Women of Influence: Dr. Miyabe Shields

Having established quite an interesting online presence as a scientist, educating the public on the endocannabinoid system while also maintaining their identity as a medical cannabis user, Dr. Miyabe Shields is a neurodivergent scientist and a queer person of color. Dr. Shields’ mission is to “empower as many people as possible to understand themselves and their medicine at the molecular scale.”

Dr. Shields parlayed their pharmaceutical background and work studying the molecular mechanisms of cannabis and psychedelics as they relate to mental health into a healthy online following. Through their posts and “Smoke ’n’ Science” podcast, Dr. Shields educates viewers and listeners on crucial facts and falsehoods about the plant. They’re also co-inventors of Smokenol, a process for extracting active compounds from cannabis smoke for application in topicals, tinctures and gummies.

“It often feels like there isn’t a place in society for people like me, so we’re obligated to carve it out ourselves or get crushed into conformity,” Dr. Shields says. “I’d like to see more people question the ingrained gendered behaviors and assumptions that underly gender as a social construction. In other words, why do we attribute certain characteristics as masculine or feminine?”

This story was originally published in issue 48 of the print edition of Cannabis Now. Read it now on the Cannabis Now iTunes app.

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Women of Influence: Angela Pih Is Walking the Walk

One of Angela Pih’s favorite aspects of the cannabis industry is its velocity. What she’s referring to is the “incredibly exciting” speed of bringing new products to market within months. With extensive experience across retail, consumer packaged goods and cannabis, Pih is head of marketing for StateHouse Holdings, a vertically integrated California-based cannabis enterprise. From the moment she engages you in conversation, it’s quite evident the woman knows what she’s talking about.

One industry trajectory Pih isn’t a fan of is the dramatic decrease in the number of women in the C-Suite holding leadership positions. Over the last year, she says, many women have either been pushed out or simply burned out. 

“Everybody’s struggling right now,” Pih says, naming the challenges of over-taxation and overregulation as particularly responsible for the woeful decline in women executives. “As companies become leaner, many women are trying to weather the storm.” 

With fewer women in leadership roles, Pih is eager to support other women and nurture the next generation of female executives and leaders in cannabis.  “What are we doing to cultivate that level of expertise so that they can sustain the challenges and growth within this industry?” Pih asks. “We all talk about it, but are we doing anything about it? Actions speak louder than words.”

Pih says she feels lucky when it comes to her own experience as a leader, as she’s been widely respected and supported. However, she acknowledges that if women aren’t in the founder role or in the CEO’s office, it can be “very challenging for women to keep within the decision-making roles of a company.”

For other women wanting to move into cannabis, Pih says it’s important to be confident and to know your worth.

“People get very excited about joining a cannabis company because it’s exciting and they allow themselves to accept roles that are maybe below what their expertise is—and maybe below the kind of compensation they should have,” Pih says. “Historically, women aren’t as good at negotiating as men, especially when it comes to their salary compensation. I always say to women to know what they’re worth. You’re going to bring something to the table and it’s important to stand up for that.”

Legacy growers and small farmers play an important role at StateHouse Holdings. Pih spearheaded an initiative that ensures shelf space for small craft sungrown farmers in StateHouse-owned dispensaries, including history-making Urbn Leaf West Hollywood—the first adult-use dispensary to open in Los Angeles’ fabled Sunset Strip.

“There are fewer and fewer legacy farmers and craft growers because they’ve been unable to operate,” says Pih, who reveals she wants to “support these farmers, preserve their expertise and preserve strain diversity during these very early stages of our industry’s development.”

Pih is also determined to band together for a unified cannabis industry. She says she sees it as a requirement for more favorable taxation laws. “We’re not able to do anything about it as individual companies; we have to come together as an industry, regain trust for one another and find ways to be effective as a collective.” 

As the proverb says, unity is strength. Exactly.

This story was originally published in issue 48 of the print edition of Cannabis Now. Read it now on the Cannabis Now iTunes app.

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Women & Weed: A Story as Old as Time

While Bob Dylan’s 1964 release of “The Times They Are A Changin’” became an anthem among frustrated youth, many of whom would go on to call themselves “hippies,” the lyrics ring ever true today. Some six decades later, our society is facing different challenges, different battles. But despite the hard times, progress has been made. Cannabis is becoming ever more normalized—not just for flower children or gangsters or those high school surfing stoners whose name might as well be Spicoli (Google it, kids). No, the culture has evolved and continues to look different with each passing day. And this couldn’t be more true when it comes to the presence of women in cannabis.

