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  • How is Mary Jane being rebranded?
  • How is Mary Jane being rebranded?
    EventPhotosNYC, Creative Commons (2016) ©

Women for weed: cannabis culture gets a makeover

When we think ‘stoner’, we rarely picture a female – but legalisation in the US is turning the tide on weed culture. An increasing number of women are now ‘out’ about their toking habit and some are getting into the industry, suggesting that when it comes to cannabis, the future might just be female.

Location United States

Cheech and Chong, The Dude, Bob Marley – when we think ‘stoner’, we rarely picture a female. For years, men have been cast in the role of the weed-smoker – the loveable layabout whose bong is like a fifth limb. But in the US, things are changing. Legalisation is turning the tide on weed culture, and rupturing old stereotypes in its wake.

In 2012, Colorado and Washington were the first states to pass legislation allowing cannabis to be sold for recreational use. Now, eight states have legalised the sale of both medical and recreational marijuana, including California, Maine, and Alaska. A further 22 have introduced some form of medical marijuana, sometimes alongside decriminalisation laws. [1]

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. [2] And although just 34% of American women said they’d tried cannabis in a 2016 poll, compared to 48% of men, this demographic split looks set to change. [3] A huge number of women are now ‘out’ about their weed-toking habits, 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. [4] When it comes to the cannabis industry, the future might just be female.


Who are they?
Weed culture has long been fronted by a ‘stoner bro’ mascot, but legislation over the past few years has paved the way for broader demographic appeal. People who wouldn’t dream of meeting a dealer down an alley can now saunter into a dispensary and select their favourite strain of cannabis, in herbal, vape or edible format.

“You have options about what you’re purchasing, which makes it feel similar to buying alcohol,” says Ariel Zimman, the owner of cannabis accessory company, Stonedware. “Some days you want tequila, some days whisky, and some days wine, and it’s the same thing with cannabis – you’re not going to want a sativa every day. I’m now 30, and I’ve seen a shift in my own social circle. People who were larger drinkers, are now – because of the hangover and the calories – trying weed instead of drinking alcohol.” [5]

You have options about what you’re purchasing, which makes it feel similar to buying alcohol. Some days you want tequila, some days whisky, and some days wine, and it’s the same thing with cannabis

Ariel Zimman, owner of Stonedware

But women are smoking weed for a variety of reasons. "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." [6]

Above all, the emphasis is on the harmonisation of normal, daily life with an appreciation of cannabis. "They are women who are [discreetly] using and then going to soccer practice or cooking dinner for the family,” says Amy Margolis, a former attorney who founded the Oregon Cannabis Association. “Maybe it is because they are in pain from sitting at a desk all day or maybe it's a nice way to roll into the evening.” [7]

Cannabis culture is going high-end Cannabis culture is going high-end
Stonedware | Instagram (2017) ©

What do they love?
The growing pool of weed enthusiasts has caused a shift in the branding of the cannabis industry. “A lot of the adult use stores which opened up early on tried to cater to the traditional, heavily male market, with a much more hardcore, skater aesthetic,” says Bruce Barcott, author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America. “People saw fairly quickly that the stores that opened to a broader range of customers, and were more modelled on a highly designed spaces – like small, high-end clothing boutiques or jewellery stores – were seeing more success.” [8]

Since legalisation, the number of ways to consume cannabis has exploded. "Previously, inhaling combustible cannabis was really the only way you could consume marijuana, but now the wide variety of products out there – from sublingual strips to pomegranate sparkling beverages to skin creams to vaporising pens that really minimise any negative health benefits – more and more women are going to start trying it when there's more product options,” says West. [6] Mary Jane’s Medicinals, for instance, sells weed-infused, soothing products like lotions and bath bombs, while Whoopi Goldberg has launched a line of cannabis-infused pain relief products.

A lot of female consumers are looking for a wider array of products. More microdosing, more discreet, well-designed vaping products – they’re not just looking for a big bag of weed

Bruce Barcott, author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America

A new consumer base demands a fresh aesthetic, and many businesses have sprung up to cater to the exacting design tastes of new clientele. Stonedware produces elegant, hand-crafted ceramic pipes, designed to perch tastefully on a mantelpiece or coffee table. “My intention was having pieces that were specifically designed as beautiful objects that are also pipes,” says Zimman. “I’ve been smoking weed for a long time, and I’ve never been ashamed of smoking weed, but I have been ashamed of having a rainbow, hippy glass piece sitting on my coffee table. So this is an option for people as a piece of decor that doesn’t immediately scream ‘pipe’ and doesn’t clash with other belongings in their home.” [5]

Women's weed preferences extend beyond the aesthetics of the paraphernalia to the very product itself. “There’s a stereotype in the alcohol industry that women drink wine, men drink beer,” says Barcott. “In the cannabis industry, there’s the stereotype that men want high THC products and potency, whereas a lot of female consumers are looking for a wider array of products. More microdosing, more discreet, well-designed vaping products, more topical products – they’re not just looking for a big bag of weed.” [8]

With the growth in weed products, an adjacent industry has flourished, one in which getting high is not the main focus, but is used to enhance another experience. In this category, Puff Pass & Paint is a weed-friendly art class that has taken off in three states, while Ganja Yoga attendees spark up before some vinyasa.

