International Women’s Day: Celebrating Tech Cannabis Leaders

Let’s hear it for the girls!

International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global celebration of women’s cultural, social, political and economic achievements. And as it happens to fall in March, which is also Women’s History Month, the love is compounded. The theme for IWD 2023 is “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality,” which, according to the United Nations, “recognizes and celebrates the women and girls who are championing the advancement of transformative technology and digital education.” Additionally, the theme of IWD 2023 offers an opportunity to examine how growing economic and social disparities are impacted by the digital gender gap and spotlight the importance of protecting the rights of women and girls in the digital realm.

Since the dawn of the digital age in the mid-20th century, women have made untold unsung contributions to the development of our increasingly digital world. Grace Hopper was an esteemed computer scientist and one of the first computer programmers to work on the general-purpose electromechanical computer, Harvard Mark I; Radia Perlman, nicknamed the “Mother of the Internet” designed the algorithm behind the Spanning Tree Protocol (STP) and was instrumental in making today’s internet possible; Katherine Johnson, the NASA mathematician whose trajectory analysis was crucial to the success of the first-ever US space flight.

While women make up only 22% of artificial intelligence workers globally, digital technology is creating new opportunities for the global emancipation of women, girls and other marginalized groups, according to the United Nations. The digital age offers an unparalleled chance to eradicate all types of inequity and inequality, from gender-responsive digital learning to tech-facilitated sexual and reproductive healthcare. 

Women in Weed

In the cannabis industry, women hold significant roles as entrepreneurs, breeders, producers, marketers, researchers and more. Women have also developed innovative technological solutions and programs to help move the sector forward. However, despite the progress being made, there’s still work to be done to achieve gender parity in the industry. According to the report “Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in the Cannabis Industry” by MJBizDaily, both cannabis company ownership and the percentage of women in executive-level roles have both shown stagnant growth from 2020-21, with both categories sitting around 1-2%.

The importance of showcasing and supporting women in historically male-dominated industries cannot be understated. According to psychologist Penelope Lockwood, women need to see female role models more than men need to see male role models.

“Outstanding women can function as inspirational examples of success, illustrating the kinds of achievements that are possible for women around them, says Lockwood. “They demonstrate that it’s possible to overcome traditional gender barriers, indicating to other women that high levels of success are indeed attainable.”

To celebrate our sinsemilla sisters, three women who are challenging gender bias and inequality share their thoughts on the intersect of women, cannabis and technology.

Photo courtesy of Aubrey Amatelli 

Aubrey Amatelli 

Founder, PayRio, Inc.

PayRio is a female-founded payments company that offers specialized payment solutions in the CBD, high-risk and health and wellness sectors. Founder and self-described “highly driven, long-term payments geek” Aubrey Amatelli has a background in payment processing, honing her craft at corporate giants including JP Morgan. 

“80% of our business directly supports dispensary growth through card payments,” Amatelli says. “It’s our mission to normalize payments in the cannabis industry and we’re off to a great start.” 

Amatelli says she has a lot of respect for cannabis and regularly uses the plant therapeutically. She says that her “love for the plant” led her to found PayRio with the goal to “bring feminine energy to the technology payments space, in an industry bursting at the seams with potential feminine power” and her goal is to “help that feminine power breakthrough and thrive.” 

“The cannabis flower we all love and support comes from the female plant, which is restorative and receptive by nature; this same energy has a significant impact on technology,” says Amatelli. “Women in tech are also tied directly to increased revenue and innovation. Women contribute superior problem-solving and help close the skills gap. As the relationship between women, cannabis and tech grows, so will the cannabis industry—a common mission for us all.” 

Amatelli believes that to positively impact gender equality in cannabis, it’s important to “spread the love and support for women-owned cannabis businesses.” Following women-owned businesses and vendors on social media platforms and purchasing products from their companies is a great way to show your support. But, she says, one of the most beneficial ways to impact gender equality in cannabis is to hire women and promote them from within. “Create flexible job requisitions and part-time roles that are conducive to women with children,” she says. “We can do this!”

Photo courtesy of Jill Ellsworth

Jill Ellsworth 

Founder & CEO, Willow Industries

Willow Industries is the industry leader in cannabis kill step and post-harvest microbial decontamination technology using organic, ozone-based technology that reduces or eliminates contaminants from cannabis while protecting the plant’s medicinal properties. The Denver-based company has been named one of Inc. 5000’s fastest-growing private companies in America two years in a row and was recognized in the top 50 on the 2022 Financial Times’ list of The Americas’ fastest-growing companies. Fueled by her passion for innovation and dedication to health, founder Jill Ellsworth has made a career of creating solutions for better living.

