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The Women in Cannabis Study: A Q&A with Jennifer Whetzel

By Aaron G. Biros
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Ladyjane Branding and Wolfe Research & Consulting are leading an ambitious study to explore and document the experiences of women working in the cannabis market. Women in Cannabis: A Living History officially kicks off on December 10th at the National Women of Cannabis Conference.

Jennifer Whetzel, founder of LadyJane Branding and founder of the Women in Cannabis Study

Jennifer Whetzel, founder of Ladyjane Branding, says this is an opportunity for women to tell their stories about their experience working in the cannabis industry. Women can participate in the study by going to womenincannabis.study and sign up to take the survey. You can also sign up to be a sponsor or partner of the study at that website. Sponsors will get access to content like press releases and the opportunity to incorporate the study’s findings in their messaging. We invite our readers to participate, sponsor, partner, share and encourage friends to take the survey.

With beta testing starting the week of November 18th, we caught up with Jennifer Whetzel to talk about why she decided to start this project, what they expect to learn from it and what the future may hold for professional women in the cannabis industry.

Cannabis Industry Journal: Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you came into the cannabis industry? 

Jennifer Whetzel: My entrance into the cannabis industry was certainly a culmination of my personal experience and professional journey.

After moving to Maine, I became a medical user to ease symptoms of an immune and an auto-immune disorder. When I sought out treatment for PTSD, I found that a combination of cannabis, therapy, meditation and brain retraining was the most helpful and healthy solution.

This course of treatment for PTSD was life-changing as it allowed me to resolve symptoms from all of my medical issues, and I wanted to find a way to give back to the community that supported me. I had been working in marketing for over 25 years and realized I had quite the diverse professional background. My experience included retail merchandising and operations, public relations on a military base, research design and strategy for ad agencies, new product development and launch for animal health companies, and experiential marketing strategy and design. I’ve been lucky enough to work with small companies and Fortune 500’s which has led to finding solutions in unexpected places.

When pairing my knowledge and skills with the cannabis community, I realized I could make an impact by advising new entrepreneurs who needed help making their brands stand out. That’s how Ladyjane Branding was born.

CIJ: Can you give us an overview of the Women in Cannabis Study?

Jennifer: The Women in Cannabis study aims to understand how women are faring in the cannabis industry and whether we are doing enough to support women, their careers and their professional goals. It’s well documented that women in corporate America do not have the same opportunities for career advancement as men, holding fewer executive or board positions, having fewer opportunities for mentorship, sponsorship and career progression.

The study is comprehensive, with more than 80 quantitative questions along with qualitative telephone and video interviews of female-identifying professionals working in the cannabis industry – whether they are involved with cannabis, CBD or hemp. Through monthly infographics, video summaries, quarterly in-depth themed reports and a comprehensive year-end report, we will be telling the stories of women’s professional experiences in cannabis with the goal of transforming the industry into one where women can succeed and thrive.

Painting a picture of the women in cannabis, and understanding them as a group, we look at demographics to explore their diversity and reveal whether personality differences may affect their experiences, as well as experience with stigmas regarding cannabis use and working in the industry.

To understand professional trajectories and roadblocks on a path to success, we dive into work history, reasons for entering the cannabis space and the barriers they have faced on their journey. We explore opportunities for mentorship, support and leadership, the types of harassment, discrimination and disrespect they’ve experienced and how that may have impeded their careers.

We’d like to understand how (or whether) women find balance in their personal and professional lives, what sacrifices they’ve had to make for a career in cannabis, as well as best practices for women to foster success.

CIJ: Why did you decide to take on this endeavor and lead the work on this study? 

Jennifer: While there are numerous studies looking at how women fare in corporate America, we found that there’s a lack of a recent and comprehensive deep dive into this topic specifically for cannabis. As an emerging industry, we have a unique opportunity to make valuable recommendations to potentially increase inclusivity for women in this early stage of industry culture before it becomes too entrenched. Our goal is to ensure we have the hard numbers to document a baseline now, then follow-up over time to understand how the industry changes.

