International Women’s Day: 8 Cannabis Founders Pressing For Progress

Deb Tharp | March 8, 2018 | Leave a Comment


Cannabis mirrors humankind in some very interesting and magical ways. It cuts to the heart of the delicate balance between yin and yang. Our masculine and feminine energies conflict and complement each other to drive our growth and transformation as a species. The same is true for male and female cannabis plants conflicting and complementing each other to provide for our needs.


Male plants provide pollen for producing nutritious hemp seeds while female plants are valued for the buds that nurture our minds. In other words, male plants provide food for the body, but female plants provide nourishment for our souls. We can take so many lessons from this plant, but one of our favorite is its call to celebrate the mystical and divine feminine nature.


There’s simply no denying the feminine spirit of the plant. So it should be no surprise that the cannabis industry has managed to draw the best female minds and creative forces to its budding businesses. Everywhere we look, we see women bringing their immense passion and fighting spirit to legalize a plant that should be considered sacred, not scorned.


In celebration of the women who influence our industry, we have interviewed those who provide us with inspiration daily. We hope you’ll find them inspirational too.


The badass women you'll meet in this post:

[Click any of the section titles below to jump there]


Maya Elisabeth

Founder, Om Edibles; founder, Whoopi & Maya

The amazing thing about cannabis is that she doesn’t discriminate.


Nugg: What have been some of your proudest moments/wins for women in the industry?


Elisabeth: We have received countless detailed testimonials of women telling us about the relief they have found from our products. A lot of women have searched for relief their whole life and have not been able to find it even with heavy pharmaceuticals. Our Relax tincture has improved women’s overall menstrual cycle if it is taken every day – it’s a real game changer. As for Om, every time we win an award women come up to us and tell us that we are an inspiration and it makes us feel really good. Victory feels good in general but it feels especially sweet when you hear the feedback that you are inspiring others – especially women.


Nugg: Is there a time in your cannabis career that you feel being a woman created a bias against you?


Elisabeth: Probably all over the place but I don’t care. I love being underestimated! I choose to focus on thriving and women supporting each other. For the most part men have really been more supportive than anything.


Nugg: What implications does a woman-led cannabis industry have for gender parity in other industries?


Elisabeth: I hope it will lead the example for other industries and show people that it’s possible. I hope to see females step to the forefront in many other industries as well, or at least be equal. That’s something they say about matriarchal societies – there is no leader; everyone is equal and the community is led by everybody. I love that idea! The amazing thing about cannabis is that she doesn’t discriminate.


Jane West

CEO, Jane West; founder, Women Grow; founder, Edible Events

It’s about launching a revolution of female-led companies all across the cannabis industry.


Nugg: What role will women play in erasing the stigma against cannabis?


West: Women are incredibly well positioned to help lead the cannabis revolution. As people see successful business women, stay-at-home moms, working mothers, and even grandmothers adopt cannabis into their healthy, busy, and successful lifestyles, they’ll challenge the lingering stigmas around cannabis useWomen all over the country are also helping to launch credible, sustainable cannabis companies, showing the world that through responsible stewardship, the cannabis industry can be a lasting force for good.


Nugg: What have been some of your proudest moments/wins for women in the industry?


West: My team and I built the Jane West lifestyle brand on the belief that women and others who have traditionally been underrepresented in corporate culture should have a seat at the table in the cannabis industry, as well as have a stake in our success. Now, through Republic, anyone can own a part of our company, and help shape our future, with an investment of as little as $25. That’s the sort of ground-breaking approach that can really help level the playing field for women everywhere.


Nugg: Is there a specific moment in your cannabis career that you feel being a woman created a bias against you? How did you push forward and overcome?


West: There were plenty of times during our initial fundraising round when I wondered if it would have been easier for me to raise capital if I were a man. After all, while 38 percent of all businesses are owned by women, only 2 percent of venture capital funding currently goes to female-owned companies. Of course, disparities like that just inspire me and my team to work harder than ever to reach our goals, not just for the success of our own company, but for the sake of female entrepreneurs everywhere.


Nugg: What implications does a woman-led cannabis industry have for gender parity in other industries?


West: I truly hope that women in other fields will be inspired by the incredible wealth of companies being launched and operated by women in the cannabis space. Because this is a nascent industry, it’s surely easier for women entrepreneurs to gain a foothold in cannabis than it is in established businesses. But that doesn’t mean women shouldn’t fight for positions of power and authority, no matter their trade. From an even bigger-picture approach, I hope that the women who are staking their claim in the cannabis industry and building it into a legitimate, powerful sector of the economy will challenge established views of women in the workplace and ultimately cause the old patriarchal paradigm to shift towards an equitable corporate culture.


How is Women Grow/Jane West products helping to create a landscape where young women can win in the cannabis industry, long-term, and how can young women get involved with your efforts?


West: I hope young women will take inspiration from our ambition and launch their own businesses, build their own teams of incredible women, and find out for themselves how much is possible when they focus on their dreams. This isn’t just about one female-led company making it big. It’s about launching a revolution of female-led companies all across the cannabis industry.


