The nature of cannabis commerce is changing, and not just because of spreading legalization (with New Jersey the latest state to be in the midst of considering that move). More so than in many other industries, women have taken command of a retail sector that by all accounts was dominated by men when marijuana was mostly a black-market product.
Women have become involved in all facets of the legal cannabis operations across the United States and Canada. In addition to running the businesses and making investments, they are also trying to solve the payments knot at the center of the industry: Because federal law still treats marijuana as an illegal drug, payment card networks and most financial institutions remain on the sidelines as the business grows, worried that providing banking and payments services to cannabis businesses will lead to penalties.
One of the most recent and reliable measures of women’s leadership in the legal cannabis industry, this one from Marijuana Business Daily, found that 27 percent of executive-level roles are held by women. That actually represented a decline from 2015, but is still higher than the 23 percent of executive roles held by women in U.S. businesses as a whole, the publication said.
But the growth of legal cannabis could lead to more changes in the makeup of industry leadership.
“This expansion, combined with rising social acceptance for marijuana use, has attracted scores of entrepreneurs and investors from more mainstream businesses,” the publication said. “Cannabis companies also are increasingly plucking executives from corporate America as they mature and the industry becomes more attractive. Consequently, the executive structure of businesses in the traditional economy – where males occupy more than 75 percent of senior roles – has begun to seep into the marijuana industry.”
The presence of women in leadership roles, along with efforts to win over more consumers of legal marijuana from groups of educated, relatively well-off women, has by most accounts changed the sales tone for legal weed. As Marijuana Business Daily put it, “Many cannabis businesses have made conscious efforts to appeal to women as both professionals and customers – moving away from the sexually suggestive forms of advertising and sexist hiring practices that previously characterized the industry.”
Not only that, but legal cannabis sales are going upscale. Evidence of that came earlier this year from Barneys New York.
The retailer said it is launching The High End, a luxury cannabis lifestyle and wellness concept shop. The High End will open in Barneys New York’s Beverly Hills flagship in March, with plans to expand to additional locations in the near future. Barneys has entered into an exclusive partnership with upscale cannabis company Beboe to introduce customers to the brand’s offerings, including its vaporizer pens and pastilles, and CBD products. The shop will also feature a selection of rare items made just for the store across home, beauty and jewelry lines. Select accessories will be made available on Barneys.com.
Most estimates say women make up 30 percent to 40 percent of the legal cannabis market. More retail efforts like Barneys are likely to emerge as part of the effort to make the industry and its products more attractive to women.
“They’re not necessarily looking to get inebriated and they don’t want to stink like a skunk because they just smoked weed,” says Linda Gilbert, managing director of consumer insights at BDS Analytics, which tracks the marijuana market, in another cannabis publication. “It’s more about taking the edge off their pain or anxiety.” That is also sparking (sorry, pun intended) efforts to produce low-dose and edible weed products that are marketed toward women consumers.
Make no mistake: The emerging world of cannabis commerce and payments is being significantly influenced by women. That said, the industry needs to solve its payments problem – by most accounts, the prime issue hindering expansion and development – before anything else.