Like many unfortunate realities in society today, too much of the time women are highly underestimated by the private and public sectors. Their struggle continues for acceptance in various positions as they strive for equal rights in the workplace.
To help level the playing field, some organizations offer assistance in finding quality employment, sparking entrepreneurship and providing advice to those who want to be in any given area. A perfect example of this is thriving in Toronto — Women Grow.
“Women Grow Toronto is a network of cannabis entrepreneurs across the Greater Toronto Areafocused on cultivating female leaders. Founded in Denver Colorado in 2014, Women Grow serves as a catalyst for women to influence and succeed in the cannabis industry as the end of marijuana prohibition occurs on a national scale,” said Lisa Campbell, who is the Chairwoman of the organization.
The organization’s Toronto chapter was created shortly before Justin Trudeau’s rise to power, with legalizing marijuana as one of his key campaign promises. “Our chapter hosts monthly signature networking events at the Centre for Social Innovation where we highlight women leaders locally and internationally who have contributed towards legalization.”
Campbell goes on to explain why her organization is vital to the cannabis industry in Canada. “Gender inequity is not unique to cannabis, although in the US women are leading the way with 36% of cannabis industry executives being female. By contrast of the 30+ Health Canada licensed producers in Canada, most are led by men, including the newly rebranded industry association Cannabis Canada which has an all male board of directors. Women Grow’s goal is to highlight the work women are doing in the space, as many of the original cannabis businesses were started by women.”
Another little-known fact about the history of cannabis in Canada, it includes a very strong female influence over the years of prohibition. “The very first compassion club in Canada was founded by cannabis advocate Hilary Black, and the longest standing lounge in Canada was founded by local Toronto entrepreneur Abi Roach. Neither compassion clubs or lounges have been included in Health Canada’s regulatory framework for medical cannabis, and they are under threat of being shut down by new provincial legislation in Ontario. If the cannabis industry wants to include women, it should not be lobbying to shut down the businesses they’ve built for over 15 years. If it was not for these women starting their businesses, the cannabis industry in Canada would not be where it is today.”
Although Toronto and the rest of Canada have not yet legalized marijuana, a sad reminder of that was Project Claudia, Women Grow Toronto has continually increased their traffic with many coming to their events and more women getting into cannabis.
“We are almost a year into Women Grow Toronto, and we have seen huge success as a chapter with almost 500 members locally. Our monthly signature networking sessions are consistently sold out as we highlight some of the top women in the cannabis industry. Our members include dispensary owners, growers, bakers, lounge owners, doctors, nurses, lawyers and women from all sides of the industry, including licensed producers. With massive police raids sweeping Toronto cannabis businesses last week, it’s more important now more than ever that we support each other.”
Those raids are a perfect example that growing pains continue in Canada in regards to the legalization process. Nevertheless, legalization is coming in one form or another. This means that Women Grow Toronto will have to adapt to whatever the system in place will be, and help their clients accordingly. “As Canadian cannabis businesses are legal federally, there is a huge opportunity for women to form their own businesses which can be publicly traded companies on the international stock market as the world moves towards legalization member state by state. It’s important that as women entrepreneurs in cannabis that we empower each other, as the world is watching Canada.”
Naturally the final word of the day was on the topic of the unnecessary police action in the city of Toronto as Campbell shared her thoughts and expertise on the issue. “It’s high time we stopped criminalizing cannabis businesses in Canada. Legalization doesn’t have to tear the cannabis community apart, we can find new ways to work together. Instead of punishing cannabis businesses for ‘getting ahead of legalization’ we should find ways to license small and medium sized businesses to work in partnership with licensed producers.
Government control is needed to make sure this industry safe for everyone, but within that we can empower entrepreneurs to create new products for this emerging global marketplace. Let’s learn from Colorado’s mistakes and include social spaces for cannabis use in regulations, with robust testing and labeling standards for craft cannabis producers. We shouldn’t be wasting police resources to shut down businesses which will be legal next spring.”
Amen to that.