Women are the biggest users of medical marijuana (MMJ). But on the professional side, the industry is still dominated by men. In this series, MedicateOH is talking with women in the industry about their roles, experiences, and predictions for the future of MMJ in Ohio. This week, we spoke with Wendy Johnson, Outreach Ambassador at the Ohio Cannabis Chamber of Commerce.
MedicateOH: What is the Ohio Cannabis Chamber of Commerce? When was it founded, what is its goal, and who are its members?
WJ: We’re Ohio’s B2B (business to business) industry association… founded 3 years ago. Our goal and our mission is to connect the Ohio cannabis community. Our members include law firms and insurance companies [as well as medical marijuana companies]… [We have] roughly 200 members.
MedicateOH: What are your responsibilities as Outreach Ambassador?
WJ: It is to do these kind of things (media interviews) as well as events… I’m kind of boots on the ground outreach at events. I follow up after events with all of the connections I’ve made and try to bring them into the chamber so we can get Ohio’s cannabis community linked up and thriving.
MedicateOH: What would you say is the percentage of women in the MMJ industry?
WJ: Twenty-five percent female.
MedicateOH: Why is that the case?
WJ: In Ohio, specifically, it’s more an out of state program at this point. Sixty seven percent of the licenses were from out of state… That itself reflects the national problem. There weren’t that many applicants in Ohio to make a big difference in that gap [and] not enough female applications… Forty percent of the women who are in cannabis are in administrative positions nationally. That doesn’t reflect Ohio.
MedicateOH: What would help increase the number of women in the MMJ industry?
WJ: Just like all the rest of the industries in the nation, we’re going to be talking about things like child care, maternity leave…
[Specific to our industry] educating women that there are a ton of opportunities in the cannabis industry. This is in its infancy… you can get in on the ground floor, even steven with the men.
[Historically], experience growing and cultivating cannabis on the black market was not a female thing, and selling those products on the black market was not a female thing… [Women entering the industry] have to not be afraid to jump into it like a man would… You have to go in and be willing to tap someone on the shoulder [and make sure you’re heard]… When you do that, you’ve got to be willing to take the blowback from that because you’re going to get called names… because we communicate differently, because we have to adapt, and they have to adapt to us.
“This is a female plant… the whole nature of cannabis is female, and mother, and nature, and taking care and compassion and empathy…. You gotta take that power from the plant.”
MedicateOH: How do you see Ohio’s regulation process affecting MMJ businesses?
WJ: It’s crippling them… The fact the the pharm board in Ohio, being one of the most powerful in the nation, if they don’t undo their grasp, they’re going to choke the growth… This is a medicine, a plant. We’ve been using it for thousands of years. We don’t need their instructions…
Use of a medicine should be between a doctor and a patient. They should be able to write a recommendation for any condition… It’s almost offensive to tell a physician, “You’re not allowed to write that for that.”
MedicateOH: What are one or two things you would like to see change to promote growth in the industry?
WJ: It would be to allow patients to home grow. First and foremost, before even home grow, I would like to see the state government entities–the commerce board, the medical board, and the pharm board–some of the 11 million dollars that they borrowed for the program, they need to go to educating [the public]. It’s estimated that 70% of the population of Ohio doesn’t even know we have a medical program.
MedicateOH: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
WJ: How important it is to build a community in your state when you get some legislation… build that base and make connections and know each other and recognize each other at these events… If we don’t start doing that, we keep holding our cards so close to our chest, [the MMJ industry is] not going to flourish.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The Ohio Cannabis Chamber of Commerce recently sponsored the Cincinnati Reef Conference on August 24th and will sponsor the Hemp Summit at Pickaway County Fairgrounds on September 28th. Learn more on the Chamber’s website: ohioccc.org.