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Celebrating Women in Cannabis

        Sitting down to write this, we read a Forbes article that reported across states where cannabis is legally bought and sold (either medically or recreationally) sales hit a new record—$17.5 billion. This all but solidifies what is commonly known, the cannabis industry is a rapidly expanding and broad network of cultivators and producers, consumers and researchers, advocates and academics, who all see tremendous benefits in legalization. The industry is an intricate ecosystem in constant flux, be it legal, illegal, or somewhere in the middle (here’s looking at you D.C). That said, the trends are clear and the wind seems to be blowing in the direction of legalization. However, the focus of articles, blogs, and press releases on new cannabis wealth, normalization, and advocacy for full legalization seems to be missing a major change in the industry -- women engaging with cannabis, not just as consumers, but as movers and shakers, entrepreneurs and activists. 

        Fully legal cannabis in the United States is as much a process, as it is an idea. As with any process that creates change, there is an opportunity to subvert outdated values and supplant the old way of doing things. In other words, as cannabis breaks more sales records and garners larger public acceptance, we must update the values of a historically male-dominated field. One need not look beyond the packaging of many cannabis products to see numerous busty silhouettes and unlicensed hazy-eyed cartoon characters. These may seem like small potatoes while there is a larger movement going on within the industry around matters of racial equity and criminal justice, but we’d be kidding ourselves if we didn’t admit that the outward appearances of a boy’s club alienates many who would otherwise be interested in cannabis. 

        How can cannabis providers present an experience that retains a certain expertise in the plant, without an intimidating in-club facade? We don’t know of a universal solution to address this, but we do know that as cannabis’ popularity grows, the industry will need to reckon with evolving gender dynamics. Things are changing though. The last decade has brought us some incredible female trailblazers who are changing the game as we know it. In honor of Women’s History Month, we wanted to shine a spotlight on some of these pioneers. Two such cannabis queens making significant contributions in the advocacy and leadership arena are Cat Packer and Dr. Chanda Macias. 

        Cat Packer stands at the intersection of advocacy and leadership, as the executive director at Los Angeles County’s Department of Cannabis Regulation. She was appointed to the position and has subsequently built upon her activism work with the Drug Policy Alliance. Now, this isn’t to say that LA’s rollout of legalization has been smooth — it hasn’t. The vast bureaucratic process for granting permits and implementing policy moves at about the pace you’d expect, but Packer has brought an understanding of the history of racial inequities present in the execution of various drug enforcement policies. Under her leadership, the department has sought to bring the benefits of legalization into the communities that were most targeted by its criminalization — a worthy cause indeed. 

        Packer’s department has faced criticism for its rollout of what were supposed to be meaningful policy shifts. Chief among the criticisms is that it’s one thing to say you’ll do something worthwhile, but it is something else entirely to pull it off. That said, as Packer grows in her role of executive director and the department has the time it needs to redirect its resources where necessary, we can make a more final judgment about her successes and failures in the role. Cat Packer is notable in the cannabis industry not because her work has been smoothly successful, but because she is fighting, and in our current climate somewhere between prohibition and legalization, the fight is what matters. We call for people to manage their expectations of a new policy as it still has to first play out in the confines of the old way of doing things. Subverting a system that has got it wrong for so long is no careless task, nor is it a speedy one. Political upheaval must be met with cultural revolution. Speaking to the Los Angeles Times about her position as executive director and the policies her department has sought to carry out Packer found that “part of what was so astonishing...was how easy it was for us to shift public policy when there was a profit motive.” This is a keen observation that will likely tell the tale of legalization across the states. We will only see it happen if there is a desire for most people to see it happen, and people will only care if it becomes increasingly normalized by our culture—weed must go the way of the seatbelt.

        How does weed go the way of the seatbelt? What can be done to orient the public perception of cannabis away from that of danger and illegality to a more reasoned and well-informed perspective? Dr. Chanda Macias understands that part of the answer lies in research and education. As the owner and General Manager of the National Healing Holistic Center (A medical dispensary just a couple of blocks from Dupont Circle), Dr. Macias has combined her experiences researching oral diseases at Colgate Palmolive, studying the metastasization of prostate cancer into bone at the Howard University Cancer Center, to better assist the patients visiting NHHC in finding the correct strain and dose to meet their medical needs. 

        Considering Cat Packer’s policy aims of targeting Black communities who were most harmed by weed’s criminalization, we can look to the examples set by Chanda Macias to see another side of the issue in the use of medical marijuana. With about 85% of Americans supportive of medical marijuana according to recent polling, and the fact that several million Americans already use it we can almost see the tide starting to shift. Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, both Packer and Dr. Macias provide us insight into how we may overcome the many issues of the industry, illustrating the necessity for a variety of perspectives on cannabis, not just in terms of legality or illegality, but in terms of the space it creates and who is included or displaced from that space. Out with uncertainty and back-alley deals—in with a safer, well-informed, and playful industry.  In other words, something that more truly represents what cannabis means.


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