Pubdate: Thu, 09 Jul 2015
Source: Press Democrat, The (Santa Rosa, CA)
Copyright: 2015 The Press Democrat
Author: Julie Johnson


With widespread anticipation that California voters could legalize 
recreational marijuana use for adults next year, a generation of 
women growers are poised to shed the term "activist" for "CEO."

About two dozen women working in the North Coast's flourishing 
medical cannabis industry will be rubbing elbows after business hours 
Thursday in downtown Santa Rosa during a launch party for a local 
chapter of Women Grow, a for-profit networking company.

The women say they aim to break through what some call the "green 
ceiling" of an industry traditionally run by men, with marketing 
heavily skewed toward able-bodied heterosexual males.

"It's been a male-dominant industry for 30 years, and in this last 
five years I don't feel alone as a woman in this industry," said 
Tawnie Logan, co-founder and executive director of the Sonoma County 
Growers Alliance.

Women Grow was launched last year by two women in Colorado, where 
voters legalized recreational marijuana use in 2012. Logan, who 
travels extensively as a garden consultant, has attended Women Grow 
meetings in Denver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Oakland "to 
keep an ear to the ground about how the culture is working with this 
budding industry."

"If it's a men's networking party, it's 'What can I get from you?' " 
Logan said. "At a women's networking party, it's 'Here's what I have 
to give.' "

Young, successful men in their 20s to 40s are a massive target market 
across most industries because of the group's expendable cash, Logan said.

Marijuana is no different.

At some popular marijuana conferences, organizers hold wet T-shirt 
contests and hire women to wear bikinis and hand out joints. A video 
made by High Times magazine gives a behind-the-scenes look at a 
bathing suit photo shoot featuring the 2015 Miss High Times 
contestants at a Jamaican beach.

In May, Sonoma County's largest dispensary, Organicann on Todd Road, 
hosted an event with edgy, tattooed porn star Skin Diamond, who has 
her own designer marijuana strain.

"There has been a lot of whistle-blowing over two years (related to) 
how we portray the industry," Logan said. " 'Breasts and buds' is fading."

The U.S. cannabis market was worth an estimated $2.7 billion in 2014, 
according to a "State of the Legal Marijuana Markets" report released 
earlier this year by the Oakland-based investment network and 
industry analyst ArcView Market Research.

California has the largest legal cannabis market in the United 
States, worth an estimated $1.3 billion, according to the group.

"This is an opportunity right now; it is the fastest-growing 
industry. It's moving so fast," said local yoga instructor Ilana 
Sochaczewski, who is starting the local Women Grow chapter. "So many 
people are coming (into the field), and patients are coming out publicly."

A relative newcomer to both Sonoma County and medical marijuana, 
Sochaczewski has been using cannabis-infused foods, aka edibles, to 
treat her chronic insomnia for about a year. Sochaczewski, who 
doesn't like to smoke, said she started making her own edibles when 
buying them became too expensive.

Sochaczewski now hopes to launch her own line of infused condiments in August.

Sochaczewski said she wanted to create a network of people she could 
call upon for business advice and opportunities as she tries to break 
into the field. She didn't find an existing group and decided to 
start the local Women Grow chapter.

"The natural products industry - you have such big players here in 
wine and beer," she said. "There is a lot of care and love in what we 
do, and that reflects our female constituency."

Women have been among the most outspoken advocates for medical 
cannabis in Sonoma County, starting with those who pushed boundaries 
and risked arrest for people's right to use marijuana for health ailments.

The history goes back decades and includes people like "Brownie 
Mary," born Mary Jane Rathbun, who in the 1980s baked hundreds of 
batches of marijuana-infused brownies at her Cazadero kitchen to 
deliver to AIDS patients.

Rathbun's highly publicized arrests for distributing the pot brownies 
is credited with building momentum for the 1996 state initiative that 
made growing and using marijuana with a doctor's permission legal 
under California law.

"Teachers and women have been very, very influential," said Kumari 
Sivadas, a founder of the Sonoma Alliance for Medical Marijuana, 
often called SAMM.

Sivadas and Mary Pat Jacobs were among a group of people who in 1997 
began meeting with top law enforcement officials in Sonoma County to 
demand medical marijuana regulations that they say make sense for 
patients. Many activists, including Sivadas, were caretakers for 
ailing partners.

"Women are leaders in the industry," said Sarah Schrader, who leads 
the Sonoma chapter of Americans For Safe Access, first formed about a 
dozen years ago.

Schrader said the start of a local Women Grow chapter is part of an 
overall infusion of energy into the medical marijuana movement, 
including a flurry of marijuana-related legislation under 
consideration in Sacramento.

Last month, the Sonoma County Growers Alliance held its first major 
event at the Sebastopol Grange for a discussion with growers, 
politicians and others in the field that hit on how the region can 
leverage its reputation for high-quality agriculture and develop 
political muscle in Sacramento.

On a list of 15 speakers, four were women.

"Thankfully we have strong voices coming forward," said Logan, the 
alliance director.

Women Grow groups typically meet on the first Thursday of each month. 
Since last year, the organization has expanded to about 30 cities, 
according to the company's website.

Thursday's networking event with speakers costs $30 at the door and 
will be held at ZDCA Design & Development, 751 Fourth St., Santa 
Rosa. Event sponsors can give a five-minute business pitch and hand 
out marketing materials.

At an information meeting held last month to gauge interest in 
starting a local chapter, Sochaczewski said she knew only two of 
about 20 people who showed up. They were small-time farmers, makers 
of edibles, a nurse, an avid gardener, an accountant, marketing professionals.

"I could not have even imagined the gamut of people," she said. "It's 
an unspoken family when women come together for a specific purpose."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom