Cheech and Chong, The Dude, Bob Marley – when it comes to ‘stoner’, the archetype is male. But as legalisation in the US turns the tide on weed and its stigma slowly fades, an increasing number of women are now ‘out’ about their toking habit. We uncover the insights behind why, when it comes to cannabis, the future might just be female.
In 2012, Colorado and Washington were the first US states to pass legislation allowing cannabis to be sold for recreational use. Since then, eight states have legalised the sale of both medical and recreational marijuana, including California, Maine, and Alaska, while a further 22 have introduced some form of medical marijuana, sometimes alongside decriminalisation laws.
The fledgling form of a new industry is taking shape; in 2016, year-on-year sales of legal marijuana in the US and Canada increased 30%, reaching $6.7 billion – a figure that’s predicted to hit $20.2 billion by 2021. And although just 34% of American women said they’d tried cannabis in a 2016 poll, compared to 48% of men, this demographic split is set to decrease. A huge number of women are now ‘out’ about their weed habit, while a steady number are getting into the industry early, converting their favourite pastime into a cash flow as distributors and owners of dispensaries. In the industry, 63% of high-level positions are held by women, compared to 25% in the wider business world.
"Many women use marijuana differently than men," says Jane West, founder of industry trade association Women Grow. "They're not using it to get high, but for its therapeutic effects. They use it for relaxation, pain management and think of it more as a wellness addition." And a lot of female consumers are looking for a wider array of products, says Bruce Barcott, author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America: “More microdosing, more discreet, well-designed vaping products, more topical products – they’re not just looking for a big bag of weed.” Many businesses have sprung up to cater to the exacting design tastes of new clientele, from Stonedware’s elegant pipes to Sweetflag’s patterned rolling papers.
Beyond being tastemakers, women are also set to dominate the industry as entrepreneurs. In 2015, Newsweek magazine suggested that legal marijuana could be the first billion-dollar industry not dominated by men, and while it’s not there yet, the numbers are promising; women claim around 36% of executive positions in the legal weed industry, compared to around 22% in other industries, according to a survey from Marijuana Business Daily. “It’s not often that entire industries are born,” says Crystal Huish, owner of Count Cannabis, an accounting firm specialising in the cannabis industry. “It’s an opportunity to break old traditions.”
Laurie Clarke is a writer for Canvas8, which specialises in behavioural insights and consumer research. She is a Psychology graduate currently based in Scotland and is obsessed with what makes people tick, especially when it comes to how people make decisions.