Why Women Are Becoming the Biggest Influences in The Marijuana World

Just as Pauline Sabin, a New York socialite, worked to expose hypocrisy and end Prohibition in the early 20th century, the push to legalize marijuana in the U.S. has been driven, in large part, by women. They come from a wide range of backgrounds—political, corporate, legal, and scientific—and have become arguably the industry's most important influences, advancing legislation and defying stoner stereotypes.

The impact of women in weed is not easily quantified, of course. But as more and more women enter the industry—assuming leadership roles and drafting drug reform measures—their collective efforts are being recognized. It is part of a trend that has rapidly developed in the years since states began to pass their own legalization ballots in defiance of federal law, which maintains that marijuana is a Schedule I substance, the "most dangerous of all drug schedules."

In the most recent issue of Newsweek, a cover story titled "Women in Weed" looks at this trend, profiling some of the industry's most powerful leaders and organizers and discussing the various ways in which women have been changing national perceptions about pot through their advocacy efforts. Not only are women in a unique position to advance marijuana interests, but they also face unique challenges and stigmas.

1. Women are joining the movement come from all kinds of industries.

Greta Carter was among the first round of applicants who were approved for marijuana growing facility licenses in Washington state, where pot was legalized for recreational purposes. In fact, she helped craft the Washington Initiative 502 measure, which outlined the state's marijuana policy and passed in 2012. Carter is also a former Citibank vice president.

Shaleen Title, a drug reform activist attorney who runs the marijuana recruitment agency, THC Staffing, told Newsweek that at least half of her employees are women. "I am especially seeing more women with corporate 'mainstream' experience looking to join the marijuana industry," she said. "With time, there will be more women with marijuana experience."

But it isn't just women in the corporate sector who are entering the pot trade. They are particularly well-represented in cannabis science, as Newsweek reported. At CannLabs, a Colorado-based marijuana testing facility, for example, scientist Genifer Murray says she mostly hires women with advanced science degrees.

2. Women are legitimizing the marijuana industry.

In a field that emphasizes compassionate care, women have become a particularly valuable asset. Many are moms, educators, and caregivers, with medical backgrounds and personal interest in the industry. "This is a compassionate industry, for the most part, especially if you're dealing with the medical side. The medical patients need time and consideration, and women are usually the better gender for that. The industry is flat-out geared for women," Murray said.

To see such a diverse and expansive collection of female marijuana advocates pushing for reform affects the public perception of cannabis, albeit gradually, and that has had an enormous impact on the industry's recent progress. It lends credibility to the movement in a way that men simply could not achieve at the same level. And men in weed are taking notice, too.

"It's common to find women running businesses throughout the industry and holding key positions in dispensaries, retail stores, cultivation operations, infused products companies and ancillary firms," Chris Walsh, founding editor of the marijuana news source, Marijuana Business Daily, told Newsweek.

"ArcView CEO Troy Dayton says he's seen a flood of women in the marijuana industry over the past year, and adds that it's also 'become very unfashionable very quickly to have scantily clad women repping products at B2B trade shows.'"

3. Women in weed face a unique set of challenges.

Besides having to deal with pushback and legal threats from the Drug Enforcement Administration and IRS, women also have to worry about the potential repercussions of their involvement in marijuana at home. Specifically, women have to consider the fact that Child Protective Services does not look kindly upon moms in marijuana. Dads tend to get the pass.

There are even legal services that have evolved, designed to address this particular problem. Sarah Arnold, the co-founder of Family Law & Cannabis Alliance, explained that "[t]here's an incredible amount of misogyny in both the political movement and the industry." Her firm, which assists women who have their children taken away by CPS based on their associations with medical marijuana, was launched after Arnold herself was investigated by the agency due to her own association with the substance.

"At the time, no one else was talking about CPS, custody battles or anything regarding cannabis and parental rights," she told Newsweek. "So I started talking and writing about it, and then helping people on my own.... I consider this my life's work."