For years, cannabis has helped Ellsworth “level out the emotional swings of being a CEO, without feeding into it, unlike alcohol.” When she needs to feel “Zen” but still function, Ellsworth reaches for low-level THC products.

Ellsworth founded Willow in 2015 and says back then, there were “very few women in the industry representing technology—especially hardware.” But she believes that this gave her a “competitive advantage” at the time. 

“As time moved on, it has been really encouraging to see more women step into this industry as leaders and founders of tech companies and I know we will see less of a gender disparity as the industry matures,” Ellsworth says. “However, it takes women stepping into their light and being confident they can permeate a male-dominated industry. No one is going to give you that confidence. Have the strength and fortitude to put yourself out there and if that confidence radiates, people will follow.” 

Ellsworth says she believes to see more progress in overcoming gender bias, women “need to continue championing for themselves” and that “no one will see your great accomplishments if you don’t promote yourself. Women-founded companies only exist if women seize the opportunity and continually persevere. Don’t give up and don’t give in. If you have a great idea and there is a product/market fit, make it happen,” Ellsworth says. 

Ellsworth says we’ll continue to see a “dynamic shift” as more companies bring women into leadership roles. “Gone are the days when only white men make up executive suites and board rooms,” she says. “I feel confident that companies will start prioritizing women candidates for executive roles, so put yourself out there.”

Photo courtesy of Tracee McAfee

Tracee McAfee

Principal and CEO, Cryo Cure

Cryo Cure is changing traditional cannabis drying and curing techniques. Revolutionary freeze-dried technology removes the water content from harvested flower to preserve fragile trichomes and terpene potency at an optimal moisture level. The system dries and cures cannabis in as little as 13 hours, drastically cutting processing time from weeks to days. Before founding Cryo Cure, founder Tracee McAfee spent three decades building multi-million-dollar brands in the consumer products sector. McAfee’s diverse business background across new market sectors offers her a unique perspective to build and thrive in the cannabis industry.

“Cannabis doesn’t care about your gender and it shouldn’t matter to others, either,” McAfee says, who “adores all aspects of the cannabis plant” and microdoses flower to treat her PTSD and overall well-being.

McAfee says that she has been “very fortunate not to have experienced gender or age discrimination” in the cannabis industry. It saddens her when she “hears about other women that have had bad experiences in our space.” She acknowledges the hard-working women who are making big waves in this space and believes that if you share your “passion, experience and research with others and they see know what you’re talking about, respect comes no matter your gender.” 

McAfee recommends using sensitivity and awareness because some women entering this space “may have been through a rough time in their past careers. Give everyone the fresh start and respect they deserve.”

Above all else, McAfee says she loves paving the way for other women to enter this exciting industry. “To be a tech leader—and in cannabis—is an honor I carry proudly,” she says.

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Ciro Makes Cleaning Bongs a Breeze

I love it when a new product comes along that’s been designed with the core function to make life better, easier and cleaner. A product that makes me say, “Wow, I need that.” The truly revolutionary Ciro bong cleaner is one such item. The first-of-its-kind countertop appliance is the healthiest, most sustainable way to clean your pipes, bongs, grinder and trimming scissors by removing all the sticky resin using sonic waves—and in under 15 minutes without harmful and expensive chemicals.

Derivative of the Latin word for circle, the Ciro glass cleaner is the brainchild of two Emerald Triangle-based women, Laura Costa and Cara Cordoni.

“The Ciro comes from the heart of Humboldt County,” Costa says. “In addition to being great farmers, we’re also engineers, architects and artists.”

The Ciro cleans glassware and accessories in minutes.

How the Ciro Works

By harnessing industrial ultrasonic cleaning technology, the Ciro cleans the dirtiest bongs, pipes and other cannabis accessories and apparatus such as scissors and metal grinders. And it does so without using any nasty chemicals in a few minutes.

According to Costa, the sonic energy creates “cavitation,” tiny bubbles that explode against the resin, blasting it off the surface material and eliminating the need for solvents or other chemicals. 

The device is unique because the product’s design doesn’t require the bong to be submerged. Instead, it only needs to be filled with water. The Ciro’s six-inch base fits most bongs and if you want to clean dirty pipes, grinders or other accessories, simply pop them in a glass of water and place it in the Ciro. Adding a few drops of biodegradable dishwashing liquid emulsifies the resin, making for easy cleanup.

“The cannabis industry is loaded with waste,” Costa says. “One Ciro is about the same cost as about a dozen bottles of cleaner that you’ll never have to buy again. We’re very proud that we created something that eliminates a lot of single-use plastic and toxic chemicals from the environment.”

Ciro Bong Cleaner
The Ciro uses ultrasonic waves to create tiny bubbles that blast even the toughest resin off the glass.

