed “the Goop of cannabis.” Weed has played a major role in their lives, from Miller’s brother “getting kicked out of high school for smoking” to her own experience working at a dispensary and becoming a user for her psoriasis, as well as “a catalyst for creativity, relaxation and fun.” The goal of Miss Grass is to “help shift the narrative around cannabis, normalize it and make it accessible to all who need it,” according to the co-founders. The pair are also bullish on CBD’s impact on the beauty industry. “Now, it’s in every health store, bodega and spa,” notes Miller. “Unfortunately, many have hitched their wagon to CBD due to its popularity, but lack the knowledge and expertise around this plant, which ultimately results in brands taking advantage of a vulnerable consumer.”
CEO, BRN Group
The former Combs Enterprises president has leveraged her experience with lifestyle products into the cannabis space, launching a company to focus on building and managing CBD brands. “The ‘Green Rush’ is a once-in-a- lifetime opportunity,” says Simms of the burgeoning industry. As many in the business can relate, Simms has a personal wellness tale: her mother, who had been suffering from multiple sclerosis, saw immediate pain relief from CBD. “The improvement in her everyday life has been a life-changer for her and an eye-opener for me,” says Simms. “Women are attracted to this industry because it is still in its infancy and we can rewrite the rules. But we have only scratched the surface. Currently, only 10% of the CEOs in this industry are female.” Simms is committed to inclusion for the fledgling trade. “This industry still mirrors too much of an old-guard mindset, where diversity is wanting and innovation is stilted. The BRN Group intends to be part of changing that.”
Ann Margaret Skalski
Chief Brand Officer, Double Barrel
A former ad agency exec whose resume also includes a VP position at Saks Fifth Avenue, Skalski has become expert at using the power of celebrity — including music makers Swizz Beatz and Scott Storch — to brand her company’s products, among them a two-channel, one-airflow vaporizer. Turning to cannabis for a stomach ailment, Skalski insists the plant saved her life and sees her goals as “changing minds and educating the public … I am dramatically passionate about this plant, this brand and the consumer.” As for the industry’s attitude toward women, Skalski is gender-blind. “This industry is supportive of people who get the good stuff done. Everything I have has been earned with hard work and strong will. Women must continue to infiltrate and make their voices heard.”
CEO/Co-Founder, Pure Beauty
One of three principles in the L.A.-based female-targeted pre-roll company — along with her husband, marketing chief Tracy Anderson — Walavalkar previously founded her own catering company in New York. The offspring of an Indian father and Mexican mother, with a masters degree in public affairs from Columbia University, Walavalkar approaches the cannabusiness both “aesthetically and being socially conscious.” She says: “It’s the culmination of everything I care about most — alternative/plant medicine, botany, social justice and mind expansion.” Describing the experience of consumption as “both profound and therapeutic,” Pure Beauty’s sustainability efforts for its own indoor grow saves millions of gallons of water per year. Such conservation also applies to its paper packaging, both recyclable and compostable. As a female and ethnic minority cannabis entrepreneur, Walavalkar says: “Our plights are intrinsically connected. We must stay vocal and vigilant in holding people and companies accountable. We can make cannabis an example for all industries.
VP Marketing, Select
Wong joined Curaleaf (which recently acquired Select) from Beats by Dre with former CMO Jason White, who now occupies a similar post for the merged company, which combined is one of the country’s largest cannabis distributors. As a medicinal user since 2014, Wong was taken by the dispensaries opening in Venice Beach. “It was fun to visit Green Goddess or Rose Collective and see their budtenders interacting with customers, how passionate everyone was about what they were selling and why they were buying it,” she says. As for her fellow females in the industry, Wong echoes the hope that many cannabis entrepreneurs have for the days ahead. “It’s all about having the ability to impact change in what is the first true 21st century industry,” she says. “Everything we do sets the tone for how this business will look in the future. I’m lucky to have had strong female leaders around me, at Curaleaf and other companies. We all have a responsibility to make thoughtful hiring decisions that will shape this industry.”