Increasing Women’s Representation in Cannabis Will Help the Industry – and It May Save Lives

This year’s Climate and Society class is out in the field (or lab or office) completing a summer internship or thesis. They’ll be documenting their experiences one blog post at a time. Read on to see what they’re up to.

Joanne Norris, C+S ’17

How do you regulate workers’ rights in an illegal office? How do you enforce bodily autonomy, safety, and well-being when you’re not sure where a company operates or how many people they employ? How do you report crime in the workplace when there’s no HR department, and every police department within 100 miles is turning a blind eye?

Workplace sexual harassment still plagues American women, and is on the rise. Women in the cannabis industry, especially female “trimmigrants” working in the California “Emerald Triangle,” are subject to the extremes of workplace abuse, including sexual assault, trafficking, torture, and death.

(Source: Gavin White)

Legalizing cannabis has the potential to protect the industry’s women, especially the most vulnerable trimmigrants working in remote locations. Survivors of abuse in marijuana grows often feel they cannot come forward because they were engaging in illegal activity by working there. Even with legalization, the remoteness of many operations and the hands-off policy of law enforcement keep many workers in danger. Organizations such as Women Grow are working to increase female representation in cannabis to ensure safety and “redefine the workplace to create environments in which we can flourish and define our own destiny, and cultivate the next generation of industry leaders.”

This summer I completed an internship with Hawthorne Gardening Co., a subsidiary of Scotts Miracle-Gro dedicated to hydroponics and the supply side of commercial cannabis. I encountered Women Grow, along with businesses from every corner of the cannabis market, as I conducted research for the Corporate Development division of Hawthorne. I also represented the company at the Cannabis World Congress and Business Exposition in New York City, where I was able to see firsthand the underrepresentation of women in the industry. Take a look at the list of seminar speakers for the Indo Expo in Portland in August, an event similar to the one I attended in New York. Twenty-two of the 25 main speakers are men, 21 are white, and there are no women of color leading seminars at this event.

The cannabis industry is currently operating in a sweet spot between the agriculture and technology sectors. The legal market was worth  $6.7 billion in 2016, while the black market was worth an estimated $46.4 billion. An industry this large only a few years after its legal conception, with an assumed compound annual growth rate of 25 percent, is going to have a drastic impact on the U.S. economy in the coming years. Adding women to the industry will only boost this effect.

From left: Pooja, Owen, and Joanne at the Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo in June, 2017

According to Women Grow and the majority of Americans, marijuana legalization is inevitable. The stats back up the speculation: 26 states and the District of Columbia have legalized weed in some form as of March 2017. These state actions mark a significant step away from the strict regulations of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 which made marijuana use and sales illegal, and the Controlled Substances Act in 1971 which classified weed as a Schedule I drug, putting in a category among the most dangerous substances.

The cannabis industry and its businesses, particularly the ones that preach sustainability with hydroponic technology and eco-friendly products, have a responsibility to their consumers to promote sustainable employment practices as well.

Increasing representation for women, particularly women of color, at executive levels in cannabis companies would strengthen an important angle to the legalization debate. Women working agricultural jobs are not protected the way they should be, due to the legal gray area and the apprehension of law enforcement to get involved. Federal legalization would force all cannabis grow operations to legitimize their practices and adhere to workers’ rights regulations. Women at the top of the industry, closer to the legal action, can redouble efforts to ensure the safety of women who can’t advocate for themselves.

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