Cannabis culture and the legalizing industry springing up from it (or alongside it, depending on whom you ask) is often touted as one that’s male-dominated. On the surface, this is demonstrably true. Just walk into any smoke sesh, dispensary, conference or these days, a board room, and most of the faces you see are indeed male. 

Empirical analysis corroborates this. Take 2022’s Women in Cannabis Study which surveyed 1,500 women in the cannabis industry and found that only 11 percent of respondents “considered the industry equitable.” Furthermore, reporting in Marijuana Business Daily shows that women held 37 percent of executive roles in cannabis in 2019; by 2022, that number dropped to 23 percent (many states have legalized in that time, making the pool wider and larger). Yet, the same study shows that 78 percent of women currently working in the cannabis industry entered between 2014 and 2019. This is undoubtedly due to legalization. 

While smoking is generally considered in popular parlance to be a masculine activity, especially smoking intoxicants, that’s not the whole reason women have been historically sidelined in cannabis. As child-bearers, there were real and significant risks in being professionally involved with the plant—risks that were relieved only once legalization began accelerating beyond the medical realm.

Women & Weed: Who’s ready to run the world?

Change, particularly concerning gender parity, takes a long time to foment. Still, despite the clear challenges, it’s undeniable that women have come a long way in cannabis culture and the industry itself. Where once a woman’s domain was in a support role—keeping the home while the grower did his duties (which included sometimes going to jail for cultivating and selling); trimming; organizing caregiver networks; manning the dispensary counter; or occasionally taking up the grower reins herself, today she’s taking more managerial roles. That includes starting or becoming CEO of cannabis companies or pioneering ancillary avenues, such as public relations, advocacy, law, consulting or finance. More women growers are finally coming out of the shadows, too, revealing decades-long expertise they had to work hard to cultivate (pun entirely intended). 

On the consumer side, women are gaining more market share than ever. Statistics compiled by Flowhub, a cannabis tech company, report that from early 2020 to late 2021, cannabis sales to women customers increased by 55 percent. As for new customers, 48 percent were women in 2021. That’s a not insignificant ten percent increase from 2018 when the study first ran.

Today, as society and the law become more accepting, women who’ve been in the business for the long haul are finally getting recognized for their achievements, ushering cannabis into the future from its difficult past. There’s the Dank Duchess, a protégé of the legendary late hashishin Frenchy Cannoli and whose own work is already cemented in hash and cannabis lore. Brownie Mary risked it all to ensure that patients had access to her potent medicine, and she was instrumental in helping San Francisco’s Proposition P and California’s Proposition 215 pass. There’s anthropologist Margaret Mead, who gave an impassioned speech denigrating cannabis’ illegality in front of Congress in 1969; and, yes, even Hatshepsut, one of the few women pharaohs in ancient Egypt, who was said to use hemp to ease menstrual symptoms. 

See? Women and weed have been in the same sentence for as long as time has been recorded. We’ve always been here, now it’s our turn to burn a little bit more brightly. Who’s ready to run the world?

This story was originally published in issue 48 of the print edition of Cannabis Now. Read it now on the Cannabis Now iTunes app.

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Women of Influence: Laganja Estranja

Jay Jackson, who’s also known as Laganja Estranja, rose to fame as the undeniable breakout star on season six of the Emmy-winning RuPaul’s Drag Race. The world-renowned choreographer and artist is a fierce cannabis and LGBTQ+ advocate who champions diversity and representation for the cannabis industry’s queer community. Estranja came out as transgender in 2021 and says she’s using her platform to educate the industry.

“The reason we have medical marijuana is because of the queer community,” Estranja says. “I felt a lineage—like my ancestors called me to do this work.”

Estranja started using cannabis medicinally in high school to help unblock her creativity while working on a dance piece that would land her a spot on the prestigious list of US Presidential Scholars in the Arts, one of the highest honors a young artist can receive. “I couldn’t figure out a part of the choreography, so my friend suggested I try cannabis,” she says. “It allowed me to be more creative and freed my mind.”

