This is the Billion-Dollar Industry Women and POC Should Break Into ASAP
“It’s a cigarette that makes you laugh.” That’s how my mother explained marijuana to me as a child. It was one of the tools grownups had that seemed to help loosen them up: wine would make them talk, rum would make them dance. It all made sense to me as a 10-year old—my tool was my Gameboy, and so went the construct in my head: If it makes you laugh, how could it be bad?
The conversation, of course, became more nuanced as I grew older, but marijuana is certainly having its moment right now: With the election last fall, eight states have officially legalized recreational marijuana, in addition to 20 states that have legalized it for medicinal use. In other words: Unless there is some drastic move made by the federal government, the metaphorical trains for recreational marijuana in this country are leaving the station quickly and often. And for good reason: a wide range of studies cite its medical benefits; it’s a safer mode of recreation than alcohol; and perhaps best of all, it has a larger mission for social justice: States where marijuana is regulated help reduce mass incarceration, teenage consumption and veteran opioid addiction.
It’s no surprise then, that cannabis is hiring. Marijuana is the fastest growing industry in the United States, ringing up $7.9 billion in sales last year, with projections to reach $20 billion by 2020. And as with any budding sector of business, they need people everywhere: tech, data, marketers, pharmacists, staffing companies, attorneys, chefs. In other words, now’s a good a time as any to start an empire, ladies.
Speaking of which, we’ve got some inspo for you: Meet Wanda James, owner of Simply Pure and the first Black woman to own a cannabis dispensary in Colorado (a fun aside: She also worked on President Obama’s 2008 campaign). She’s on a mission to get minorities into the Green Rush. Wanda got into the business after her brother was sentenced to 10 years in prison for being in possession of marijuana. “You can’t change the system from the outside; it’s easier to change it from the inside,” she told us. We talked with Wanda at SXSW a few weeks ago, where she was on a panel about the industry. Below, she weighs in on the ins and outs of the industry, and why now’s the perfect time for women and minorities to make their mark:
So, let’s rewind a little bit: The legalization of marijuana has the potential to reverse policies that have disproportionately affected the Black community; they are 3.73 times more likely to get arrested for possessing marijuana than white people. As a Black woman, and as someone with a brother who has gone through this, can you share any personal insight as to why this has been the case in the U.S.?
It’s less of a race issue than a class issue. Being in possession of cannabis won’t be punishable for anyone who looks like they can afford an attorney. It’s not worth the DA’s time to go through a whole court case for someone who can easily have it dropped. [But then] who occupies the lower [socio-economic] classes? Black and Brown people. Mass incarceration feeds for-profit prisons and marijuana is the easiest way to make their business thrive. Thanks to the legalization of cannabis, arrests have dropped [significantly]. It’s better, but it’s still ridiculous.
Why is getting women and minorities involved in cannabis important right now?
There’s a lack of people of color because it’s always made them nervous for those reasons [previously mentioned]. And there’s a lack of women because it’s not seen as the polite thing for a girl to do. That means white guys are the ones who will reap the benefits of a multi-billion dollar industry. Again. It’s 2017. It’s time for change. It’s time for women and people of color to take charge.
You’re also passionate about painting a positive image of marijuana. Why?
I want to break the stereotypes associated to cannabis smokers. It’s not for 21-year-old snowboarders, it’s not for thugs and gangs. Marijuana is for college-educated women who run businesses. It’s for moms in PTAs and grandmothers in church. It’s for young women graduating. There is is no demographic. It’s for all of these people. But it’s still stigmatized and seen as “weird.” I think it’s weird that people with kids will go to a happy hour and drive home. That’s weird to me.
How does the stigma of cannabis contrast with that of alcohol?
The reality of alcohol is not positive. It’s linked to binge drinking and people passing out, and [it is the drug most commonly associated with] rape. It’s linked to spousal abuse. It [accounts for one third] of all traffic deaths a year. There is so much negativity around alcohol, yet some people look at me as if I am spreading a plant that does harm. And my question is always, “When’s the last time a doctor prescribed vodka to a 6-year-old with brain cancer?” This plant just has so many amazing attributes that it’s time to get over ourselves and face the reality of what cannabis really does.
In addition to being a pioneer in cannabis, you helped get President Obama elected in 2008. What advice can you offer to ambitious young women out there looking to make their mark?
I always hear girls say, “They won’t give me the power. The older generation won’t leave it alone, they won’t step aside.” Nobody steps aside. Power is never given, power is taken. If you’re not prepared to take power, you’re not ready to be in power. If we want it, we don’t ask for it. We’re not polite about it. It’s like, you know what? Here’s what we’re doing, here’s how we’re doing it, and it belongs to us.
Any advice for breaking into cannabis?
Diane Czarkowski says it perfectly: “Don’t change careers, change industry.” Do what you love and do what you know. If you’re a marketing expert, start a marketing firm that helps cannabis. If you’re in recruiting, start a staffing company. Look at the auxiliary businesses—it’s not all about the dispensaries. There are opportunities everywhere.
Opportunities are everywhere, indeed; the cannabis industry is primed for harvest. Are your ready to break that grass ceiling?