Women are not shrinking at the top of the marijuana industry.
According to a study, nearly 37% of senior positions in the cannabis industry are held by women. That dwarfs the average (21%) of other industries in the United States.
The women on the list range from healers to extraction scientists; PhDs to PR specialists; influencers to icons; law experts to investment gurus. There is not one facet of the industry that these accomplished women do not work in. While there are well beyond 35 women in the industry worthy of praise-veritably hundreds-we chose this distilled group of women because they represent both the CEOs and the unsung heroes. Many operate with massive influence behind-the-scenes, while others are becoming industry household names.
Here we list 3 influential women in cannabis today.
A fruitful career as a TV news anchor for Detroit’s ABC affiliate was cut short when Anqunette Sarfoh was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2013 at age 42. The unforgiving disease has limited medical treatment options, so Sarfoh began turning to cannabis to alleviate her symptoms. But the challenges she faced acquiring the plant safely soon led her to recognize a need for a safe, reliable dispensary in her community.
So in 2018, she co-founded Botaniq Dispensary in Corktown. She was later bought out of the partnership and is planning to reinvest in cannabis with the launch of Qulture Edibles, a line of cannabis edible products, later this year.
Through the process of opening Botaniq, Sarfoh realized her true calling was helping her community destigmatize cannabis through circulating the information and helping others — especially women of color — navigate the challenges facing cannabis entrepreneurs. She’s become something of a mentor in her community.
As Michigan’s nascent cannabis industry grows, Sarfoh is one of a group of emerging Black women leaders who are creating local support networks and advocating in Lansing as they make inroads into a white- and male-dominated marketplace. For many of these women, their work is grounded in the fraught history of “war on drugs”-era laws that imprisoned their family members for possessing the very plant they are now looking to build a business on.
“I knew that people were relying on me for information, because my Facebook Messenger would be jam-packed with people asking questions,” Sarfoh said. She is also a board member of the Michigan Cannabis Industry Association.
“It's still true men hold our purse strings. I am discouraged to be reliant on male financial backers in an unregulated industry,” said Jessie Johnson, founder of Purple Peace.
Named Purple Peace, Johnson created her business in 2016 with a mission to “bring legitimacy to the cannabis industry” and to give sick people a chance to try a natural alternative to traditional medicine for pain and other ailments, she told FOX Business.
She said her business sells every part of the hemp plant: "We have a zero-waste policy." If a full batch of plants isn't bought, for example, it's composted into the soil.
Purple Peace wasn’t always so successful. It took 10 years and $250,000 to launch it.
“I self-funded, accepted in-kind services, sold everything that wasn't nailed down and created convertible IOUs when the credit card companies and banks denied business with plant-touching companies,” Johnson said.
Of course, Johnson said, the process isn’t perfect. Some of the major challenges include funding and education about the industry.
"Our hurdles are navigating the legal system, circumventing attorneys, corporations denying service and regulators refusing to act.”
Vetra Stephens opened her first recreational dispensary, 1st Quality Medz, in River Rouge in June of 2018. She came upon the cannabis business after suffering a debilitating illness and finding relief with medicinal cannabis.
Stephens, along with other dispensary owners in the state, had to get creative in positioning herself in the wild wild west of cannabis, where she said she is “still in competition with outlaws.”
Stephens knows what it’s like to be the only Black woman or even the only woman in the room, and she understands what her voice means to other Black women in the state who have dreams of building a business in cannabis. She makes time to help those women and believes that there is enough wealth to go around.
These days, Stephens is a sought-after voice by Lansing’s decision makers, who seek her advice on issues including licensing and regulatory matters.
“They listen to me,” said Stephens. She and her partners are now in the process of opening a new processing center and launching community programs to teach others how to get into the cannabis business.