Think of your stereotypical marijuana user—it's probably a man. What you've imagined isn't wrong. While roughly half of men admit to having tried marijuana, only a third of women say the same. But the disparity highlights a problem for the marijuana industry: They're leaving half the population's money on the table.
One way they're combatting it is by helping more women achieve senior positions within the industry.
In her 2013 research paper on gender-dynamics in the marijuana industry in Northern California, sociologist Karen August observed something rather remarkable. "Nearly all" of the business transactions in the year she spent observing were made by men, whereas women were much more likely to be involved in trimming plants and making edibles and selling knick-knacks. (Among her illustrative anecdotes was a Craigslist ad offering extra pay for women who'd trim topless.) August concluded: "Rarely are women encouraged to set up and maintain their own operations."
That may be changing. At least, if Jane West, the owner of Edible Events Co. and founder of Women Grow has anything to say about it.
West's new organization seeks to mentor female business executives in the emerging cannabis industry, staging monthly events and educational symposiums around the country. "I was observing that women weren't equally in positions of power in the industry," West told National Journal on Tuesday. "There are a lot of eager young professionals and so little information about who enters it."
That's a shame for women, from a strictly financial standpoint. In the first four months of 2014, Colorado marijuana stores saw more than $200 million in sales, and that was before the state's recreational pot industry began a transformation in July expected to create hundreds of new pot businesses: Industry newcomers can now apply for recreational business licenses (previously only owners of existing medical shops could apply). The number of jobs in the state's weed industry is currently estimated at between 7,500 and 10,000, according to Michael Elliott, the executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group.
Nationally, the legal marijuana market was estimated to be worth $1.53 billion in 2013, according to a report from ArcView Market Research, an investor group specializing in the marijuana industry. And in five years, factoring in recreational legalization in at least Colorado and Washington states, it will be worth $10.2 billion, according to the same report.
Those are the kinds of numbers organizers of Women Grow cite when they lay out their objectives. The goals of the group are threefold: To rebrand pot as an industry that's female-friendly; to foster female leadership at the highest levels; and to persuade more women to buy cannabis and participate in consumer culture. Outreach for the later includes pot-themed spa and yoga retreats, upscale culinary events and art soirees. The group's inaugural networking event will be held in Denver on Aug. 14.
One of the ways West is hoping to reach women is through rebranding. "When you think of the word to describe a great wine or a luxury item you think of words like 'classic,' 'stylish' and 'cosmopolitan,' " West said. She wants to redefine weed to better fit that bill, and there's good reason to think she'll succeed.
Pot shops in Colorado are increasingly going gourmet, and, as an article in Marie Claire titled "Stiletto Stoners" once observed, the women who light up very often come from privilege. One in five of them lived in a household earning more than $75,000 a year, according to the story, and that was before it was legal.
More than half the states have liberalized their pot laws in some way since 2000, either decriminalizing the drug, allowing for the distribution of medical marijuana, or, in the cases of Colorado and Washington, legalizing recreational use altogether.
Beyond being less likely to use, or admit to using, marijuana, women are much less likely to be entrepreneurs in what could be a multibillion-dollar industry. That, West says, is the single biggest thing she wants to change. "We want women to know that there's a big opportunity now," she said. "And they should get in on it."
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At the national level, West has support from the National Cannabis Industry Association, one of the initial sponsors of West's organization. "It's definitely a priority as far as we're concerned," NCIA's Taylor West told National Journal, "because it's an industry where both the customer base and the professional base are not as evenly divided across the genders as they could be."
It also means millions of new customers for this burgeoning industry.