Later, in college, an accident during dance rehearsal led her to see a chiropractor who suggested using cannabis for pain management. It was a pivotal moment in her affinity with the plant. “I realized then that this wasn’t only medicine; I could also use it recreationally or creatively,” she says. “That’s when I developed a much stronger relationship with cannabis and decided to create Laganja Estranja and spread that knowledge.”

While Estranja acknowledges gender bias in the industry has improved in the past decade, she also says she believes “sexism and misogyny are still very much alive in the cannabis industry” and that women must fight harder for equality.

She especially would like to see more sisterhood support among women in the business.
“A lot of times, women have to fight so hard to get into the industry that there’s not always camaraderie among us,” Estranja says. “As women, we’ve got to come together and support one another. When we’re in positions of power, hire other women.”

She offers sage advice for other women looking to enter the industry: “Do your research, be educated on the plant and be prepared to come with guns blazing. Ultimately, you must be brave—it takes a lot of bravery to be a cannabis activist—especially as a queer woman.”

This story was originally published in issue 48 of the print edition of Cannabis Now. Read it now on the Cannabis Now iTunes app.

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‘The Queen Of Legal Weed’ Has Spoken

Few female entrepreneurs have enjoyed the kind of widespread accolades and recognition in the cannabis industry as Nancy Whiteman. Often called “The Queen of Legal Weed,” Whiteman is founder of the Wana Brands Foundation and CEO and co-founder of Wana Brands, North America’s leading cannabis edibles brand available in 15 states and throughout Canada. 

Whiteman says Wana Brands’ mission is to create efficacious products that deliver customized experiences for health and wellness or recreational effects. The company places a strong emphasis on delivering quality products. “That’s the only way to provide consumers with real value and to differentiate yourself in the space,” she says.  

Since starting the company in Boulder, CO in 2010, Whiteman has witnessed the cannabis industry’s profound—and undeniable—evolution firsthand. 

“It was like the Wild West—no requirements to test for potency, no child-resistant packaging and no rules about pesticides or solvent usage or levels,” she says. “Now we have a far more regulated, safe and sophisticated industry.” 

While the landscape is very different today, Whiteman says much still remains the same, and she advises company leaders to be realistic about what they can do.   

“It’s important to focus on not getting out over your skis,” she says. “If you’re going to be in the cannabis industry, you better be able to roll with the punches, adapt to change and find that exhilarating rather than draining.”

Unlike most of Colorado’s other original cannabis brands, Wana Brands is thriving with no signs of slowing down. In 2021, Wana agreed to sell to Canadian titan Canopy Growth for an all cash payment of $297 million. Shortly after, she took $50 million of the proceeds to launch the Wana Brands Foundation (WBF), which takes Wana Brands’ mission of enhancing lives through cannabis a step further. 

WBF allocates at least five percent of the endowment every year towards charitable initiatives, such as research and education, food security, shelter, safety, mental health, sustainability and social justice. While Whiteman is able to give back through the nonprofit, her primary role is working as Wana’s CEO, continuing to push the brand’s strategic vision forward. (Despite the acquisition, Canopy and Wana essentially operate as independent companies.) Whiteman’s leadership is instrumental in their growth into new and emerging markets. She also handles the development of strategic partnerships and licensing agreements in the US and abroad.

Whiteman says this year’s corporate goal is “making market share; not taking market share. Despite all the challenges, there are a number of bright spots in the industry. The key is to grow the market rather than to join the race to the bottom in pricing.”

When it comes to being a female chief executive, Whiteman says she hasn’t faced as many challenges as the vast majority of other women-owned businesses due to the fact that she was “able to bootstrap Wana Brands and never had to take on equity or debt.” 

“That said, as the market has grown, it favors the group of people who historically have had the easiest access to capital, and as such, the leadership of the industry has become whiter and male,” she says. ”And the fact is female entrepreneurs receive only about two percent of venture capital funding compared to their male counterparts. So, we certainly have some work to do there.”

For other women trying to make it in the cannabis industry, Whiteman advises them to “figure out your first step and see where you can go with it” and not to waste time ‘crossing t’s and dotting i’s’, because the industry changes too much, too often. 