Jodie Emery

Cannabis Rights Activist

We have to be inspiring and optimistic in order to help make things better.


Nugg: It was exactly a year ago that your arrest happened on International Women’s Day. You serve as a beacon in the cannabis industry because you’re such a strong female character and you fight so hard for cannabis rights. Do you have anything to say about the significance of International Women’s Day in the cannabis industry?


Emery: There’s some horrific stories about how the drug war’s been used to perpetuate sexual violence against women; sexual violence by the state. I definitely was traumatized by the strip searching that went on. When we got to the maximum security prison and they needed to do another strip search and I said,  “So, top first and then bottom?” and she said, “No, everything all at once, squat and cough.” And it’s just so extra degrading. And then I find out that our Canadian courts have said strip searches are unconstitutional.


Afterward, I asked my lawyer, “You know when they tell you to take off your clothes, what if you said no?” And he said, “Well you can’t really say no. You are in their control.” So that’s a very traumatic thing to realize. It’s sexual assault at the hands of the government. So, in my life I’ve been through sexual assault, as many women have. And I deal with that. This happens to almost everybody who gets arrested for cannabis dispensaries or even low level crimes. It deprives women of their liberty. For me, it being International Women’s Day and going through that, there is this kind of sick irony to it, especially with the full year of #MeToo.


Nugg: Looking back, do you regret anything?


Emery: No I don’t regret it. We helped provide access to tens of thousands of people. We really helped save lives literally, as all cannabis providers do. There’s an opioid crisis happening across North America and we know that cannabis dispensaries reduce opioid deaths and people literally came in saying it saved their lives. I also use cannabis personally for depression and anxiety.


I’ve been through a lot in my life. I lost my father to suicide, I’ve been through all sorts of horrific things. But I am a strong and tough woman. So, cannabis helps me cope. We have to be inspiring and optimistic in order to help make things better.


Nugg: What’s next?


Emery: The next step is get legal, have retail stores, lounges – you need consumption spaces. I want cannabis culture to be legal in that way. And then I want to work with hemp because I am a green environmentalist at heart. But politically, calling for a moratorium on arrests. They could have stopped the arrests immediately but they’re not. I also need to work on amnesty for all records. The gov’t will be pressured into getting rid of records for simple possessions. That will probably happen in a year or two.


Aliza Sherman & Ashley Kingsley

Co-Founders of Ellementa



Nugg: Can you speak about about how Ellementa came to be/what your driving motivations were?


Sherman: Ellementa came out of a personal need for pain relief and chronic insomnia. I was suffering from arthritis in my neck from years of tech use and my sleep was interrupted from peri-menopause. The quality of my life was dwindling from lack of sleep and pain. Once I tried it before bedtime – I live in Alaska where it is legal – realized it was the natural remedy I was seeking. When I slept through the night for the first time in several years, I cried from relief. Then I set out to make sure other women who were suffering in silence were getting the information they needed to help and heal.


Nugg: Tell us a bit about Ellementa gatherings. How can women get involved in future gatherings?


Sherman: Our gatherings are small by design – average attendance is about 20 women although some markets bring in 30 or 40. We try to branch off into additional gatherings in any given area to keep them intimate so they are not intimidating to newcomers. Women are moved by the candid stories told by our experts or by other women in the room. We showcase brands through “show and tell” – we always lead with education before sales.


Nugg: Do you feel there is gender parity in the cannabis industry, or do we still have a long way to go? How will we carry these lessons forward towards racial parity in cannabis?


Sherman: Decriminalizing and legalizing cannabis nationwide will hopefully address some of these inequities and wrongs but it is a much more complex undertaking than simply changing laws. Expecting any industry, including cannabis, to completely transform societal biases is quite a heavy load. But if we have a chance to ensure that the cannabis industry is about inclusion and equality, we have to keep that top of mind in everything we do. Women are the change in cannabis. We want to see diversity and representation for all.


Nugg: How is the cannabis movement better as a sum of its parts? Why is it important for women to come together in the cannabis industry instead of battling for first place?


Kingsley: I truly believe we must lift each other up and build the cannabis industry together and support one another. There are an unlimited amount of opportunities to innovate and create – and together, we are better. We don’t have to do this alone and it does not need to be a race or a competition. Women are natural collaborators – and with collaboration comes amazing partnerships, strategies, unique and collective ideas. Our industry needs every single last one of us in order to grow and move cannabis to the mainstream. I think it is so important to always honor the plant first – without her, we wouldn’t be here.


Ophelia Chong

Photographer & Founder, Stock Pot Images

Photography has changed public opinions from wars, to how people see a celebrity.


Nugg: What have been some of your proudest moments/wins for women in the industry?


Chong: Everyday I see people move a step closer to their goals and I applaud them all. If I had the pick one instance it would be seeing Cat Packer take on the arduous job of Chief Executive of Cannabis for the city of Los Angeles. The goal is to bring equality to a white male dominant industry.


