Weed’s Leading Women

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Clockwise from top left: Emma Chasen’s academic background is specifically tailored to expertise in the industry, graduating from Brown University in 2014 with a degree in medicinal plant research. When Eco Firma Farms began getting bigger, Kate Guptill was faced with a unique crossroads: Would she stay at the Oregon Department of Justice office or move into cannabis full-time? Stacey Mulvey at her studio. Her practice is based on focused, mindful movement and its ability to foster group benefits like trust and destigmatization. Chrissy Hadar poses in front of the end result of her clothing line initiative, which she hopes will bring even more recognition to the globally beloved Oregrown brand. Kristin Murr at AlpinStash’s grow. The small-batch ethos of the company allows for each plant to receive more individual attention than at larger growers. Clockwise from top left: Brenda Rose; Sam Gehrke; Marijuasana; Oregrown; Alpinstash

This article, and others on the future of what might be America's largest new cash crop, is found in Newsweek's Special Edition: Weed.

Emma Chasen

The title cannabis educator and industry consultant leaves a great deal of possibility for Ivy League-educated entrepreneur and botanical extraordinaire Emma Chasen. And she’s got budtending awards, horticultural know-how and business acumen to back up her position as one of the most sought-after cannabis experts in the world.

As someone inside the industry, what changes have you noticed since the end of prohibition regarding cannabis’s cultural place?
Cannabis is having its cultural moment of fame, and I think that’s great. For so long this plant has been demonized and now people are finally coming around to understanding just how beneficial it can be. However, I do think the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction. Some people looking to capitalize on the cannabis movement (the CBD movement especially) preach cannabis as a cure-all and that can be dangerous. Cannabis is like any other medicinal plant—it has its benefits and its drawbacks. Yes, it is a relatively safe substance and it has extraordinarily high medicinal potential, however, it is not a cure-all. I believe it needs to be integrated holistically, meaning we should be looking at all aspects of people’s health and lifestyle in order to determine if [and] what kind of cannabis should be used. And choosing to incorporate cannabis should come with thought and a conversation with a well-informed guide.

What are the most important aspects of being a good budtender—that well-informed guide for many?
Good budtenders need to have a foundational understanding of cannabis science and product knowledge. More than that, budtenders need to be genuinely excited and equipped to engage with people in sometimes vulnerable conversations. A budtending position is not simply “slinging weed.” Budtenders often act as therapists, health care advisors and cannabis guides when helping patients and novice consumers make the choice to integrate cannabis into their lifestyle. Budtenders are oftentimes the only resource for cannabis information because doctors are not well-informed. Budtenders must take great care in the way they talk to customers about cannabis and how they recommend products and dosing. Dispensary management should provide budtenders with the necessary training and education to allow them to excel. This means providing budtenders with ongoing training in cannabis science, product knowledge and high-level customer service that places an emphasis on empathy.

Do you find that the power dynamics and gender inequality of the business world at large extend to the cannabis business? Is cannabis, in other words, as a modern and progressive industry, inherently more welcoming to women entrepreneurs, executives, etc.?
Power dynamics and gender inequality absolutely happen in the cannabis industry. Cannabis culture has been largely male-driven and continues to be in the legal paradigm. The average number of female CEOs in cannabis is close to the abysmally low national average. However, I am optimistic that we can change that with cannabis. We just have to keep pushing forward and creating more opportunities and infrastructure for women to have access to investment and support.

Kristin Murr

A cannabis cultivator at Colorado’s AlpinStash, Murr is a Centennial State native and former college hockey player who has firsthand experience as a medical cannabis patient. As injuries stacked up on the rink, so did prescriptions for painkillers, making Murr think she’d never skate again. After beginning treatment with medicinal cannabis, Murr dove into the business and now claims to have found her “true purpose” as a grower.

Can you tell me a little bit about how you began to see cannabis as a career option for you?
I was of the opinion that it was going to take a lot longer than it did to become legal, but I knew as soon as it did, I wanted to be a part of the movement in some way. My first job in the industry was at a cannabis bakery, and although it was a great experience, I knew it wasn’t the right fit. I’ve always loved plants and playing in the dirt, and gardening came somewhat easily to me. So when I met my now husband Danny Sloat [founder of AlpinStash] and he started to teach me to grow, I fell in love immediately and continue to enjoy caring for our plants.

What has to change about the way cannabis is treated in the sports world?
Education is the most important part of any movement—only with knowledge can we help people destigmatize cannabis. I ask coaches, trainers and athletes to read the many studies that have been done to show the benefits cannabis provides for injuries, sore muscles and stress levels. CBD creams and oils are highly underestimated and often overlooked because they fall under the broad umbrella of cannabis and are subject to the negative stigma attached to it.