“Sometimes people call me ‘Wana’s fearless leader’ and I laugh to myself. No entrepreneur worth their salt is fearless—it’s a scary thing to do,” she says. “My advice is simple: Don’t waste your time conjuring mythical attributes—trying to be the smartest, the most confident—because it’s just not realistic. Be resilient, be persistent and be accepting of the fact that fear and anxiety are part of the process. And don’t judge yourself for feeling that way.” 

This story was originally published in issue 48 of the print edition of Cannabis Now. Read it now on the Cannabis Now iTunes app.

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Tina Gordon

Tina Gordon is a cannabis cultivator, founder and owner of Moon Made Farms in Northern California’s Humboldt County. Once a drummer with various musical outfits in the San Francisco Bay Area and later a documentary filmmaker, Gordon moved to Humboldt in 2007, establishing herself on the 40-acre plot that would become Moon Made Farms. 

Specializing in sungrown organic cannabis that’s cultivated in alignment with the lunar calendar and regenerative cultivation methods, Moon Made Farms has won a reputation for pioneering an ecologically sustainable model for the cannabis industry. Gordon serves on the boards of the International Cannabis Farmers Association and Sun + Earth Certified, which has developed standards and a certification process for socially and ecologically responsible cannabis.

“The most powerful plant on the planet expresses itself in the female form. Cannabis is femininity embodied in a plant.” 

This story was originally published in issue 48 of the print edition of Cannabis Now. Read it now on the Cannabis Now iTunes app.

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How to Smoke a Joint Like a Cannabis Connoisseur

To truly appreciate the finest cannabis flowers, one must smoke a joint. The process of inspecting, smelling, choosing and grinding a flower—then rolling that joint—is as integral to the smoking experience as inhaling, savoring and exhaling the smoke; this is the mindfulness of smoking. One of the best ways to heighten your appreciation of the magical herb is to host a blind cannabis tasting.

Simply acquire three or four different strains and repackage them into numbered containers — the less information you have, the easier it is to let the cannabis speak for itself.

Now comes the involvement of all the five senses.

The Eyes Don’t Lie

First is the visual appraisal. Under a good light, describe the overall shape and color of the bud. Notice the length, profusion and color of the hairs. Is it trimmed well, or is it too shaggy or too tight? Is the bud dense and hard or loose and open?

Finally, using a 60x mini-microscope, check out the trichomes and look for clear, cloudy or amber color. If the stalks of the trichomes have no round tops, chances are the cannabis was machine trimmed or mishandled in some way.

Follow Your Nose

Second is the assessment of fragrance. Pinch the flower bud and inhale deeply. Now break apart the bud and smell again. What associations immediately pop into your mind? Take your frame of reference from smells outside the world of cannabis, such as the smell of butterscotch or motor oil or dirty armpit, etc. As you break up the bud, inspect the interior for mold or discoloration. Your fingers will provide a measure of the curing: too damp, too dry or just right. Now grind up the flower and smell again.

Listening Party

If you are having a tasting with friends, don’t say anything until everyone has had a smell, so as not to prejudice anyone’s nose. The fragrance derives from the terpenes, which are volatile organic compounds that give aroma to most vegetative substances. They range from earthy, musty, moldy and piney antiseptic, to citrusy lemon, tutti fruity and blueberry. As judges for the Emerald Cup, one of the world’s largest outdoor cannabis events, we look for what they call “jar jumping” terpenes—the kind that instantly fill your room with their olfactory delights.

Over the years, we’ve sampled entries at the cup smelling like mothballs, moldy rags, new car interior, old sneakers and the high school gym at the end of the game. There is also the sweeter range, including suntan lotion and bubble gum, tangerines, strawberries, pineapples and so on.

Remember that, as a judge, it’s not about whether you like the smell or not, but just how well it represents that variety. What does it tell you about the flowers? The effects of smell and taste are much more profound than we generally realize, so do linger on them for awhile.

Blind cannabis tasting lets your senses come alive.

Grind Time

A good grind of the flowers is as essential to rolling a good joint as it is for making a good cup of coffee. We prefer the Mendo Mulcher, which has round-edged teeth that grind, rather than cut the flower. The Mulcher also delivers a homogenous texture that helps create a joint that burns better.

Get Your Roll On

Rolling papers are also important. We use Elements Rolling Papers, which can handle a lot of manipulation during the rolling and not tear, plus they leave no ash. A clean burn is imperative to enhancing your smoking pleasure and, of course, the less paper the better. If you are rolling a very thin joint, you would use 1” papers, while a real Swami Joint requires the full 1-¼”.

