Women have a long history of cannabis activism in Canada

Originally published in Lift News.
At a well known restaurant in downtown Vancouver, a private room was reserved for a gathering of women. They were women of a “certain age,” elder women. They were coming to meet each other for the first time. They were coming to share their stories. There was joy, relief, tears, celebration, anger and triumph. It was at once exhilarating and exhausting to be in the room. So much magic.

These are the women of the cannabis craft industry – only some of them, for there are many, many more. It is estimated that women comprise between 75 to 90 percent of all artisanal producers of cannabis tinctures, lotions, salves, oils, balms and edibles. The women who met on this day had been working at their craft for many years. Their stories always ended in triumph but were also rooted in pain – lost family members, illness, economic hardships, career upsets, divorces, single motherhood. Life.

Women are traditionally and historically healers. Midwifery has gone from the norm to fringe. Now, after many years of proactive educating and savvy public relations it is undergoing a resurgence in the western world. The same could be said of plant medicine and women’s’ role in traditional healing methods.

As jurisdictions transition into a regulated cannabis economy, these women are coming together in anticipation of “what’s next?”. “Will we be included?” is the most common question.

They are not alone, as the jockeying for position in the adult use cannabis market has already begun. The “messaging” coming from the currently licensed medical producers is that they are the only obvious choice to transition into the adult use market as the current grey market is run by gangsters and organized bike gangs. This messaging is not based on any real facts, it is simply a mantra that is being used to convince the general public, media, and policy makers that the adult use market should be heavily regulated to keep the bad actors out of the potentially highly profitable new economy. Not only to keep the bad actors out but to make sure they, the very small group of licence holders, will see the money they seem to feel they have earned by jumping through the hoops of the complex licensing process.

As dominant as women are in the artisan spectrum of the cannabis economy, the opposite is true of the the licensed medical producers, comprised almost entirely of men. The average cost of achieving a coveted licence can easily exceed 5 million dollars and go as high as 100 million dollars. These are not “Mom and Pop” farms, these are sophisticated, industrial operations financed by investors hoping to cash in on the inevitable “green rush”. Typically women do not have access to this kind of capital, although this could be shifting in the coming years, if trends continue.

Dundee Capital Markets estimated earlier this year that a legal marijuana industry in Canada could be worth some $5 billion annually. This does not take tourism into consideration, which could be significant. Some would say the tourism industry is already active in places like Vancouver, Victoria, Nelson and Toronto. Coincidentally these are the same cities where women are organizing and gathering together to help each other transition into what they hope will be their future. In the United States women hold 36% of leadership positions in the entire industry. That’s significantly higher than the 22% average for U.S. companies in general, according to 2014 data from the Pew Research Center.

The reason for this encouraging statistic is simply that women were allowed to participate. Their experience, knowledge, ingenuity and wisdom were embraced and sought after. The regulations in the US which were crafted understood and acknowledged the importance of the existing artisans and how their participation in the future would be imperative to a sustainable and successful industry. The regulators also were familiar enough with the industry to fully understand that inclusive growth was reasonable, safe and essentially the right thing to do.

The women who gathered on a winter morning spoke with courage and integrity about what they do. They are healers, they have wisdom and they have messages to share. They are not organized gangsters, nor do they belong to bike gangs. Someday soon, they hope they will also not be considered criminals.