The stoner stereotype has grown stale The stoner stereotype has grown stale
Stonedware (2017) ©

What do they do?
Women are not just embracing weed as consumers, but are becoming activists or ‘ganjapreneurs’ within the industry. Women Grow promotes women in the legal cannabis sector and provides them with a network of invaluable contacts. In 2015, its first annual conference attracted 120 people – a number that soared to 1,200 in 2016. “I want this organisation to grow into whatever it needs to be to put women at the forefront of the cannabis space,” says Jazmin Hupp, co-founder of the group. “This industry is the next thing. Women are the next thing.” [9]

There’s been an increase in female-fronted cannabis businesses – they're growing the plant, running a dispensaries, and tapping into all the surrounding industries riding the legalisation wave. One example of this is Cannabrand, a marketing agency exclusively for cannabis-centred companies, which was founded by two women. “We’re weeding out the stoners,” says co-founder Olivia Mannix. “We want to show the world that normal, professional, successful people consume cannabis.” [10]

I just want to see cannabis as normalised as having a glass of wine with dinner

Cheryl Shuman, founder of the Beverly Hills Cannabis Club

Getting into the growing business is proving attractive and accessible to female entrepreneurs. “When Colorado really opened up, there were low barriers to entry. It didn't cost a lot to get a license and there weren't limitations on the number of licenses,” says Nancy Whiteman, founder of Wana Brands, a cannabis company that’s active in three states, with plans to expand into several more. [4]

Meanwhile, Cheryl Shuman spotted a gap in the market for affluent, female stoners. She founded the Beverly Hills Cannabis Club – a brand that sells highly-priced marijuana for those ready to spend on their habit – and hosts monthly weed-centric events boasting infused foods and tastings. "Every dinner plate has its own personal vaporiser, and there will be different strains to try; one for calm and relaxation, one for appetite stimulation, one to help digestion, or one for those with chronic pain," says Shuman. “I just want to see cannabis as normalised as having a glass of wine with dinner.” [7]

There’s big bucks to be made in (legal) bud There’s big bucks to be made in (legal) bud
Stonedware | Instagram (2017) ©

Insights and opportunities
Pop culture is slowly beginning to reflect the new diversity of weed smokers, and the antiquated image of the slacker dude getting high in his parent’s basement is slowly being updated to something more familiar and relatable – especially for women. Broad City, for instance, portrays Abbi and Ilana, two creative young women who roam the streets of New York on weed-fuelled adventures. And the stereotypical tropes have been inverted to reflect the shift in demographics – in Girls, it’s the protagonist’s mother, rather than the main character herself, who is a cannabis convert, milking her medical card for all its worth.

As a male-dominated industry, sexism has always been a part of weed culture. Until recently, the most visible women in the subculture were the scantily clad ‘bud babes’ selling products at weed fairs and those fellating bongs in shoots for magazines like High Times. But with the growing consumer power of women in the sector, this is set to change. "In the not-so-distant future, women are going to become the dominant purchasers of cannabis products," says West, who believes this will happen through their appetite for wellness products. [6] Considering that women take charge of approximately three-quarters of consumer spending, this is not a demographic to be underestimated by cannabis retailers. [9]

But could women also 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. [11] 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. [4] “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.” [12]

Laurie Clarke is a Psychology graduate currently based in Scotland. She is obsessed with what makes people tick, especially when it comes to how people make decisions.

1. 'Where is weed legal? Map of US marijuana laws by state', The Cannabist (October 2016)
2. 'Marijuana sales totaled $6.7 billion in 2016', Forbes (January 2017)
3. 'One in eight US adults say they smoke marijuana', Gallup (August 2016)
4. 'Women break the grass ceiling in the cannabis industry', Forbes (March 2017)
5. Interview with Ariel Zimman conducted by author
6. 'The grass ceiling: women's changing role in weed culture', Time (April 2015)
7. 'The unexpected rise of the marijuana mom', Elle (October 2014)
8. Interview with Bruce Barcott conducted by author
9. 'Token women to tokin' women: three days at a conference for ladies who simply love weed', Jezebel (April 2016)
10. 'In Colorado, a rebranding of Pot Inc.', The New York Times (October 2014)
11. 'Women in weed: how legal marijuana could be the first billion-dollar industry not dominated by men', Newsweek (August 2015)
12. 'Why the marijuana business is appealing to female entrepreneurs', The Atlantic (June 2016)

Laurie Clarke