Pubdate: Mon, 30 Mar 2015
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2015 Hearst Communications Inc.
Author: Joe Garofoli


In a Russian Hill apartment, 17 women passed around cannabis-infused 
gluten-free vegan blueberry almond granola and rubbed marijuana-based 
topical cream into their shoulders.

The attendees - lawyers and chefs and nurses and tech executives 
among them - inhaled from vaporizers and erupted in laughter when a 
woman lauded the aphrodisiac wonders of "Sexx-pot," a new strain of 
Humboldt County -grown herb that she recently smoked with her husband.

For Amanda Conley, the host, it was "a Tupperware party for cannabis."

Part professional women's networking group, part social group for 
weed-loving women, part showcase for female entrepreneurs, last 
week's pot klatch stands on the leading edge of the cannabis 
movement. As Californians prepare to vote on legalizing weed as early 
as next year, the ladies are quietly hatching two plans: to help 
women have more power in an incredibly lucrative industry, and to 
break through what some are already calling that industry's "green 
ceiling." While women are being targeted with new products in the 
booming $2.7 billion marijuana market, many female weed entrepreneurs 
are frustrated that their voice is muted in a business that - much 
like those in the original Tupperware party era - is male-dominated.

Karyn Wagner, whose Humboldt collective created "Sexxpot," said 
dispensary buyers scoffed when she pitched them the strain aimed at 
the female libido with the marketing tagline, "the flowers she really wants."

"That's because all of the buyers at these dispensaries are men," 
Wagner said. "How do they know that there's no market for it? But we 
hear that all the time."

Ramona Green got similar shrugs from male buyers when she pitched 
them products from her Doc Green's Healing Collective line. The 
Berkeley company sells topical healing creams that combine strains of 
cannabis with shea butter lotion. Many women, she's found, want 
something that offers pain relief without the buzz. But that point is 
often lost.

Weed business

"They're like, 'Oh, it doesn't get you high?' " said Green, who has a 
master's degree in public health. "So they say, 'Well, then, I'm not 
interested in it.' "

It was stories like these that inspired Conley and her friends to 
create a group where women could connect over their professional, 
personal and health-related interests - all linked by cannabis. The 
group gathered at Conley's apartment included her mother, who 
recently rekindled her interest in cannabis, and two women in their 
20s, comparing notes on the men they met on High There, a dating app 
for weed-friendly singles.

They christened their group "Synchronicity Sisters."

Conley and her co-organizers -Shabnam Malek, Chelsey McKrill and 
Isamarie Perez - met a few months ago at a local meeting of Women 
Grow, a national network for women in the weed business. But they 
wanted to create a broader space for women to share more than 
business cards. They knew there would be some challenges.

Environment for women

"We have a lot to risk because of the roles we otherwise play in 
society, like in the home," Malek said.

At one of the group's first meetings, a woman shared how she had 
recently visited a dispensary and asked a young male budtender if he 
had any strains to help alleviate her perimenopausal symptoms. The 
budtender's jaw dropped - he could barely say the word.

"And then this woman working next to him nudged him and said, 'I got 
this,' " Conley recalled.

"It can be overwhelming for some women to go into a dispensary and 
see all of those products," said Malek, who along with Conley chairs 
the Bay Area chapter of Women Grow. "This is the environment where 
it's OK to ask those kind of questions."

Some men in the cannabis industry acknowledge that it isn't as 
female-friendly as it could be. Part of that is due to the legacy of 
the industry's "boobs and buds" imagery, in which women are largely 
seen as ornamental. But things are changing. At a January conference 
for high-net-worth investors looking to break into the cannabis 
market, Troy Dayton, cofounder of the pot industry analysis firm 
ArcView Group, surveyed the audience in a San Francisco ballroom and 
told them that "for the most part this crowd is about the whitest, 
male-est crowd in the world."

Shifting industry

Then, he made a plea for a shift. "I would just like to ask for your 
help in making ArcView and the industry not just another old boys' 
network," said Dayton, whose company was a sponsor of the event. "We 
have an opportunity to build a new kind of industry, and there's a 
lot of ways to do that, but it starts with ensuring that the women 
that are here today feel welcomed and treated as the pioneering 
businesspeople that they are so that more and more women join this 
industry and this industry looks like America."

One of those pioneers is Alison Ettel, who spent most of her career 
in finance and tech. A few years ago, she briefly lapsed into a coma 
after contracting viral meningitis while on vacation. For months, 
mainstream pharmaceutical drugs did little to help her recovery until 
her friends convinced her to try weed. It helped, and she became 
fascinated with the industry.

She quit her tech industry job a year ago to found SweetLeaf, which 
makes what it describes as "healthier options for medicating with 
cannabis" with products like vegan blueberry almond granola.

Learned from mistake

"And all of my products are GMO-free, too," said Ettel, an attendee 
at the San Francisco Tupperware party for pot. "I'm like the Martha 
Stewart of the cannabis industry."

Adding to Ettel's Martha image: She no longer consumes cannabis.

That combination, she admits, can make it hard when she's trying to 
secure a supplier in Humboldt County. "Everybody was like, 'Who are 
you? Are you with the feds?' "

Eventually, she found a supplier to help her produce the goodies. 
Though the women at the party raved about her offerings afterward, 
Ettel learned something for the next time she presents to a small group.

"I made a mistake. I shouldn't have handed out my samples when I'm 
speaking," she said and laughed. "They were very distracted."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom