As public sentiment toward cannabis begins to shift, the oft-discussed ideal is that everyone will have equal access to the economic opportunities that come with any burgeoning industry. But the reality is that breaking into cannabis remains tough for a whole host of reasons: Financial barriers, vague laws, and social stereotypes can dissuade would-be entrepreneurs from entering the game altogether.
And for a lot of women, those obstacles are exacerbated simply because of their gender. The solution? In many cases, it comes down to trusting your gut and pushing forward with an idea even if it’s dismissed over and over again. Below, seven women working in cannabis share their stories of success, perseverance, and what it is to be a woman within the industry.
Kristina Lopez Adduci
Founder: House of Puff
It’s been less than a year since Kristina Lopez Adduci launched House of Puff, an ultra-chic line of smoking accessories that’s tailor-made for a very specific type of consumer. “I’m a mom of two twin girls who likes to unwind by lighting a candle, having a glass of wine, or indulging in cannabis — it’s the new cannabis narrative,” Lopez Adduci tells High Times. “I had this voracious appetite to find a solution that worked for me and the women I know.”
But getting that solution off the ground wasn’t easy. “One of the reasons we chose the direct to consumer model is that many of the retail outlets we approached didn’t believe there would be demand for high-end, chic cannabis accessories targeted toward women,” she explains. “Some people just have a hard time associating women with this industry. Those people are in for a rude awakening.”
Founder and creative director: Kitchen Toke
When the father of one of Joline Rivera’s closest friends became ill with lung cancer, she wasn’t exactly expecting to be the messenger who would deliver edibles to his doorstep. “I didn’t even know if he’d try it,” Rivera recalls. “At the time I was reading about other people’s stories and thought, why not?” That leap of faith resulted in a “life-changing” experience for everyone in the room. “I was able to see a very sick man be relieved of all his pain, eat solid foods—which he hadn’t done in nearly a month— and enjoy a cold beer, and an afternoon with his six daughters, wife, and three grandkids,” she says.
Not long after, Rivera got serious about starting a cannabis business. “There was a white space to be filled in food, health, and wellness for anyone who couldn’t or didn’t want to smoke and who needed to start at the beginning: What is cannabis? How can it help me? How can I use it? That’s when I started Kitchen Toke.”
Launched in November 2017, the publication is the first nationally distributed cannabis-focused food magazine. “I know that women and minorities are looked at differently, but to be honest, this doesn’t cross my mind when I’m talking about my company,” Rivera says. “I’m too busy creating excellence and making Kitchen Toke the absolute best brand regardless of gender or race. I stay focused, and I don’t let it get in my way.”
The publication is currently raising funds to design an app that will function as your cannabis companion. With a library of recipes, how-to videos, a dispensary map, a wellness tracker, cannabis glossary, and a dosing calculator, Rivera and the team at Kitchen Toke are passionate about helping people integrate cannabis into their lifestyles.
Chief Marketing Officer: Papa & Barkley
What does Kimberly Dillon love most about working in cannabis? “There is no precedent— a lot of surviving and ultimately thriving in this space is being persistent and not letting anything daunt you,” she says. That includes the “boys club” mentality that remains pervasive within the industry. “I still get invites to after parties at strip clubs,” Dillon reveals.
Many times, she explains, people assume that she’s more junior than she is, often talking over her. The joke ends up being on them. “Early on, I would let the men go on and on about their strategies so I could know how to better position our brand,” she says. “One competitor tried to recruit me to be a brand ambassador at his company, and in that process told me every detail about his strategy. We were super new in the market, and I still use some tactics from that convo.”
Founder and CEO: Apothecarry Brands, Inc.
An unexpected suggestion from a doctor ultimately changed the course of Whitney Beatty’s life. “I had a health scare and ended up being diagnosed with anxiety,” she recalls. “My doctor tried several different medications with me and I didn’t like any of them. In an offhand remark, she mentioned that I should try cannabis. I was actually shocked— I hadn’t tried cannabis when I was younger because Nancy Reagan told me to say no to drugs.”
Once she became a consumer herself, Beatty noticed a gap in the market. “I have wine in a wine fridge, I have liquor in a bar, I have cigars in the humidor, but I was keeping my high-end cannabis in a shoebox under my bed,” she says. “That didn’t make sense to me.”
Beatty changed careers and launched Apothecarry Brands, which designs sleek storage solutions for cannabis users. The products have been wildly successful, but unfortunately, that hasn’t kept the naysayers away. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had men who have no experience in my lane mansplain my business to me,” she says. “I’ve had people tell me that my business should be in an Etsy shop or only at craft shows, meanwhile we are growing 100 percent year over year.”
One of her hopes for the industry’s future? “I want to see more women in the C-suite across cannabis, in decision making positions.”
Founder and designer: Blunted Objects
Fed up with the misconceptions surrounding cannabis use, Melodie Ling turned frustration into an entrepreneurial endeavor. “I was inspired by all the anti-cannabis sentiment stemming from years of oppression and propaganda, where one of the most functionally versatile plants ever to exist has been completely misunderstood,” she explains. That’s when she created Blunted Objects, a collection of jewelry and accessories for a “new generation of stoners,” as Ling describes it. “It’s exhilarating to imagine a near-future where cannabis is completely accepted by society,” she says.
Less exhilarating, however, is dealing with trolls. “Sometimes when I post a girl smoking on Instagram, I’ll get rude comments from guys accusing her of not inhaling, wasting weed, and just trying to look cute without knowing how to properly smoke,” Ling explains.
Last year, for example, a video she captured of her friend dropping a giant joint went viral. “You wouldn’t believe all the comments threatening her with violence and physical harm, just for dropping the joint,” Ling says. “As inclusive as this industry is, we still have a long way to go to change the old-school mindset where the whole industry is a competition, and women have no place in it.”
Founder: Mary and Main
Like in many other work environments, women in cannabis regularly face more instances of being underestimated by their colleagues and peers. “A woman is often not considered someone who would have knowledge on grow techniques and other cannabis-specific topics,” Wiseman says. But staying focused on her primary objective— treating her patients— helps Wiseman maintain perspective: “I enjoy being able to improve a patient’s quality of life through this alternative form of medicine.”
Looking to the future, she wants the economic benefits of cannabis to be more widely accessible for the marginalized communities that deserve them the most. “We desire to benefit from the legalization of this plant that has incarcerated our people for far too long,” Wiseman says. “Because we are still at the grassroots level, women have the opportunity to make a man for themselves and establish their worth early.”
Ceramicist and owner: Stonedware
As a regular cannabis user and ceramics maker, Ariel Zimman decided to fashion a pipe that suited her design tastes. “It dawned on me that if I wanted a different looking pipe than what was offered at most head shops, then chances were that other people — especially women — did too.” Enter Stonedware, a line of elevated, stylish pipes that look more like sculptures in a museum than something to smoke a bowl out of. They’re beautiful, to be sure, but unsurprisingly, not everyone understood what Zimman’s approach. “Multiple times I was told by men, ‘The bowl is too small,’ and nothing about the design or concept surrounding my work,” she recalls. “If anything, this feedback just steered me in the direction of designing specifically for women who value design in addition to function, as opposed to just shopping for a bowl that can hold an entire gram.”
Although she refers to her career in cannabis as a “happy accident,” Zimman wouldn’t trade it for any other job. “Now that I’m here, I can’t imagine doing anything else,” she says. “Combining my passion for clay and love of this plant is pretty magical. It has allowed me to empower other women, explore design, and take part in a flourishing community.”