While rolling, make the final assessment of the cure. If there is a lot of “dust” on the rolling tray, it’s too dry; if it is too sticky, it may still be too damp; a really potent bud will feel slightly oily or greasy, not damp.

Savor the Flavor

Before lighting the rolled joint, take a “dry” hit. That is, take a big puff on the unlit joint. Pass it around. Savor it. This is the final judgment on the fragrance. Most often, the dry hit flavor mirrors the smell, sometimes stronger, sometimes weaker.

Catch a Fire

Now comes what everyone has been waiting for: the smoking of a truly high-grade cannabis joint. It will be a journey—a savory, olfactory, gustatory adventure offering new insights with every succeeding half-inch of smoking pleasure.

The advanced way of lighting a joint is with hemp-beeswax string. Light the joint like you would a cigar, rotating it to make sure it is evenly lit. When lighting the joint, don’t make any evaluation until the igniter’s second hit, again waiting for everyone to taste before commenting.

Check out the color of the ash. Fine white ash indicates purity. Black ash may mean contaminates.

Swami smoking a joint during blind cannabis tasting

Inhale slowly and carefully, feeling the smoke fill all the respiratory chambers, but don’t take too big of a hit. Check for lung expansion: is it barely possible to hold in the smoke? Exhale slowly through nose and mouth, tasting, sampling, and smacking your lips. Does it taste like the aroma, the nose, or is it different? Once again, let your culinary imagination range with a free association of flavors—the name of that taste will be right on the tip of your tongue!

Can You Feel It?

After a few hits, as you are puzzling over the flavor, tune yourself into the effect the herb is having on your body. Take a roll call of your appendages: are there tingly sensations, points of heat or cold? What is going on behind your eyes, between the ears, in the neck?

Now move on the the metaphysical stimuli: is it a body stone or a head high? Social, giggly, quiet, couch-lock, creative, musical, intellectual, introspective, get up and get some chores done? How do you feel? Are you inspired? Combine that inspiration with your heightened sensory, spiritual and social awareness.

May every joint be a journey for you!

Originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now.

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Women of Influence: Kim Rivers

Arguably the most important woman in the cannabis industry, holding the position of chief executive officer at Florida-based cannabis behemoth Trulieve Cannabis Corp., a nationwide multi-state operator currently valued at $1.14B, Kim Rivers joined Trulieve at its inception and has since played a pivotal role in advancing the company’s customer-centric strategy, strong growth, strategic development and market-beating profitability. 

To assure quality, operational integrity and financial success, Rivers insists on supervising every step of the cannabis production process, from seed to sale. Before joining Trulieve, Rivers worked as an attorney in private practice specializing in mergers, acquisitions and securities for multi-million-dollar corporations. She’s also founded and operated numerous profitable enterprises, ranging from real estate to finance.

“Lean into your power, take your seat at the table and use your voice.” 

This story was originally published in issue 48 of the print edition of Cannabis Now. Read it now on the Cannabis Now iTunes app.

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Black Girl Magic Aims High

Josephine & Billie’s is the first dispensary in South Los Angeles focused on being made-for-and-run by women of color. The store is named in honor of entertainment legends Josephine Baker and Billie Holiday, two outspoken Black cannabis enthusiasts in the early 20th century. Baker and Holiday were ostracized for their use of cannabis and became unintentional advocates before their time. The celebrated performers used their respective talents to bend the rules and open the door for future rule-defying women.

Whitney Beatty and Ebony Andersen joined forces to open Josephine & Billie’s in 2021. Thoughtfully designed as a throwback, the dispensary is based on a teapad—the Black version of a speakeasy—where patrons smoked cannabis, drank and socialized in the 1920s and 1930s. The destination dispensary carries everything from tinctures to lotions to sex oils to flower and focuses on education, experience, inclusivity and community-building, with an eye for social justice and reform.

By creating safe spaces for cannabis education, Beatty and Andersen are encouraging women of color to let go of the stigma of cannabis. “We hear it all the time that they don’t feel comfortable, safe or heard,” Beatty says. 