The Benefits

The Full Flavor: Getting the full taste of the terpene profiles is one of the highlights of smoking cannabis. If you’re using a dirty bong containing stagnant bong water, you’re doing yourself and the flower a disservice. “You wouldn’t drink wine from a dirty glass,” Cordoni says. “So why would you smoke weed from a dirty bong?”

Reduced Respiratory Risks: Smoking out of dirty bongs and pipes isn’t just bad for the taste of your flower; it potentially poses health risks, too. Gross stagnant bong water is a haven for bacteria and other microbes that latch onto the gas and resin found inside your bong. Resin-encrusted bongs are a breeding ground for harmful bacteria and pathogens. Smoking with them can lead to illnesses like strep throat and pneumonia.

Easy Cleanup: Cleaning bongs can be complicated and time-consuming, not to mention damn near impossible if you have dexterity issues. The sleek hands-free design of the Ciro makes it super easy to use, especially for patients and disabled users who often struggle to maintain the level of cleanliness that they deserve with traditional methods.

Environmentally Conscious Engineering: As well as eliminating toxic chemicals and reducing the need for single-use plastic, the Ciro is also engineered for performance and durability and includes a lifetime warranty. Costa and Cordoni developed a circular business model that will repair or reclaim products at end-of-life.

Ciro Bong Cleaner
Ciro founders Cara Cordoni (L) and Laura Costa (R).

Necessity and Innovation

The Ciro was born out of a two-fold need: a way to clean cannabis smoking apparatus and support her family as they worked through farming bureaucracy, Costa says.

“Many small farmers in the Emerald Triangle didn’t make it through the oppressive red tape and permitting costs of legalization after Prop 64,” Costa says. “Many farmers and their families had to pivot and find other ways to provide for their families.”

Costa is a skilled electrical engineer who spent part of her 20s rewiring airports in the South Pacific. She’s married to a legacy farmer and has spent years overseeing trim crews, tinkering with inventive ways to clean resinous apparatus. Costa built the first Ciro prototype using a thrift store cake pan as Exhibit A to her resourcefulness.

Cordoni is a San Francisco native and accomplished business builder, managing and coaching teams at various Fortune 500 companies and cannabis startups. Her passion for nurturing cradle-to-cradle product development extends into developing profitable businesses that prioritize protecting people and the environment.

“We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished with Ciro,” Costa says. “We have the potential to provide a less wasteful and healthier cleaning and consumption experience for the cannabis community.”

Ciro has launched for pre-sale on Indiegogo. A pledge of $185 reserves one Ciro + accessories at 26% off the retail price of $250. Multiple packs are available for dispensaries at a more generous discount. To see Ciro in action, or to pre-purchase a unit, visit @ciro_humboldt.

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Built By Girls, Powered By Plants, Made For Everyone

Cannabis legalization is leading to more experimentation around the ways we consume cannabis. With so many options out there (good and bad), it’s refreshing to know some companies truly care—companies that are dedicated to creating the healthiest product possible. TribeTokes is one such company.

Founded in 2017 by CEO Degelis Tufts Pilla and CMO Kymberly Byrnes, the health-focused brand creates Delta-8 THC products for people seeking a relaxing experience that feels less “heady.” Pilla and Byrnes launched the company out of their own desire for a vapable cannabis product that didn’t irritate the way flower smoke often can, without sacrificing what they love about cannabis flower.

No Frills or Fillers

Since Colorado legalized cannabis back in 2012, it seems like we went from special brownies being somewhat of a kitchen science fair, to well-labeled gummies that could leave you feeling anxious if you ate more than half. However, even well-labeled packages can be misleading if the cooks aren’t properly testing the product with each batch from harvest to the moment it’s packaged and sent out. 

All the ladies at TribeTokes (and COO Greg Pilla, Degelis’ husband) watched as many vapes contained harmful materials, including heavy metals, Vitamin E acetate, fillers and other additives not intended for smoking. They’ve been working closely with farmers and chemists alike to put out a healthy array of CBD and Delta-8 THC products without any of the unnecessary additives. All laboratory analysis for TribeTokes products are available on their website under the About Us tab. 

“To us, cannabis is a wellness category, so there is no place for unhealthy fillers in vapes, pesticides in flower, high fructose corn syrup in edibles, or artificial fragrances in topicals,” Pilla told Cannabis Now. “We started with clean vaping because it was such an obvious problem to tackle in the industry.” 

TribeTokes founders and CEO Degelis Tufts Pilla (R) and CMO Kymberly Byrnes (L). PHOTO TribeTokes.