By surveying and speaking to women in the industry, and understanding where strengths and weaknesses in the industry lie, we can make recommendations to improve the lived experience for women working in this industry.

The only way to make improvements to a system is to understand it.

CIJ: How do you think we can create a more inclusive industry?

Jennifer: I think it begins with an understanding of where we are starting – we don’t know what we don’t know. Being in the cannabis industry, we often hear the argument that anecdotes are not data. Just like we need the scientific data to prove efficacy for medicine, we need the data that shows the hard numbers about diversity and inclusion, the stigma and shame of cannabis use or working in this industry, about sexual harassment, disrespect and bullying.

This study is about generating information and creating knowledge on this issue so we can determine the education, policies, procedures and actionable recommendations that can help make the industry a welcoming space for everyone.

One of the best ways to create a more inclusive industry is through education.

CIJ: What hurdles do women face in the cannabis industry? How is that different from other, more established industries?

Jennifer: As we review research results from more established industries, it seems clear that women face similar hurdles in cannabis. Various studies have shown that working women are faced with unequal pay, fewer opportunities for mentorship or sponsorship, as well as discrimination and disrespect. The issues for female entrepreneurs are even greater as women are significantly less likely to receive venture capital funding, which certainly speaks to experience in the cannabis industry.

Because there’s little data specifically focused on the cannabis industry, we are just guessing. This study will provide us those answers.

CIJ: Looking ahead, how do you think women will fare in the evolution of the cannabis market?

Jennifer: I’d like to think that if we are all purposeful and intentional about creating an equitable, inclusive, and representational industry, that women will fare significantly better than they have in other industries typically dominated by men. If that can happen, everyone will feel welcome and respected, and it will no longer be surprising news when a woman is promoted to CEO or becomes a successful founder.

East Coast Market Update

By Lindsay Engle
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There are going to be some states that are less progressive in the pro-cannabis movement, the same way there were states that were slow to move past alcohol prohibition. This is normal for any country moving towards change, better economic standing and safer healthcare.

There are only four states that completely ban recreational and medical cannabis altogether, and those states are Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Although, there is no doubt that more and more states are moving towards a pro-recreational and medical cannabis stance. There are some states in the Northeast that are making strides to legalize cannabis.

Most of the states in the Northeast already have some form of medical cannabis law in the books already, but some are moving towards recreational legalization surprisingly quickly. Massachusetts already has legalized recreational cannabis and is setting up their regulatory framework currently while Vermont, New Jersey and New York, all of which already have medical laws, appear to be just steps away from legalizing it recreationally.

Northeast States Moving Towards Legalization

With Canada’s recent recreational legalization, a number of states just south of the border appear to be eyeing the issue for themselves. While some of these states have somewhat strict regulations in place, they look like promising emerging market opportunities.

New Jersey

New Jersey is closer than ever to legalizing recreational cannabis. Governor Phil Murphy built his campaign on the pledge to end cannabis prohibition. Murphy says having recreational cannabis legalized this year is his goal.

Murphy says that he wants legal recreational cannabis to be available because he believes it is a way to improve social justice in New Jersey and to bring the state new tax revenue. The biggest issue is what the legislation will look like and how it can be tied to expanding the states medicinal cannabis program.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy

Their current medical program, while still small in market size, appears to be gaining steam and growing in terms of patients getting access. Six months ago, The New Jersey Department of Health added a number of qualifying conditions patients can get a cannabis prescription for. The program still has its limits, like a 10% THC potency cap, small selection of types of products and other various restrictions.

New York

It was just last year when Governor Andrew Cuomo said cannabis was a “gateway drug” and he was opposed to legalization. After conducting a study on cannabis legalization, the result was a July Health Department report that determined the positive effects of legalization outweighs the potential negative impacts.

The debate between Andrew Cuomo and Cynthia Nixon in the gubernatorial race has highlighted their views of cannabis as well as other important issues; it’s important that New Yorkers vote in the primary election to have the best opportunity for the future.