The Directors Guild of America’s (DGA) award-winning reality television director and executive who’s now working in the cannabis space, Beatty advanced from an assistant all the way to a senior executive over the course of her dynamic 15-year career. Breaking boundaries is her jam.

Beatty wants to share her experiences and lessons learned with women of color who are also passionate about paving a path for future generations of women. “I never want to see someone have to work so hard to get to where I am,” she says. “If I can be a steppingstone—if they can take the lessons that I’ve learned and apply them and make their lives easier and be able to streamline their processes, any of
those things—that’s a win.

A calm force to be reckoned with, Andersen enjoyed a highly successful 17-year career as a land use specialist in Southern California, a position that gave her immense insight into how she could assist the newly legal cannabis industry. Andersen’s pivot from urban planner to cannabis consultant allowed her to manage several large-scale cannabis projects, including huge cultivation facilities, expansive manufacturing plants and Josephine and Billie’s dispensaries in four states. 

Andersen recounts times she faced discrimination as a woman in the workplace. “There was a lot of sexism,” she says. “But then I saw the blatant racism on top of it, right? It was rough. I call it career trauma. I had to learn as a woman, you literally have to take up space. You have to be assertive. You have to make your voice heard.” Andersen advises other women to live and work unapologetically—precisely like Josephine Baker and Billie Holiday did in their day. In fact, the very name of the dispensary harks back to the larger-than-life entertainers and role models.

Whitney Beatty and Ebony Andersen are building new inroads for LA’s 1.3 million residents who are women of color. 

The stage is set: It’s time for the show.  

This story was originally published in issue 48 of the print edition of Cannabis Now. Read it now on the Cannabis Now iTunes app.

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Jamie Pearson: Wonder Woman

Few leaders in the cannabis industry are as highly respected and influential as Jamie Pearson. Period. 

After spending more than three decades in global real estate investment, Pearson took a new direction, embarking on a career in cannabis—an industry she admits to not embracing when she was younger. Pearson spent seven years with Bhang Inc., one of the world’s most recognized edible brands and known for its gourmet chocolate bars. For three of those years, she led the company’s diverse executive team, managed the “expansion through licensing” plan, ran the capital markets division and became the face of the brand that was catapulted globally before she departed in 2022. 

Utilizing her extensive experience, Pearson recently founded the New Holland Group, a global consulting firm serving international cannabis clients with expertise in operations, brand licensing, strategic planning, effective capital raising, executive coaching, celebrity partnerships, M&A deal structuring and financial turnarounds. Most of her clients deal with international expansion or licensing. 

Pearson is widely known as a popular and engaging speaker at industry events. She implores industry leaders to share access, reject the plant’s stigma and promote cannabis and hemp as gateways to wellness for not only physical health, but also communities and the planet. 

Despite her late entry into cannabis, Pearson’s exposure to the plant began at an early age. Her father has been growing cannabis for well more than half a century in her home state of Montana. It took music producer DJ Muggs, founder of the legendary hip-hop group Cypress Hill—and her first cousin—to change Pearson’s trajectory. About a decade ago, Muggs, who had been investing in real estate with Pearson, asked her to help the band find a weed deal. 

“He was comfortable doing business with me, and it led to me finding Bhang, and Cypress Hill then did a deal with Bhang,” she says. “One thing led to another, and the company asked me if I’d stay on.” 

After Bhang went public in July 2019, the board asked Pearson to come in as the interim CEO where she ended up serving from October 2019 to August 2022. “The unique part of my story was that I was a high school and college athlete and played basketball and was more interested in sports and education and bought into the whole War on Drugs and wasn’t a fan of my dad growing and using cannabis,” Pearson says. “When I started working for Bhang, I realized how many desperate people there were in pain and who couldn’t sleep. They were using our products, and it was making them feel better. It was a big wake-up call for me that the stigma was just garbage.” 

Pearson says she started examining her belief system even though she grew up around cannabis and knew it made her dad feel better after Vietnam. “I witnessed that, and it was part of my life, but the stigma was so powerful,” she says. “My dad was a root, and I was a suit. I worked as a middle school English teacher and taught German at the University of Oregon and had all kinds of professional jobs before I became a real estate investor. I then used my real estate investing tools to become successful in cannabis.”

