Pubdate: Sat, 18 Jun 2016
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2016 The Baltimore Sun Company
Author: Erin Cox


Female Entrepreneurs Aim to Lead in Medical Cannabis

The burgeoning sisterhood of Maryland's marijuana entrepreneurs 
gathered in the back room of a Columbia chain restaurant recently, 
swapping business ideas over chicken wings and cheese cubes.

Maryland's long-promised medical marijuana industry doesn't exist 
yet, and that's precisely why more than 60 women, mostly dressed like 
a PTA crowd, banded together there - to rise to the top before anyone 
gets in their way.

"How vital are women to the success of the cannabis business in 
Maryland? If you're asking, I probably don't want to talk to you," 
said Megan Rogers, a co-founder of the Baltimore chapter of Women 
Grow and an applicant to open a dispensary. "We're here to ensure 
that the cannabis industry has no glass ceiling."

As the state considers hundreds of pending medical marijuana 
licenses, the women gathered to network, celebrating the opportunity 
to create an industry from scratch.

Dozens of the organization's members have applied to grow marijuana 
or open dispensaries or processing businesses. Others plan to sell 
specialized marijuana containers, offer legal services, do product 
testing or provide event planning for women who secure a coveted license.

There is more collaboration than competition, the women say. There's 
no snatching of ideas or secretive cloaking of business plans, no 
assumptions that they need to get in line behind men to get ahead.

"We have an opportunity to take an industry, from the ground up, and 
insert women in the upper echelons," said Carissa Cartalemi, a 
co-founder of the group and a nurse who applied for a dispensary 
license with Rogers. "I do think there's something very feminine to 
that spirit of collaboration."

Women's marijuana business groups have grown by leaps and bounds as 
25 states across the country have legalized some form of medical 
marijuana, and four states and the District of Columbia have approved 
recreational cannabis.

Women Grow began in Denver two years ago and now includes more than 
45 chapters in the United States and Canada. Its conference in 
February attracted 1,300 people and was headlined by singer and 
marijuana activist Melissa Etheridge.

Women are much less likely to become entrepreneurs than men. In 
Maryland, women are half as likely as men to own their own 
businesses, according to the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurship, 
which tracks business activity across the country.

A survey released this month showed women hold 91 of the 630 board 
seats of Maryland companies that trade on one of the three stock 
exchanges - less than 14 percent of board seats and well under the 
national average.

Other new industries - including the booming tech field - have 
largely been dominated by men, who worked disproportionately in the 
academic fields that fed those industries.

But women in Maryland and across the country see a different 
landscape in the emerging cannabis industry, which was born out of 
the advocacy community that persuaded legislatures to legalize it.

"This is an industry that was led by a movement, by both women and 
men," said Giadha Aguirre DeCarcer, a former venture capitalist who 
launched a Washington-based cannabis market research company. 
DeCarcer is familiar with Women Grow but not active in the Baltimore chapter.

"There are no barriers to entry, but also no glass ceiling," said 
DeCarcer, CEO and founder of New Frontier Financials. "There hasn't 
been time for a good-ol'-boys club to develop. ... The culture is 
very different because it stems from a movement."

Jessica White, 48, runs a holistic health center in White Marsh and 
applied for five dispensary licenses - she can hold only one, but was 
trying to increase her chances of being selected from among the 811 
applications for just 94 licenses. She describes herself as a 
Pikesville Jew, and one of her applications is to launch a kosher dispensary.

"My market is 65-plus, chronic pain, not candidates for surgeries," 
White said. "We're talking little old church ladies."

White attends meetings of several other medical cannabis 
organizations, too, but said the vibe is different with the Women Grow crowd.

"In a lot of the other groups I'm friendly with, it's a bunch of old 
white guys," White Jessica White of White Marsh Health & Wellness, a 
holistic health center, chats with two other women during a Women 
Grow networking event in Columbia. White has applied for five medical 
marijuana dispensary licenses in hopes of receiving one of 94 
available in Maryland. said. "A lot of the men in the industry keep 
things to themselves. Here, it's, 'I'm Jessica. I want to open a 
dispensary. What about you?' "

Maryland was swamped with applications - 146 for just 15 growing 
licenses available, and 124 applications to process the drug. 
Officials said last month they plan to issue just 15 processing 
licenses to start.

The club invites men to its events. Last year, Josh Crossney started 
a nonprofit that organizes conferences on the scientific analysis of 
marijuana plants. He said women do not have access to capital or 
opportunity in many established industries, and participating in a 
new one with no road map for success is the perfect chance to shatter 
the way companies get built.

"Sure, there are women in high places in other industries," he said, 
"but they have scratched and clawed their way to the top."

In Maryland and elsewhere, the medical marijuana business is seen as 
a precursor to the lucrative recreational market, which recent 
estimates suggest will grow by 25 percent this year.

ArcView Market Research, which partners with DeCarcer's company, 
released a report in February estimating legal marijuana sales in the 
U.S. will hit $6.7 billion in 2016 and could reach $21.8 billion by 
2020. As Forbes magazine pointed out at the time, that's roughly as 
much annual revenue as the NFL hopes to generate by then.

Elkridge-based Cannaline sponsored a season's worth of Women Grow 
events, which allows its saleswoman, Carrie Kirk, to hand out free 
samples of the company's marijuana packaging options as attendees 
clink glasses of house wine.

Kirk worked for 17 years in pharmaceutical sales and management but 
now works along the East Coast selling Cannaline's marketing 
products, custom odor-proof bags and child-resistant packaging.

Even though more states east of the Mississippi are launching medical 
marijuana markets, she said, it's very tightly regulated and the 
industry here feels very different than that on the West Coast.

"We have to do things more conservatively here," she said. A Women 
Grow event allows her to reach a lot of potential customers in an 
industry that lacks access to traditional advertising.

In a back corner of the Women Grow event, former regulatory lawyer 
Leah Heise was holding court at the center of a ring two people deep, 
enthusiastically connecting people.

An illness that would have been more easily treated with medical 
marijuana than opioids took her out of the workforce for more than a 
decade, she said. Now that a surgery alleviated the underlying cause 
of her debilitating pain from chronic pancreatitis, she's rejoined 
the working world and fashioned a new career as a mentor and attorney 
for companies trying to navigate Maryland's newest industry.

She's president of Chesapeake Integrated Health Institute, and says 
Women Grow offers not only camaraderie but also a resource she can't 
find elsewhere.

"This is the only place where someone can come to learn anything. 
Anything!" she said.

She turned her attention to a woman who spent her career working at 
spas but was looking for a way into the medical marijuana industry. 
Heise enthusiastically took her card.

"Someone like her would be incredible as a dispensary manager," she 
said. "It's a whole new era, and the industry will be huge."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom