Why Women Grow wants to nurture women in weed
In this challenging political climate, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to decipher whether the nascent cannabis business is really the next big American industry or merely a wishful pipe dream. In that ongoing debate, the goal for believers is to create a more inclusive, ethnically diverse, and socially responsible space that focuses on profit and intent equally.
Enter Women Grow, an organization founded in 2014 by cannabis advocate Jane West in Denver, Colorado, that now has chapters nationwide and throughout Canada. In essence, Women Grow is focused on female leadership in the cannabis industry; it’s a platform for connecting seasoned stalwarts and new entrepreneurs to help them grow together professionally, together. “It’s about building women,” said Tanya Osborne, Market Leader for the New York chapter. “I would say we have one of the most diverse mixes of participants I’ve seen in a long time right now,” she continued. “People have commented about the diversity and I’m really happy about it. We’re just a great resource for women in cannabis.”
Now 45, Dori Edwards, Market Leader of Ann Arbor, has been a cannabis advocate since her 20s. “Women Grow gives us a collective voice with validity,” she said. “And it provides a safe and welcoming space.”
The organization holds networking meetings across some 45 cities (in the U.S. and Canada), usually the first Thursday of each month, featuring a panel with industry leaders addressing various topics related to cannabis.including summits, educational events, and social gatherings.
The popular annual February Summit in Denver is an impressive get-together where thousands of cannabis believers connect, exchange ideas, and learn how to advance professionally. To date, more than 30,000 people attend Women Grow meetings and the annual Summit. “I see Women Grow as not just national, I see it as global,” said Amy Berliner, Los Angeles Market Leader “As Maya Angelou said, ‘It takes a village....’ We have to integrate that ideology.”
With twenty years of experiential event production, and a Masters in Social Work and Global and Community Outreach, Jane West, the woman behind it all, was originally a corporate event planner by trade. And in 2013, almost by accident, she began throwing her own Denver-based, cannabis-friendly monthly events. In 2014, her breakthrough groundbreaking collaboration between the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and the cannabis sector made international headline news. That same year, CNBC aired a segment where she openly identified as a cannabis consumer. She was consequently fired from her job.
Today the 41-year-old serves as CEO of Jane West, her cannabis lifestyle brand. I spoke to her about her move to the pot industry, her first interaction with the S.W.A.T. team, and why she founded Women Grow.
How did you get professionally involved in the cannabis space?
I’ve always been a cannabis consumer since my early 20s. I’ve never been ashamed of it. I went to dinner with a friend one night and she had some edibles, so we took them and had so much fun. I woke up the next morning not feeling hung over and just feeling great. I don’t drink that often but it’s amazing when you realize how prevalent alcohol is in our society. I vastly prefer my demeanor using cannabis instead of alcohol for recreation. I decided to start an events company, Edible Events, where once a month I held a cannabis-friendly event. It’s notable that I didn’t know a single person that worked in the marijuana industry just a little over four years ago, when I started Edible Events and my company, Jane West. Some people are like, ‘She’s been around forever.” I’m like, ‘No, not really.’
Why did you initially see the need for Women Grow?
At the end of the day, marijuana legalization is a local issue. You have to be part of that from the beginning and know your regulators and your community; it’s about building a local community and welcoming diversity – all races, religions, and sexes were welcome. So that was the original idea for Women Grow.
And then I met my business partner, Jazmin Hupp, who was previously with Women 2.0, which became my model for Women Grow. Its focus is to get more women involved in the tech industry and start-ups. I scheduled the very first Women Grow event for August 14, 2014, and 80 people came and that got press. While I was launching Women Grow, my Edible Events was this whole other side story because the city basically shut them down. They sent a S.W.A.T. team to my Wakin Bakin Brunch on April 20. So I knew my events were not going to be the solution, especially now that I was a criminal. It was just not the right time for Edible Events. So every news story or any press that came out about the events, I would pivot the conversation to Women Grow. That was a huge part of the success of Women Grow in the early days; there was no marketing budget; press was all we had. So pivoting all the media attention from the Edible Events to Women Grow got clicks to the site. By the fall of 2014, we had hundreds of women wanting to start chapters. Myself, Jazmin and Julie Batkiewicz from Monte Content were running it. Women Grow was off to a good start. We just had to figure out exactly who our audience was and what they needed to succeed.
