On a recent Thursday evening in downtown Manhattan, nearly 50 women and a few men, ranging from millennials to baby boomers, gathered in a sleek co-working space to talk about weed.
Each month, a different group of enterprising women gives a presentation at Women Grow, a national organization founded in Denver in 2014 that connects, educates, and empowers women in the cannabis industry. Before and after the feature presentation, women have a chance to network with other aspiring entrepreneurs or industry veterans, fostering connections that may help with their own canna-businesses.
The group at the most recent meeting included lawyers, nurse practitioners and an edibles chef, and the presenting company was AnnaBís, a New York-based line of luxury accessories to help women keep their medicinal cannabis products safe, secure, odor-contained, and separate from everything else in their purse.
Beside a projector screen, a table was set up with various handbags, cut from luxurious Italian leather and designed to be smell-proof. A group of women sipping champagne and munching on finger foods huddled around the table, mingling before the night’s formal programming began. “These bags have been to bar mitzvahs, weddings, and they’ve even been to a wake, I hate to tell ya,” one of the AnnaBís designers told the group, as she demonstrated with a sample bag. Some of the bags, which can cost in the triple digits, have secret compartments where women can keep their stash.
It’s an unexpected community of women involved in the cannabis industry as leaders or consumers, says Jeanine Moss, cofounder of AnnaBís. “We don’t even like to call ourselves ‘stoners,’” says Moss, “These are smart, professional, career-oriented women. They’re a little bit more Prada than they are tye-dye.” According to a Pew Research survey, 21 million American women over the age of 18 who earn $75,000 or more per year have tried cannabis. Women shouldn’t feel like criminals because they use cannabis, says Moss — that’s where the discreet and stylish AnnaBís product line comes in. “We feel like it’s really important that this new legal cannabis culture be created where the stigmas don’t exist,” she says.
It may come as a surprise that New York — where the yet-to-be-enacted medical marijuana program has received heavy criticism for being too restrictive — is one of just three U.S. cities where Women Grow has set up offices. While bureaus in Colorado and California may be obvious, the presence of Women Grow in New York indicates growing promise for women entering the state’s nascent cannabis industry.
“I’m seeing a lot of female entrepreneurs,” says Melissa Meyer, chair of New York’s Women Grow chapter and founder of the patients advocacy company HealthMJ. “And they’re coming from sophisticated professions like law, finance, media, and tech.”
“I think here in New York, you’re seeing fewer opportunities to touch the plant, but a lot of opportunities in terms of being able to recruit talent,” Meyer says. “You want to be doing an ancillary business unless you got one of the five dispensary licenses.” Because New York is less congested than other states when it comes to cannabis and startups, it’s a fantastic place to start a canna-business, she adds, because, “You’re a big fish in a little pond.”
Lauren Miele, cofounder of KushKards — a company that designs greeting cards with space to attach a pre-rolled, er, gift — says New York is a city with a lot of buzz in the cannabis industry.
“We’re crushing it here in New York, the inner circle is building,” she says “We don’t have to be in Colorado.”
In New York, entrepreneurs are creating an entire cannabis industry from scratch, says Jazmin Hupp, CEO and founder of Women Grow. And unlike many sectors of the economy, it lacks a cluster of several entrenched leaders, leaving more space for women to get involved without already built-in glass ceilings. “Women are going to be powerful consumers in this final equation and teams led by women are going to be the most successful in the long term,” says Hupp. She says women tend to be the primary buyers of cannabis and hemp products. They often make medical decisions for their families and are the leading purchasers of yoga, acupuncture, organic foods, spa treatments and other “wellness” products — including cannabis.
Among the five winning companies licensed to grow and sell medical marijuana in New York is Etain LLC, led by Amy Peckham and her daughters Hillary and Keeley. “Everyone underestimated them,” says Hupp, who serves on Etain’s board of directors. “I think the punishment of being a woman and doing the job well is that people underestimate you coming in [so] you have to be better than anyone else, otherwise they’ll discount you.”