One week removed from the Lift & Co. Cannabis Conference, I find myself circling back and reflecting. Attending the weekend as media, I was asked on several occasions about my experience covering this industry and about my writing. The reactions to my favorite subject, the pairing of sex and cannabis, varied, to say the least. One woman who works in the industry was so impressed that she offered me a job on the spot. Another, looking at my latest article, instead decided to lay on the slut-shaming. That’s ok. I have had that happen before. For me, the beauty of the situation is that I don’t feel shame because I don’t really have any. This has been a key asset for me, and my career in the cannabis industry, because without thick skin, I wouldn’t have ever been able to thrive.
But again, that’s me. I am really open about my thoughts on a number of taboo sensitive subjects and I like to have those conversations, especially if it breaks down stigma. Sometimes, it gets a bit awkward. But not everyone is like that, and it’s made me wonder about the experiences of other women in this industry. How have they been treated? How do they feel about their day to day interactions at work? Do they get treated more differently than the men they work with? Curious, I decided to poll my peers and simply ask, what has your experience as a woman in the cannabis industry been like? The responses came fast, and what I heard was surprising.
Let’s get a few things straight
To fully contextualize the experiences being shared, there are a few things that need to be said surrounding this topic. The best way for us to understand what it’s like to be a woman in weed is to ask, openly and often. While we are at it, we should ask the men and non-binary cannabis staff as well. If we want to create a best-case scenario for all the people working in this industry, we need to encourage an environment with open dialogue. Employees, and colleagues, and members of the industry need to feel that it’s safe to ask questions, as well as answer them.
Not everyone would go public but have made an extra effort
There was a surprising amount of reluctance when it came to giving details; a lot of women wouldn’t even touch the subject until I assured them that their information would remain anonymous. I am not talking about acquaintances or strangers – these are close friends and old coworkers of mine. In one case, a woman that I have been close with for over ten years refused to discuss anything at all, and that was shocking to me.
From women I knew to those I didn’t, the messages immediately flooded in. The desire to be heard was strong but there was also this static you could feel in the air; the fear hung like a low current. For some, it was the fear of being judged socially from the offending party or anyone they are involved with, but there were also a number of women who were actually concerned about the companies involved. They knew that what they had endured was completely illegal and wrong and that if any regulatory body ever caught wind of it, deserved or not, the organization would take the heat. No one was looking to blow the whistle and in the end, few of the women who told stories like this agreed to let me tell their tales. It was clear to see that all of these women stay in the industry because they love it, but not all of them like it.
“I once worked at an illegal dispensary where they would not let any women roll joints – not even the female general manager of the company. This pissed me off because, quite frankly, I’m a great roller. One of the guys couldn’t even roll and had to use one of those little rolling machine boxes. They wouldn’t even let me do that. When I asked why they never gave me an answer. I was told that was just the way it was.”
“One of my male coworkers aggressively came onto me during the staff Christmas party even though I have a boyfriend. I told the guy that I wasn’t interested but he refused to hear it. He would hit on my start to finish, every shift. I was so happy, and relieved when he finally got fired.”
“So myself, I am a lucky one as I was brought into the cannabis industry by women. But this doesn’t mean that BEING a woman hasn’t affected me while I work. Recently, my partner and I had decided to start to try and conceive. After about 5 months of trying, we were finally successful, but as quickly as it came, it went. It was sad and frustrating, and it affected my performance at work. I am not someone who normally likes to let others see me when I’m weak, let alone tell them. In a moment of frustration, I brought attention to some legitimate, but minor complications within the company, and got a whiplash for it. I was unable to understand why I was feeling felt so affected in this work environment, even after the talk with my boss. Putting two and two together, I realized the hormones and my desire for mothering was affecting the space in a way I wouldn’t have anticipated. I’m now currently working through my emotions and was removed from full-time work due to the frustration I was feeling, and really only for myself. And my partner and I are still trying. This industry can be so difficult to navigate as a woman and this is just my experience. “
“As a woman, I don’t believe I was given as many opportunities as my male counterparts, nor given the same perks (travel, festivals, product). I did not feel that the male bosses had my back, and often put me in dangerous situations. I have even been talked down to when I have questions. I feel that age-ism paired with being a woman is what prevented me from being further trained at work, both in the position I was already working in, packaging, or as a front of house staff, and bud-tending. I am aware that my own hesitations also played into some of this. But, I do want to say that there have been some dangerous situations where I felt my life was in jeopardy, yet the person continues to work there.”
“So it’s weird because, in my area of California, the women in cannabis have banded together, fiercely. I think it’s what we ultimately had to do, acting like most men in this business don’t even exist. We provide vertical support and go to bat for each other. That being said, if I step outside my network it’s a completely different world. The idiots out there want to act like cannabis didn’t exist before Rec., conveniently forgetting that it was women following their feminine witchy path that reforged this plant medicine in the wake of prohibition so that they could heal their communities. I think it’s disgusting how ignored and marginalized their contribution has been. This entire global industry was built on the backs of OG women treating aids patients in San Francisco. Don’t let anyone forget it.”
“During my time in the cannabis industry as a woman (3 years now), it has been an incredible experience. I started out at Trees Island Grown, working as a part-time auxiliary and moved my way up very quickly. Over 12 months I went from being full-time key holder, working part-time as a distribution assistant, to working full-time in distribution and getting promoted to distribution supervisor, and later distribution manager, alongside co-third party purchaser. 2 months after that, I solely became third party purchaser while managing a team of 9. I worked there up until early November of 2019 when Trees was raided by the CSU and shut down. I couldn’t help but notice the overwhelming amount of women in high positions within the company. At the Trees head office, woman very-much-so outnumbered the men.
After the shut down of Trees, I was offered a job at Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club, and as of January 2020, I am now inventory manager for VCBC. Again, I notice all the women in powerful positions at VCBC. While there are still men in powerful positions, I have noticed there are more women overall. I personally feel the cannabis industry is slowly recognizing women more and more, and not taking our hard work for granted. This is only my point of view in the 3 years, and two spaces I have worked in, however. I feel so grateful to have been recognized for my hard work and put in the positions I have been. ”
“I don’t have a vagina, but I have observed that some growers in the prohibition era didn’t pay their female employees on the same scale, or at the same time or frequency as their male employees. Also, the jobs were less construction intensive and more about plant management, so that excuse wouldn’t have held any weight. Swinging a hammer and building staging doesn’t require a penis.”
“The Me Too movement was just beginning and Facebook was filled with #metoo posts. Amidst all of it, my boss, Ted Smith, made a point of being an ally. He posted how heartbroken he felt seeing how many women in his life had been through some form of sexual harassment or assault and that if God forbid, he had ever unknowingly done anything like that or made anyone ever feel uncomfortable, he was really really sorry. I had just started working with him after leaving a boys club dispensary and it meant a lot to know that some of the men in this industry are checking themselves.”
There were many people that came forward when they were asked about sexism in the industry. These are the experiences of only 8 respondents. Stay tuned for our follow-up articles on this subject because if the truth is what we are actually after, this topic needs constant re-evaluation. Not to mention, there are many, many more stories that are waiting to be told.
If you have the experience you would like to tell, please feel free to contact us and share your story. We respect if you would like to remain anonymous.