AlpinStash is a strictly all-natural operation and a great deal of care is put into each plant. Your bio even notes that you sing to them when the mood strikes. What does this do for the final product?
I like to compare it to food: We eat organic and humane food because it aligns with what we believe in, and we choose to put healthy, sustainably grown food in our bodies. Cannabis is no different, and it’s important to use nutrients that are sustainably sourced. There will always be the large companies that are just growing for numbers, with the view that more is better. We, however, pride ourselves on quality over quantity, as people want and need products that are not only a higher quality, but also safe to use. And the product speaks for itself. In a side-by-side comparison of flowers grown with love and organic nutrients next to flowers grown with synthetic nutrients, you visibly see the difference. Bud structure, trichomes and potency are significantly better on the sustainably grown flower than the synthetically grown flower. Not to mention, the side effects that can occur when ingesting a product that was dipped in alcohol or peroxide to rid it of the mold that occurred when grown in an incorrect environment are very dangerous.

Do you find the power dynamics and gender inequality of the business world at large extend to the cannabis business?
Cannabis is a new blooming industry that has provided new job opportunities for a lot of people. And, as a new industry, it opens the door for women to be in high level positions since it’s not already dominated by men. However, as men have traditionally dominated leadership roles and make more money than women, we still have to fight a bit. I find this to be more true in cultivation. At AlpinStash, we have three women growers and one male. Yet, when in public, most people assume that Danny is who they should direct their growing questions to. I’ve heard this from other women who grow here in Colorado as well. We are few and far between in licensed grows. But as a whole, I have high hopes for women in the industry and the platform it’s created for women to be heard, breaking the long-lasting stereotypes that we’ve been dealing with throughout history.

Kate Guptill

As the co-founder and vice president of operations and finance at Eco Firma Farms, Kate Guptill is a distinguished presence in the industry. She also has experience as a legal professional within the Oregon Department of Justice and the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office and is a noted cultivator of cannabis, to boot.

As someone inside the industry, what changes have you noticed since the end of prohibition in Oregon regarding cannabis’s cultural place?
It’s surprising how fast the stigma of cannabis use is changing. That being said, we are in a bit of a bubble here in Oregon, which has a long, rich history of cannabis use. Culturally, we still have a long way to go—there cannot be a true cultural change until federal prohibition ends and we can all begin to accept the inequality of our prison system and how cannabis “offenders” are continually imprisoned in true cultural inequality.

How does your DOJ experience inform your position on federal versus state attitudes toward cannabis?
To be honest, it doesn’t. Federal prohibition is antiquated, and I suspect many individuals in the DOJ or DA’s office would agree off the record. That’s the interesting part of watching prohibition end. The old standard of what a “stoner” looks like compared to who an actual cannabis consumer is has been breaking down for a very long time. They are doctors, lawyers, executives, grandparents and teachers. The curtain of fear over the “lazy,” “unmotivated” user is being pulled back and it turns out, it’s just not the case. We will see an end to federal prohibition in the next decade, hopefully sooner than later, and get those resources back where they belong. For example, every 98 seconds someone is sexually assaulted in the United States [according to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network]. Why are we still assigning resources to cannabis when there is a backlog of rape kits?

Do you find that the power dynamics and gender inequality of the business world at large extend to the cannabis business?
Honestly, as with most industries, now that real capital is starting to flow in, there is more and more gender inequality becoming apparent. That’s not to say it wasn’t always there, but now it’s more obvious, I suppose. Every week, a new vendor comes through the door and addresses the male in the room. As if to say, as a woman, you’re obviously not the owner or the CEO or the grower. In our company, it’s a great way to find yourself not making a sale of whatever you’re pitching.

Change doesn’t happen overnight, but cannabis moves faster than any other business out there since the dot-com boom. This a great opportunity for women not to feel the need to demand equality, but to give the world no choice but to grant it. Don’t be told you can’t. It’s a challenging business to be in, regardless. In these times, if you can build a successful cannabis company as a woman, you can do anything.

Stacey Mulvey

Before becoming the founder of Marijuasana, which is helping pioneer the niche market of cannabis yoga, Stacey Mulvey was a member of the Mormon church who dissented over their treatment of the LGBTQ community. A veteran instructor of various fitness disciplines, Mulvey started her business to create a synergy of mindfulness, exercise and destigmatization.

In your experience as an expert, what does cannabis offer the yogi that a plain practice does not?
The section of our brain that processes unconscious emotion into awareness, and also regulates our proprioception (the body’s placement and orientation in space) is the cerebellum. Through the data gathered by our senses, the cerebellum interprets and synchronizes our perception of the external world with our internal, felt one. The cerebellum is where the body’s CB1 receptors are most highly expressed. (CB1 is an element of the endocannabinoid system, and binds equally with anandamide—an endogenous cannabinoid and neurotransmitter—and tetrahydrocannabinol, a phytocannabinoid.) So cannabis literally attunes and synthesizes movement with our emotional and mental state, offering us a chance to explore alternative ways of expressing how we move our body, and how we feel about it as it moves.