After taking clean vapes, CBD and Delta-8 into their own hands about five years ago, TribeTokes was pushing for the development of the cleanest product they could bring to tokers like you. It wasn’t until two years later that we witnessed the problems that come with adding fillers and unconventional extraction methods. In 2019 the Evali outbreak was recognized by the CDC as they started investigating the link to electronic cigarettes and vape-associated lung injuries. They found a link to Vitamin E acetate fillers that were cheap ways to extend the shelf life of THC vapes.

At this time, Rolling Stone and Forbes took notice of the ladies at TribeTokes for using natural ingredients. To extend the shelf life of their vapes, serums and gummies TribeTokes instead uses terpenes, the compounds found in cannabis that are responsible for creating the variety in taste and smell. Using these methods doesn’t just add to the health benefits, but also to the overall quality of TribeTokes products.

TribeTokes is dedicated to a customer experience that is reflected by transparency in their hard work. The company shows you that you’ll be in safe hands using their CBD or Delta-8 THC products and you will likely experience the same feelings of relaxation and happiness that you look for when consuming cannabis. And as the company’s products are derived from hemp, you can easily buy them online.

CBD of All Kinds

The main driver of TribeTokes has been CBD in all shapes and sizes—including Delta-8 THC. Often referred to as “diet weed,” Delta-8 THC is growing in popularity, partly because it’s actually derived from CBD and its more well-known cousin, Delta-9 THC. Delta-8 has many of the same effects as Delta-9, but it’s intrinsically less strong. Delta-9 products will soon be available to TribeTokes fans in Massachusetts.

With so many growers aiming for the strongest product, it seems fewer are focused on the complete experience of the consumer. With the whole TribeTokes team working behind clean Delta-8 usage, you can feel great knowing the extraction process takes enough safe steps to ensure you’ll be satisfied. 

Women Behind The Weed

Since the launch of their business, Pilla and Byrnes have had premium, healthy marijuana on their minds. After meeting at an NYC Women Grow event, both ladies realized they were heading down the same path of making clean CBD products for a tribe of people that’s had enough of the risks that come with using fillers and pesticides in weed products. Together, Byrnes, Degelis Pilla and Greg Pilla have combined their superpowers in fitness, CBD, business and plant-based medicine to create the tribe they sought to build early on. 

A longtime plant medicine enthusiast, Pilla has been the CFA and CEO since the company took off in 2017. Her experience working as COO of several other start-ups provided her with the wherewithal to drive TribeTokes to the next level of clean plant-based products.

In addition to her role as CMO at TribeTokes, Byrnes also serves on the advisory board for The Cannabis World Congress & Business Exposition and is a longtime advocate for clean cannabis and psilocybin use. A former High Times judge, it’s clear Byrnes knows her stuff when it comes to quality.

Dr. Lynn Parodneck, TribeTokes’ medical advisor. PHOTO TribeTokes.

TribeTokes’ Commitment to Patient Wellbeing

Alongside the distinguished team running the show at TribeTokes, you’ll find Dr. Lynn Parodneck, who serves as the brand’s medical advisor. She brings a trustworthy 20 years of medical marijuana experience and currently serves over 500 current patients. Parodneck has been a trusted source for NY Daily News, NPR, Mashable, and Good Housekeeping and she continues to spread awareness on how medical marijuana can be a safe alternative to many other potentially risky prescription medications. 

Pilla and Byrnes first met Dr. Parodneck at various cannabis community events in New York, including Women Grow and Cannagather. 

“We hit it off on a personal level, but also respected how she has been helping patients in need to get their medical cards way before it was mainstream,” Pilla said.

Pilla and Byrnes invited Dr. Parodneck to be a medical advisor to formalize their relationship. From there, they started a “Pot Luck” program for those who are very sick, Veterans and/or below the poverty level and need CBD. Dr. Parodneck provides a consultation screening and TribeTokes donates and ships $500+ worth of products. Patients also have access to a 50% off code for life to use on the site. 

Nothing shows the deep passion and compassion of TribeTokes like having Dr. Lynn Parodneck join the team of women committed to powering healthy CBD-derived products. Since the Compassionate Care Act of New York passed, Dr. Parodneck has been helping patients understand how the body interacts with CBD, THC and other organic substances. To serve those who are experiencing a green card-qualifying medical condition, she’s been using TribeTokes as a brand partner. The benefit of that to many of us is that CBD, and in many states Delta-8, is not restricted at all. This means you can order most of TribeTokes products directly to your door. 

Large groups of cannabis companies swooped in while legalization was being enacted across the US. Some saw an opportunity for profit, while others looked to progress the world of weed, driving the community as a whole. For years, TribeTokes and its founders have been a large part of this community as they continue to drive innovation forward in the clean-vaping world. Combined with years of business experience, TribeTokes is a company with the knowledge to create premium products worth what it costs. 

If you want to join the Tribe today, readers of Cannabis Now can get 20% off your first order with code TRIBE20 when you checkout

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