NOTE: this article appeared as a column in the Michigan Cannabis Industries Report’s December 2018 issue.
Women, Weed & Politics
How the cannabis scene and elections are being transformed
In that bizarre, post-election press conference wherein Trump boasted about the nonexistent triumphs of the GOP, he could have easily mended some fences by acknowledging the victories of female candidates. He could have been gracious. But, as we’ve witnessed countless times over the past two years, that’s not in his makeup. More significantly his own, well-documented behavior with women probably contributed to these historic wins.
There were 277 female candidates up for Congress and governor, and over 110 of them won, allowing Democrats to take control of the US House of Representatives. Six states now have female governors now. Janet Mills became the first woman elected governor of Maine. Laura Kelly won in Kansas and Michelle Lujan Grisham in New Mexico. And, of course, Gretchen Whitmer was elected governor in Michigan, with Dana Nessel by her side as state Attorney General.
The emergence of women on the political scene was animated by a pervasive “enough is enough” undercurrent of discontent. Political analysts have pointed to the Me Too movement as a catalyst for the rise in women pursuing high office. Certainly, the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearings fostered discontent among women voters, a widespread feeling that their experiences were being discounted or outright dismissed. The Center for American Women and Politics reported that 428 women ran for Congress or governor as Democrats, compared with 162 Republicans. Of these, 210 Democratic women and 63 Republican women remained nominees by Election Day. But their issues aren’t just so-called “women’s issues” like education and reproductive rights. Health care, immigration, gun violence and the environment are the hot-button topics that seemed to resonate with voters.
Now I’m not gonna go all “male feminist” and say that women are more compassionate or more nurturing than men, which somehow accounts for their success. Instead, I’ll rely on what Hillary Clinton said: “Women are the largest untapped reservoir of talent in the world.” Simply put, it’s about time!
The success of women in the political arena mirrors the opportunities that the cannabis industry offers. Three years ago, Marijuana Business Daily published a survey that revealed women hold 36 percent of leadership positions in the cannabis industry, which is higher than the 22 percent average for U.S. companies in general. In fact, women hold 48 percent of key decision-making positions such as owner/founder, chief executive officer and president.
Should that be surprising? Not really. Generally, the cannabis industry has always been more welcoming to women than other mainstream enterprises. Of course, in the early days of the modern cannabis movement, the scene was dominated by men—and let’s not believe for an instant that pot politics was free of sexism. Nearly all of the leading activists were male and I rarely encountered a female grower.
Thankfully, those days are gone. If fact, women have been responsible for the nation’s reassessment of cannabis. Gallup polls reflect that the dramatic rise in support of marijuana law reform is being driven primarily by an increase in support among America’s women.
The foundation of our industry is the plant itself. Without healthy, effective cannabis, no one succeeds. Cultivating a worthy plant is by no means dependent upon the gender of the grower. Neither is the ability to effectively lead a commercial venture. Organizations, like the NORML Women’s Alliance, recognized these truths a decade ago and helped clear the way for women’s entry into the industry. Today, business conferences dedicated to the advancement of women in the cannabis industry are commonplace.
Talent among the sexes is equal, but the upward struggle of women has always required persistence in the face of misogyny. So maybe persistence is the virtue that’s vaulted them forward, both in politics and cannabis.
Debby Goldsberry, the CEO of Magnolia Wellness in Oakland, CA, has been on the front lines of cannabis activism and entrepreneurship for nearly 30 years, attending her first legalization rally in 1986.
“I got involved in cannabis at the tail end of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll era,” she says. “But sex, drugs and rock’n’roll was nothing but an oppressive situation for women involved the cannabis movement. We had to stake a flag in the turf and say “No more!’
“It was a determined effort, but we found that men listened. There wasn’t actual discrimination in the boardroom. In fact when we found ourselves sitting at the table, we often had the loudest, most influential voice, because everybody was curious to hear a different perspective.”
Many of us believe that cannabis enhances empathy, inspiring greater open-mindedness. But Goldsberry is somewhat skeptical.
“It’s not real dreamy like that,” she says.” Two months ago, I conducted a survey to learn more about the cannabis industry and the businesses being acquired by publicly traded companies. I looked at 38 of them. Less than 5 percent of the people on company boards were either people of color or women. It was very disturbing. The leadership in these corporate takeovers is white men. If were not careful and continue to remain advocates in the business world, we’re going to be dealing with the same problems that we’ve been trying to knock down and destroy for the past 30 years.
“The same goes for politics. There’s no wide open door. It’s a struggle to make sure we have the best women right leaders in place. Anyone can be a leader. They have to be nourishing and consider others before themselves. They have to be able to lead a team. Women are nurtured from birth to be leaders: to care for the family, for the home, for the business, the boardroom and the planet.”
“Step aside,” she laughs. “Let us in.”
Malcolm MacKinnon is the former editor of HIGH TIMES. His work appears monthly in the Michigan Cannabis Industries Report. See more at MalcolmMacKinon.com