Women and cannabis go hand in hand. It’s the female cannabis plant that produces the flower and buds. The female cannabis plant full of cannabinoids that brings rest, relaxation, appetite, and pain relief to millions of people.
But women’s roles in cannabis extends far beyond the composition of the plant itself. In fact, we have many women to thank for access to cannabis. Women have been growers of cannabis (often secretly), have been key players in the advocacy for its use, and have lead research that’s discovered how the plant works in our bodies.
Throughout history, and despite much controversy, women have pioneered techniques, knowledge, and user experiences that have bloomed into the cannabis industry as we know it today. We have many women to thank, including these 5 transformative women in cannabis.
Honoring Women Cannabis industry pioneers
- Wanda L. James – Combining “pot and politics,” Navy Veteran and Former Financial Advisor to President Obama, James is the first Black Woman to own a legal dispensary in the United States. In 2022, she remains the only Black Woman to own a dispensary in Denver, Colorado, where her dispensary Simply Pure is located. Simply Pure began as a health-conscious (vegan, GF, organic) edible alternative to what was available in the cannabis market in 2010. Last summer, James was named by AdWeek as one of the top 35 inspirational women trailblazers. In November, she began her campaign to run for the Congressional District 1 regent seat for the University of Colorado.
- Allyn Howlett – In 1988, Biochemical Neuropharmacologist Allyn Howlett discovered the CB1 receptor. This receptor mediates the effects of cannabinoid binding in the brain. This development revolutionized the perspective of how cannabis works in our bodies. Her discoveries paved the way for emerging cannabinoid medicines that safely and strategically treat symptoms. This work continues today at the Wake Forest University Medical Center in North Carolina – which could legalize medical marijuana this year.
- Mary Pryor – Co-Founder of CannaClusive, Pryor is a forthright social justice advocate in the cannabis industry. Pryor helped launch the organization after observing a lack of inclusivity and resources for people of color in the industry. Pryor and her team have developed a number of resources to improve equity in the industry, including an Accountability List, social advocacy, a POC-owned business database, a stock photo collection, newsletters, curated social experiences, and more. In addition to her advocacy, Pryor is also the Chief Marketing Officer for Tonic CBD and Tricolla Farms. Check out CannaClusive’s open letter to the cannabis industry here.
- Mary Jane “Brownie Mary” Rathbun – What started as a side hustle later became one of the most pivotal aspects of medical cannabis in California in the 1980s. Mary Jane, lovingly called “Brownie Mary” started selling her infused brownies as a way to make ends meet and support her family. After unknowingly selling her goods to an undercover cop, she was ordered to community service which connected her to terminally ill patients. Modern medicine had shunned the queer community, which at the time was experiencing the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Her brownies came to the rescue, increasing appetites and relieving pain for these and also cancer patients. People took note. Her MMJ advocacy played a huge role in California’s legalization in the early 1990s.
- Jane West – Known as “the Martha Stewart of Cannabis”, West is an activist, CEO, and community-builder. She’s best known for developing the women-focused networking organization Women Grow in 2014. Her path began after being fired from CNBC for holding a vape pen at a “weed party” she hosted. Shortly after, she developed her brand Jane West which retails CBD products, pipes, and other smoking accessories. Since then, she’s become outspoken and deeply passionate about the cannabis industry speaking on corporate greed, social media blackout, and opportunities for women.
The next time you crack open a can of CBD seltzer or load up your dab tool, give thanks to the women who pioneered the products, research, and tools to make your medicating possible.
Women in Cannabis In Ohio
Since its inception, Ohio’s Medical Marijuana Control Program has been guided and impacted by women from all walks of life. Journalists, budtenders, doctors, patients, advocates, and mothers have furthered advocacy to bring more access to Ohioans who can be helped by cannabis. As the MMJ program in Ohio continues to grow, working to change policy has been an area where women have worked tirelessly. The slow process to expand qualifying conditions has left some Ohio women to take it to the state’s congress to have their voices heard.
The unwavering commitment to patient care and compassionate alternatives to addictive, symptom-heavy pharmaceuticals fuels the passion of the women of cannabis advocacy in Ohio. The MedicateOH staff (made up of mostly women ourselves) witness every day how influential women are and can be in this industry. We have so many women to thank for cannabis progress in the state. Here’s just a few:
Honoring A Few of Ohio’s “Canna Women”
- Mary Jane Borden – Writer, activist, and co-founder of the Ohio Rights Group, Borden’s work is woven into the very fabric of Ohio cannabis. In 2010, she founded Ohio Rights Group, a 501(c)(4) non-partisan organization that advocates for the rights of Ohioans to make medical, therapeutic, and industrial use of cannabis. Her thorough reporting of cannabis at the Columbus Free Press (pen name “Mary Jane’s Guide”) for more than 20 years has kept Ohioans informed on developments in the cannabis industry. You can read Mary Jane’s Guide each month at MedicateOH.
- Tiffany Carwile – Since 2017, Autism Alliance of Ohio president Tiffany Carwile has championed the fight for medical cannabis for autism patients in Ohio. Years of work, research, reporting, phone calls, emails, meetings, and advocacy never got in the way of her mission. After being rejected from the state medical board numerous times, Carwile teamed up with Representatives Juanita Brent and Bill Seitz to introduce House Bill 60, “Jaxsyn’s Bill” after Carwile’s son, Jaxsyn, who treats autism with MMJ. This legislation authorized the legal use of cannabis for autism. On Mar 2, 2022HB60 passed with 73 yes votes, 13 no’s, and 12 non-votes. It will move on to the Senate next. Read more about Tiffany’s story at MedicateOH.
- Ally Reaves – Founder and President of Midwest CannaWomen. Reaves brings two important parts of the conversation to heed in her work: representation and reform. In September, Reaves became the State Director in Ohio for Minitories for Medical Marijuana. Most recently, Reaves co-hosted with partner Nickole Ross of Noohra Labs, the first Ohio All-Star Statewide Career Fair and Expungement Clinic on February 16th in Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, and Cincinnati. This event was recognized by the House of Representatives at the 134th General Assembly for its impact on empowering minorities and women in cannabis. Read more about Midwest CannaWomen’s recent events here and here.
- Wendy Johnson – Activist, educator, organizer, and philanthropist Wendy Johnson has been a vital part of Ohio’s cannabis legalization. In addition to working alongside policymakers to reform drug laws in Ohio, Johnson co-owns Cannabis Safety First with her husband Tim. This all-inclusive safety company secures the cannabis and hemp industry from vaults to business development to accredited training programs. Her positive, upbeat attitude never fails to inspire and we can be sure to see Johnson at the next cannabis event in Ohio promoting equity, inclusivity, and opportunities for all. Read more about Wendy from our Women Making Weed Work in Ohio series and this piece she contributed to last year on Breast Cancer.
- Rep. Juanita Brent – Member of the Ohio House of Representatives from the 12th district since 2019, Brent has been a revolutionary part of Ohio’s MMJ program. Since she took office in 2019, Brent has worked to decriminalize cannabis and expand access for Autism in Ohio. In a bi-partisan effort, Brent sponsored HB60, which seeks to do just that. Her passion for keeping cannabis-using families in Ohio has presented a more compassionate approach to legislature. Additionally, Brent has worked to amend cannabis-based offenses allowing convicted Ohioans to expunge their records. Her hard work continues to impact the lives of Ohioans beyond her home district in Cleveland.R
The next time you attend an event, read an article or visit a dispensary, remember to thank those who put forth all their efforts to make that possible. Read about more women pioneers in the cannabis industry we’re celebrating this and every month.
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