Something I want everyone to know is that the body’s endocannabinoid system is the physiological basis for the mind-body connection, which is what we are tapping into with mindful practices (according to Uwe Blesching, The Cannabis Health Index). The emotions of well-being and happiness have a chemical basis in a neurotransmitter/endocannabinoid called anandamide, which is a chemical analog to the phytocannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol. Since those emotional states, as well as gaining awareness of the state of health in our body, are exactly what we are attempting to engage with and refine when we practice yoga and meditation, it follows that cannabis can offer more immediate access to the mind-body connection.

Have you seen a great change in the way cannabis is treated since legalization began?
I haven’t seen opinions change as much as I would like because I’ve encountered deep-rooted resistance to cannabis from people of a limited mindset about its benefits. They do not know about or believe the facts that are emerging regarding its health implications or how legalization is positive for the larger society. What is interesting is that the division doesn’t necessarily follow political lines. I’ve met people with liberal leanings that are staunchly opposed because they still give credence to the debunked nonsense the prohibition movement generated, and [I’ve met] conservatives that are in favor because they follow the principle of keeping the government out of the private lives of individuals.

Do you find that the power dynamics and gender inequality of the business world at large extend to the cannabis business?
Unfortunately, I do not feel that cannabis is inherently more welcoming to women entrepreneurs. There are some that want to glorify the cannabis industry because several women in it have demonstrated amazing leadership and innovation, but I’ve noticed an entrenched “boys’ club,” a legacy from the reflexive misogyny of the tech and financial executives that are just getting into cannabis. I’ve personally seen appalling discrimination against women in the cannabis industry, for no other reason than the employee was female. Misconduct and abuse of power is nothing exceptional as far as the business world goes, but is still very much part of the cannabis industry in my experience.

I will say that because of that mentality, and the experience with discrimination and sexism that we bring from other industries, women in cannabis very consciously do our best to welcome and support each other, and to hold the men accountable. There are more lady bosses in cannabis than other older, more traditional industries. I’ve seen more men get called out publicly for sexual misconduct and sexist behavior. It’s a trend I hope will continue, one that will continue to spread to our entire culture.

Chrissy Hadar

Hadar co-founded Oregrown with her husband as a small grow in 2013 after regulations passed in Oregon allowing for medical marijuana dispensaries. As the company’s senior vice president of retail and branding, she is leading the way out of prohibition by taking the brand global, increasing its retail footprint and brand awareness through initiatives like a clothing line.

What changes have you noticed in the way cannabis users are treated or perceived since the end of prohibition in Oregon?
Since the legalization of recreational use in Oregon, which we prefer to refer to as “adult use,” we’ve found our customers not only debunk the stereotype of the unmotivated and unemployable “lazy stoner,” but completely squash it. They are young professionals, acclaimed athletes, mothers, fathers, doctors, teachers, lawyers, businessmen and women. They are using cannabis in lieu of the evening cocktail, or exploring it as a holistic alternative to overprescribed and addictive pharmaceuticals that claim to treat chronic pain, insomnia, anxiety and depression. Cannabis use is more widely accepted and embraced as a lifestyle as opposed to something only done behind closed doors.

What is Oregrown doing to further the abandoning of that stereotype?
At Oregrown, we believe in being an asset to our community. We’ve accomplished this by sponsoring local family friendly festivals and concerts, partnering with our local Humane Society, volunteering for park clean-ups, sponsoring the nonprofits that help maintain our public trail systems, and sponsoring athletes who will ultimately inspire the next generation to live an active and healthy lifestyle.

By going out into our community, setting up our booth, selling our clothing line and being available to answer questions, we are giving the locals and tourists of Central Oregon the opportunity to get a taste of Oregrown on their home turf. So, if or when they decide to explore cannabis one day or try a new dispensary, they will think of Oregrown.

Do you find that the power dynamics and gender inequality of the business world at large extend to the cannabis business? Is cannabis more welcoming to women entrepreneurs, executives, etc.?
I will say that the women I have come across within the industry are some of the strongest, most outspoken, intelligent, independent, motivated, powerful and inspiring women I have ever met. And because of these women, and in light of the fact that the legal cannabis market is so young, we have what some consider a “once in a generation” opportunity to build an emphasis on equality and inclusion into the industry, and set the standard for other industries to live up to. It’s up to us to be the change we want to see in the world. Cliché, but true. At Oregrown, half of our top executives are women. But, the cannabis industry at large is not some utopia exempt from the perils of American corporate greed and the “good ol’ boys’ club” as many would like to claim. I believe there is just as much equality in the cannabis industry as any other burgeoning sector, and more work needs to be done across the board.

This article was excerpted from Newsweek's Special Edition: Weed. For more on the fast-rising culture of cannabis, pick up a copy today. 

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