Before entering the industry, Pearson hadn’t tried cannabis. What she says is that alcohol is poison and that much of the younger generation is rejecting it in favor of plant medicine. “I became evangelistic about it, working two to three years in the industry,” Pearson says. “Originally when I bought into it, it was about curiosity and out of a desire to do something with Muggs. Now, I can’t imagine doing anything else.” 

Pearson worked for Bhang for seven years and thinks no one should read anything into her departure last year. She says she never contemplated being the CEO of a public company, and once she took on the role, there was no path for her to leave until she forged one. Pearson dispels any notion her exit was abrupt and says she gave the board notice long before it came out publicly and there was a plan for succession. 

“Being a CEO of a public company for three years was enough,” Pearson says. “I didn’t leave Bhang to start the New Holland Group. That wasn’t the plan. I wanted to take a break and travel with my kids, and I had people coming out of the woodwork asking me what I was doing now.” 

Pearson refers to her time with Bhang as a wonderful experience, emphasizing how lucky she was to reinvent herself and learn a new skill in her 50s—what she calls an MBA by fire. As she puts it, “it’s about being thrown in the deep end of the pool and either sinking or swimming.”  

Despite her best efforts to “take a break,” Pearson says people kept asking her to work on their projects, and she gained consulting clients because she was available. She now sees how successfully taking Bhang across seven state lines, nine European countries and into Canada has positioned herself as one of the industry’s most sought-after speakers and advisors. “I became a popular speaker because I was in the trenches at the deepest level,” Pearson says. “I wasn’t just running a public company, but a cannabis company and brand that was doing well everywhere we existed because the products were good.”

Pearson says women aren’t committing unforced errors in the cannabis industry any more than men do and admits women are held to a double standard.

“I don’t think women are out there making a lot of mistakes,” she says. “I think women are responsible for 85 percent of all of the purchasing decisions in the household. The fact that there aren’t enough women at the table is a mistake all companies are making. There should be more women in leadership and the C-suites. That also holds true for people of color. When you look at the statistics of who uses cannabis, there’s absolutely no difference between white people and people of color.”

According to Pearson, during her tenure, Bhang’s board and management team were diverse across race, gender and sexual orientations. She sought out conversations with people who didn’t look like her or think like her because, according to Pearson, getting better meant welcoming many different viewpoints. 

“What’s wrong with America today is that social media and algorithms are putting more of what you know, like and are comfortable with in front of your face and it’s this confirmation bias,” Pearson says. “We need less of that.”

Pearson says she has a far greater inclination to fund female-owned businesses because by looking at the statistics, women-founded businesses operate at a higher rate of profitability and are run more efficiently.

“Women need to know they have the skills to be out there and do big things. They just need to have confidence in themselves and trust they can go and actually do it because we don’t have a lot of role models,” Pearson says. “That was certainly true for me when I was running this company. I had run a much larger real estate company. I had more employees and managed much more money in dollar value in assets in my real estate business. I started from the ground up, and everything I wanted to do I was allowed to do. In cannabis, you can’t bank and go get lines of credit and buy ad words. There are so many things you can’t do that you have to learn guerilla marketing and find workarounds. The cannabis industry required a tremendous ability to problem solve and stay within the guardrails of what was compliant and allowed.”

While Pearson clearly has a strong, highly valuable skillset, she says her love and acceptance of all people is what makes her truly stand out. Holding a belief that the world is abundant, Pearson proudly calls herself “approachable.” 

“Maybe it’s because I’m from Montana, and we don’t have six degrees of separation,” she says.

When it comes to her legacy in the male-dominated cannabis industry, Pearson wants to be known for making the journey easier for every person she encounters. 

“When I meet somebody new, I always ask them, ‘What can I do for you?’” Pearson says. “If they answer with something I can do, I do it; and I think that’s another part of my legacy. If I tell you I’m going to do something, you can take that to the bank. I’ll always do it.”

Pearson says she’s fortunate to have the support and friendship of a strong group of women in the cannabis industry who have made her own journey easier because she felt heard and didn’t have to do it alone. “I’m giving them a shoutout and letting them know they’ve really made a difference in my life,” a deadly serious Pearson says. “For women reading my words right now, in the actual moments you want to isolate yourself because you’re genuinely struggling, those are the precise moments you really need
to reach out and get the support you need.” 

This story was originally published in issue 48 of the print edition of Cannabis Now. Read it now on the Cannabis Now iTunes app.

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