Bikini-Babes and Gangster-Molls: Why canna-culture needs to drop prohibition-era stereotypes and listen to women.
As Canna-business booms in the U.S., more women are emerging as industry leaders – and as an economic force to be reckoned with and marketed to.
In 2010, then 24-year old Viskovich was working for a company that managed dental clinics on military bases in southern California. One night, a semi-truck sideswiped her car, driving her off a 60-foot cliff. The impact from the crash compressed her spine and left her with chronic, debilitating pain.
Her treatment from allopathic doctors and physical therapists included a cocktail of pharmaceuticals – including oxycontin, valium, and anti-anxiety meds – and a very programmatic approach to her recovery.
“I felt like they were just going through the motions – not treating me as an individual. I thought: they have no idea what they’re doing.”
After several months, Viskovich decided to stop treatment and move back to Washington state where she was raised. Her brother, a medical cannabis farmer and patient, urged her to experiment with cannabis as medicine, and suggested they open a medical collective.
“At first I said, ‘No way in hell!’ People were still getting raided by the DEA in mass swoops. It seemed very high-risk. But you go through things – especially going over a cliff – and you realize you only have a little bit of time to do something valuable with your life.”
After doing extensive research on medical cannabis and access point law and culture, Viskovich became an advocate for medical cannabis and patients’ rights. In 2011 she opened Delta 9 at its first location in Lake City.
“There was so much room for improvement,” she notes. “I felt like the standards were so low compared to what I was used to in an actual medical practice.”
As a result, Vikovich began lab-testing all her products and devised a questionnaire for all her vendors. She wanted to be able to tell her patients exactly what was in their medicine.
“Once upon a time patients could only go to a dealer for their cannabis. So people go into the collectives thinking that’s the norm. And that shouldn’t be the norm; we have to educate people.”
Morgan K, president of the Washington chapter of the Marijuana Business Association (MJBA), has a similar desire to elevate and de-stigmatize cannabis in the growing recreational market. And she believes that women are uniquely positioned to do so.
“If you are a woman, have an entrepreneurial instinct, and want to be a leader– then now is the time,” she says.
Morgan, a born networker and business leader who speaks with the open, charismatic manner that evokes her younger, high-school self as president of the Future Business Leaders of America, was involved in both the medical and recreational cannabis industries before partnering with David Rheins to found the MJBA.
“He wanted to do this association and I expected a leadership role. I wasn’t going to be an assistant. I wanted to lead and knew I could do it.”
Despite her confidence, Morgan was told repeatedly that it might be difficult for her because she was a woman.
“It was intimidating because there were so many men in the industry. I was told to be careful or people would take advantage of me. So I joined NORML Women and Women of Weed and found women in the industry who were very cooperative.”
Inspired, she created the MJBA Women’s Alliance soon thereafter.
“We have over 250 women now in our organization – and the members come from a lot of different backgrounds. There are attorneys, growers, I-502 retailers and processors. Some who came with experience in cannabis, and some who didn’t.”
Before co-founding the MJBA, Morgan had an ancillary canna-business with a unique appeal for women:
“I started ‘Mary Jane by Morgan.’ It was the Mary Kay model: I would pack up a tote bag with topicals, brownies, and other products and arrange parties – like a Tupperware party, but with cannabis! I thought that would be a great way to sell it – do it in a home where you could feel safe, protected, and comfortable.”
Morgan’s home-centered approach to marketing is one example of the perspective women are bringing into the industry. And it’s one – according to Maddy Dychtwald, author of “Influence: How Women’s Soaring Economic Power Will Transform Our World for the Better” – would do well to consider.
According to Dychtwald’s research, women are the primary market for all products, responsible for 83% of all consumer purchases. Yet, overwhelmingly, women report they feel misunderstood by marketers.
“Getting to know your best customer – who may very well be a woman,” she advises, “Can give you a leg-up against your competition. That means gathering intelligence about women consumers and working tirelessly to meet their needs.”
The first few months of Colorado’s recreational boom generated more than $200 million in sales. Nationally, a 5-year projection of the cannabis market revenues lands at $10.2 billion. If those numbers are any indication of the future for Washington’s own canna-preneurs, then appealing to female consumers is a smart way to win a greater piece of the canna-pie.
It’s common sense: Women know how other women think and what will appeal to their desires and needs. And women-driven marketing has the potential to eradicate some of the stigma surrounding cannabis: The sight of a business woman in a Prada suit drawing on a pre-roll broadcasts a different image for cannabis than a soul-patched ‘stoner dude’ sharing a bong hit with a spray-tanned lass in a cannabis-leaf bikini. A female-owned cannabis venture that processes and crafts their products with environmentally friendly methods sends a different message to the general public than the novelty of ‘topless trimmers’ – and likely has more appeal to female consumers.
In addition, according to Dychtwald’s research, women direct the buying choices of their husbands and families. They are granular in their approach to purchases: When a woman sends her significant other to the store for milk – she will request a particular brand.
Women are also transforming the industry by developing more sustainable business practices. Morgan calls it the “spirit of cooperation,” she finds in working with women. Her approach to leadership is about creating a space for other women to be successful – an approach she has found many women in the industry share.
“We applaud each others’ successes. And when one of us goes down, we pick them up. If you’re in a leadership position you need to be bold. The higher you get, the more hits you take. You have to be willing to take criticism and personal attacks – that’s what a leader does. But you also need support and community.”
Viskovich mirrors Morgan’s sentiment, but says that some of the competitive edge in the cannabis industry is a function of people having had to fight hard for years – at great personal risk – to make legislative and commercial in-roads.
“There are a lot of alpha personalities,” she says. “But the women are alpha as well; you have to be driven to do what we do.”
It’s hard to not be inspired by Viskovich’s radical embrace of the event that brought her to cannabis and what she’s done with it.
“You get a new life, you live it. You get a new body, you use it. I love what I do, and I’m grateful I’ve had the opportunity to do it.”
Morgan’s message is equally audacious: Canna-business is new territory. So ladies, go ahead and claim it.
And bring other women with you.