If New York legalizes recreational cannabis, it could open up a huge new market. Medical cannabis users will likely see a price drop in their medication. Similar kinds of restrictions that plague the New Jersey market are also affecting medical patients in New York. Currently, smoking and edibles are both prohibited even for patients. Back in 2017, the state added chronic pain to its list of qualifying conditions, undoubtedly increasing the number of patients.

Companies with large amounts of capital are planting their flags in New York, like MedMen’s dispensary in Manhattan, even if the medical market might still be in its infancy.

MassachusettsOver the next six months, this market will be one to watch closely

Recreational cannabis became legalin the last couple months for Massachusetts, while the state legalized medical cannabis some time ago. Their medical program is relatively advanced compared to New York or New Jersey. Online registration, a large number of qualifying conditions, and a less restrictive business environment seemed to encourage a much larger number of patients and businesses supporting them.

Regulators in Massachusetts are currently consideringthe option of allowing delivery operations for the recreational market. The roll out for the recreational industry might seem somewhat slow, but regulators are tackling a wide range of issues and making considerable progress towards the highly anticipated recreational market opening. Just last week, regulators issued licenses to two cannabis-testing laboratories, and, according to the Boston Globe, the debut could be just weeks away.

While the industry and regulators get ready for the recreational debut, a recent crackdown on pesticide usehighlighted some of the growing pains that come with it. Over the next six months, this market will be one to watch closely as dispensaries begin selling recreational cannabis and the industry develops.

Vermont

The recent Canadian legalization of recreational cannabis will no doubt put pressure on states sharing a border with them to consider adjusting their laws.

Legalizing recreational cannabis will likely increase tourism to Vermont, the way other states saw an influx in tourism when they legalized. Unfortunately, Vermont has only decriminalized recreational cannabis. You can possess, grow and consume cannabis, but you can’t buy or sell it, which obviously restricts the ability of any business to enter the market.

Vermont Statehouse, Montpellier, VT
Image: Tony Fischer, Flickr

However, their legal medical program is relatively laissez-faire compared to other states in the region. They allow for cultivation at home or through a caregiver and there are a number of small businesses working under the legal medical program.

Maryland

Recreational cannabis isn’t legal in Maryland yet, but medical cannabis has been legal since 2014. It’s illegal for patients and caregivers to grow their own. Attempts have been made to make recreational cannabis in 2016, but the bill didn’t move forward.

Maryland’s industry was off to a rocky start, when the application process for businesses wanting to enter the market slowed to a crawl. This month, the state just approved four new medical dispensaries and one new processor for the market. The latest round of approvals brings the total to 69 dispensaries serving patients, while back in 2016, the state pre-approved 102 dispensaries originally.

Delaware Expect to see another attempt at legalizing via the legislature in early 2019.

Delaware is looking at the possibility of legalizing the recreational use of cannabis for adults over 21 years of age. Even though medical cannabis is legal, recreational use isn’t. Back in June, lawmakers in the state were close to recreational legalization but fell short of the mark by four votes. Expect to see another attempt at legalizing via the legislature in early 2019.

The Delaware Department of Health will continue to accept applications for medical cannabis cards, which is required for patients seeking to obtain their medicine from a compassion center. Patients are not allowed to grow their own cannabis. The state’s program has been operational for quite a while, and a small number of companies have established footprints in the state, like the Israeli brand Tikun Olam.

Pennsylvania

In 2016, Pennsylvania legalized medical cannabis. In contrast to some of the other states discussed earlier, PA is off to a more streamlined start. The second phase of their medical program allowed for more businesses to enter the market, a wider range of qualifying conditions and a larger number of patients registering. The industry is maturing here fast and could make for an exciting opportunity with recreational legalization potentially on the horizon.

A state lawmaker recently introduced legislation to legalize recreational cannabis. The bill would allow adults 21 and older to possess cannabis products such as edibles and up to six cannabis plants, but not more than three mature plants that are flowering.

The bill would call for the immediate release of people jailed for cannabis-related crimes. This would also allow anyone with a criminal history related to cannabis to have that expunged.

If the bill passes, the tax imposed is estimated to generate $500 million a year.