Nugg: What challenges lie ahead for women in cannabis?


Our challenge will be not resting on our laurels. Rather we should be constantly moving forward and be open to reinventing ourselves.


Nugg: Where do you see the synergy of art + cannabis taking our culture in the future? How has it gotten us to where we are today?


Chong: Art is based on theory and thesis, not on a substance. Cannabis is a stimulant and it also relaxes. Art is from the mind and heart and whatever you use to stimulate both is where it began, but it is not the end product.


Molly Peckler

Founder, Highly Devoted (cannabis matchmaking)

Women are just being more bold and they’re not taking “no” for an answer.


Nugg: How did your cannabis matchmaking service Highly Devoted come to be?


Peckler: I was a mainstream matchmaker for several years. That’s where I really started to become familiar with helping people find love, and that’s where I first started tapping into my coaching abilities. I have a degree in psychology – I’ve always been very curious about people and what makes them tick, what their motivations are. And I’ve always just been a coach to all of the people in my life when it came to relationships, so it came very naturally to me. But I was curious about getting into the cannabis industry because it’s been a huge passion of mine as well. I left mainstream matchmaking to take a gig at a cannabis consulting firm.


Nugg: Why is cannabis such a good connector for matchmaking?


Peckler: First and foremost, if cannabis is an important part of your life, it’s a lifestyle, it’s a perspective, it really goes to your core and who you are. And so to be able to be with  someone who gets that, and respects that, and doesn’t judge you for that, and can even connect with you on that same level is really powerful. It’s also a great tool for anchoring yourself in the current moment and really being there in the here and now with your partner. I feel like it lets your walls come down. It always makes my ego go on the back burner. I’m a better listener. I always feel like I’m the best version of myself when I use cannabis.


Nugg: What are some other ways you see women winning it in the industry, and why do you think it’s important for women to have a strong hand in the progression of the cannabis movement?


Peckler: Women are just being more bold and they’re not taking “no” for an answer. It’s still completely lopsided when it comes to investment and a whole host of aspects of the industry, but I think women are getting a lot of attention in media and that’s really powerful. Really becoming authorities and experts in the industry. Every single day I’m excited to wake up and see what I can do and how far I can go. If I was a man in this industry I would have had it easier in some ways, but I wouldn’t trade this for anything. I love the opportunity I have and the niche that I’ve carved out specifically. And I don’t think I could have done that if I was a man.

Kandice Hawes-Lopez

Executive Director, Orange County NORML

Women have been behind most of the historic changes in social and political policy.


Nugg: What have been some of your proudest moments/wins for women in the industry?


Hawes-Lopez: For me personally, I feel the city of Santa Ana underestimated me as a young woman in the industry. After lobbying the city and getting no action regarding the regulation of medical cannabis dispensaries, I co-authored and organized the campaign that collected over 10,000 signatures and qualified for the ballot. I was very proud because I was able to organize 20 male-led collectives in this effort and force the city into action.


Nugg: What role will women play in erasing the stigma against cannabis?


Hawes-Lopez: Women have been behind most of the historic changes in social and political policy. It’s women’s compassion, caring and nurturing qualities that put us in the line of fire for others. As women change their views on issues like cannabis, these new views are passed down to the children they raise, and family they care for.


Nugg: What implications does a woman-led cannabis industry have for gender parity in other industries?


Hawes-Lopez: I think we need to see more large cannabis companies run by women. If society sees wives and mothers in the cannabis industry I think it will help remove the stigma and normalize the industry. I hope having more women-led cannabis businesses will help gender parity in other industries. If society sees women making great strides in complicated industries, it will encourage other industries to not discount our abilities.


As women, we all have a vested interest in the future of the cannabis industry. It will eventually affect every other business industry in the world. So, we are in this together, and we will rise together. If you would like to show your support, Nugg is donating the proceeds of our International Women’s Day celebration T-Shirts to support women entrepreneurs in cannabis.


Visit to learn more and get involved. 


About Deb Tharp

Deb Tharp is a cannabis activist, consultant, and writer. She began her cannabis activism at the age of 18, helping local candidates campaign door-to-door in the Midwest. Little did she know that the plant would save her husband's life a decade later. After watching him recover 60 pounds to his skeletal frame in a matter of months, she was convinced that the war on weed must end. She ran for State Assembly in 2010 while completing her bachelor's degree at University of California, Irvine. During her campaign, she managed to bring cannabis legalization to the forefront of the debate. Little more than a year later, she was publicly arrested while gathering signatures for a cannabis ballot initiative in Orange County. She fired back at the county by qualifying Measure CC in Santa Ana under Kandice Hawes' of OC Norml’s expert leadership. In the following years, she authored, qualified and helped to qualify over a dozen local legalization ballot initiatives across the state while teaching other activists how to do the same. She currently writes for Nugg, the nation's largest online cannabis marketplace, while pursuing her law degree at Taft Law School and will graduate in 2021.

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