Why do you think people responded so enthusiastically?
Because they had no other opportunity in the industry. And even now, in states where there’s limited licensing, they’re only giving away maybe 10 licenses and you need millions of dollars to get one. How are you actually going to get your foot in the door and have a real equity stake in this company you’re building when you’re in the weed business? The only other entities that existed to organize people on a national level at the time I started Women Grow were not professional organizations – they were trade organizations, or lobbyist groups. So If Women Grow didn’t exist and someone wanted to get into the cannabis industry, especially in a prohibition state, I don’t know where they would’ve gone to get connected.
Why do you think more and more women are starting to take ownership of the cannabis space?
There’s a potential for opportunity here. I hope they’re taking as much ownership as reports say they are. I see women succeeding, and getting hired into great positions, but we need to do a lot more to make sure they actually have some ownership in the company – own equity stakes. To be honest, when I try to find 100% female operated businesses and grow facilities to partner with my brand, it’s very hard.
How are the stereotypes around women and weed being demystified?
The imagery is the number one thing that we’re changing right now. When I started my company, I could not find a single classy picture of a woman smoking cannabis. I think what’s changing is that when you see the creativity and energy and authenticity that occur when women are managing their own brands, you see something real and not imposed. That’s one of the biggest things that has changed, that more women are willing to put their faces out there.
Was there a vetting process for the Women Grow Market Leaders?
It was hard for me to justify being super strict because this was all like a test. There was no way I could go meet 30 people in multiple cities in person. Even so, who am I to tell someone they will or will not succeed in launching a marijuana professional’s group where they live? So there were steps along the way.
Why did you decide to leave?
At the outset, there was a spotlight on me because of my Edible Events, and I used my platform to tell people about Women Grow. At the same time, it should not be about one person. That kind of focus isn’t ideal for scaling and growing. Leadership should build things it can set free. We built something that I think is lasting and then identified the next generation of staff to keep it running.
Where do see the organization in 5 years time?
People have said total global legalization by 2030. 2020 was supposed to be the majority of this country but now that’s already happened [medicinally]. It just depends on how quickly the pace of the adult-use market picks up. There are major moves with big money happening now that will define this industry. I still believe deep down what I said in 2014: We absolutely have a chance to create the most diverse major American industry and Women Grow is helping to cultivate that.
Do you think cannabis will be legal at least nationwide, if not globally by 2030?
Describe one of your career highlights.
My speech at the Women’s Grow Summit last year was definitely a culminating moment for me. I founded Women Grow and there I am speaking at the event that I’m no longer managing. The speech is called “Jane’s Note to Self” – it’s on Youtube. I talked about how I started my companies, like this is fucking hard but you can do this. I’m really looking forward to sitting in the audience this year and just observing where this thing is going.
What’s your personal relationship with cannabis?
I love marijuana to the point where I don’t understand not wanting to feel high. It affects me very positively. I’m at the healthiest weight I’ve ever been. And I attribute that to reducing my consumption of alcohol. I definitely used to drink. But alcohol is an intoxicant and a depressant; that’s not my opinion, it’s the truth. There’s all this stuff that I love to do high that I have no desire to do under the influence of alcohol. A glass of wine with dinner is fine. But as you get older, alcohol becomes worse and worse for you and cannabis becomes better and better.
What is your hope for the future of this industry?
I personally love smoking cannabis and I’ve always wanted access to enjoy the substance in a social setting. When I first heard people say that cannabis is going to change the consciousness of the planet, I thought that was a little extreme, but now I believe it. We’re already starting to see public health data that shows the positive benefits of weed. I can’t help thinking other people are going to start seeing what myself and so many of my peers in the industry know to be true. The proof is in the data.
Story by Anicée Gaddis
Photo by Emily Vish