On a busy Wednesday evening at a photo studio at the Cattle Track Arts Compound in Scottsdale, 30 professional women celebrated their accomplishments in an industry that takes grit to survive in — the cannabis sector. “I’m honored to even be in the room,” many of the participating women shared over and over, seemingly in awe at getting all the busy industry leaders in one location.
While medical marijuana has been legal in Arizona since 2010, it has only been legalized for adult personal use since late 2020. It’s an established industry that is also emerging at the same time—and it comes with the opportunities and challenges that paradox brings.
“Every woman in this room has demonstrated resilience in their professional endeavors. Success in the cannabis industry isn’t easy and it is certainly not for the faint of heart,” said Kim Prince, CEO and founder of Proven Media, a public relations and marketing firm that specifically serves the regulated cannabis sector.
“Arizona’s Top Women of Cannabis 2023 list and photoshoot is a chance to honor the true ‘OGs’ of an industry where only 22 percent of women hold executive level roles,” Prince said. “This honor is a recognition of the women who are risk takers and whose passion for the plant, entrepreneurial spirit, and the freedom to make one’s own healthcare choices, has motivated them to succeed.”
Women in cannabis
According to the recent Women in Cannabis Study (WICS), companies in the cannabis sector with women in leadership roles produce more than twice the revenue per dollar invested than those without women in those vital roles. The same study cites that 72% of women in the industry came to work in the sector because of their positive experiences with cannabis.
Traci Black is vice president of operations at DIZPOT, a global cannabis branding and packaging company based out of Phoenix. At DIZPOT, five out of the seven major leadership roles are held by women—many of whom transitioned from other industries.
“Though the corporate leadership paradigm is in a state of change from a gender-based to a talent-based enterprise, being a woman in the cannabis industry has come with its share of challenges,” Black said. “Transitioning from a more traditional retail sales enterprise to the medical marijuana business was one of the biggest professional obstacles I’ve faced.”
“Beginning my career at Nature’s Medicines, I had to rebuild my contacts and my reputation quickly in this male dominant industry,” she continued. “It was like drinking through a firehose while learning a new language. Leaning on what I knew, I focused on my team, learning from them, and building their trust. I truly believe that if you are passionate about what you do, everything will fall into place.”
Recently, Headset, a leading cannabis data company, released a study that showed that 2022 was a tumultuous year for the cannabis industry for a variety of reasons—including declining sales in multiple markets after a boom during the pandemic. When the market is precarious, it impacts everyone from growers to dispensaries to businesses that provide vital services to the sector, such as packaging, law practices, and real estate.
The women selected for the Arizona’s Top Women of Cannabis 2023 list come from a variety of backgrounds—some have launched their own dispensaries, and some are professionals who, because of their love of the plant, took their talent set and found a niche in the sector (such as medical professionals and real estate experts, for example). Many are advocates for legal change in the regulated industry and others hold roles in marketing and management for established cannabis companies. One thing they all have in common is being nimble enough to roll with the punches and talented enough to adjust as needed to an emerging sector.
“The most important lesson I’ve learned is to adapt to daily changes in this evolving industry,” said Teresa Hansen, Director of Edible Operations and Sales Account Manager for Copperstate Farms, a vertically integrated cannabis operator headquartered in Phoenix. “From regulations, to processes, to personnel, this industry can test your patience and the more you can flow and adapt to change the quicker you can grow with it versus against it.”
The state of the industry and looking to the future
While 2022 had its challenges for the cannabis industry, Allie Marconi, senior director of marketing at Copperstate Farms, said it was also an important year of reform and growth for the cannabis industry. “The cannabis sector continues to benefit from new markets that legalize adult-use and medicinal cannabis, federal policy that appears to be heading in a positive direction, and growing sales to Gen Z consumers,” Marconi added.
Looking ahead, experts predict that many cannabis brands will partner with one another for success and that there will continue to be a push toward national legalization. In addition, diversity and inclusion will be key in 2023 as women, BIPOC and LGBTQ+ community members help the market to succeed and evolve. This change will likely be led by women as a study from McKinsey and LeanIn.org shows that women executives help with growth and focus on DEI often more so than their male counterparts.
“Building a successful business in the cannabis sector is hard; it’s even harder when you’re a woman or minority,” said Marvina Thomas, CEO and founder of Fourtwenty Collections, an authorized woman and minority owned cannabis company headquartered in Arizona. “Right now, women only maintain 22 percent of executive roles, and minorities, 13 percent.”
Sara Gullickson, a multi-state license holder and CEO and founder of The Cannabis Business Advisors, has consulted globally across four continents and inked more than $100 million in transactions. She agreed that DEI efforts are the way of the future; she has six licenses that are woman or minority owned. “Know your worth,” she said as advice to women working to succeed in the industry. “And, on the flip side of that, know your weaknesses.” From those, she added, you can work with others who complement you with their strengths.
The power of connection and authenticity
“We [women in the cannabis industry] are stronger together,” said Katie Laurino, marketing manager at Jeeter, a popular pre-roll cannabis brand. “Connect with other women in the industry who inspire you and support each other.”
“Be authentic—use your strengths to match a position in the industry,” advised Jane Fix, director of patient services at Sol Flower Dispensaries.
Many of the women in the Powerful Women of Cannabis 2023 group said that networking and mentorship are vital to their shared success in the industry. Luckily, multiple professional organizations and nonprofits such as the Arizona Dispensaries Association and the Arizona Cannabis Chamber of Commerce are doing their part to help improve access to the cannabis industry for women and minorities.
“I think it’s crucial to highlight woman-owned companies whenever possible,” said Marie Saloum, CEO of GreenPharms Dispensaries. “In this industry, like any other, women need to look out for one another and lift one another up. By featuring more woman-led brands, it affords a level of visibility that allows others to realize they, too, can achieve their entrepreneurial goals.”
Powerful women of cannabis 2023
• Laura Bianchi, attorney, co-founder and partner, Bianchi & Brandt
• Traci Black, vice president of operations, DIZPOT
• Greta Brandt, president, The Flower Shop
• Pam Donner, partner and owner, Desert Medical Campus Inc., and High Point Jewelry
• Jane Fix, director of patient services, Sol Flower Dispensaries
• Janet Jackim Esq., partner, Zuber Lawler; and executive co-chair, Arizona Cannabis Chamber of Commerce
• Pele Peacock Fischer, Esq., senior vice president, Strategies 360
• Sara Gullickson, founder and CEO, The Cannabis Business Advisors
• Julie Gunnigle, independent prosecutor, Arizona NORML
• Teresa Hansen, director of edible operations; sales account manager, Copperstate Farms
• Lori Hicks, operations manager, Arizona Natural Concepts (ANC) and RJK Brands
• Katie Laurino, marketing manager, Jeeter
• Allie Marconi, senior director of marketing, Copperstate Farms and Sol Flower Dispensaries
• Lauren Niehaus, director of government affairs, Trulieve and board member, Arizona Dispensaries Association (ADA) (NOT SHOWN)
• Kortney Otten, attorney, of counsel, Gallagher & Kennedy, P.A.
• Jane Plank, national sales manager, Boveda
• Lilach Power, founder and CEO, Giving Tree Dispensary and the Mazor Collective and board president of the Arizona Dispensaries Association (ADA)
• Kim Prince, CEO and founder, Proven Media, and executive co-chair, Arizona Cannabis Chamber of Commerce
• Sara Presler, attorney and consultant, Mohave Cannabis Co. (NOT SHOWN)
• Parisa Rad, president, Fourtwenty Collections; co-counder, Blunt Brunch; and board member, Arizona Cannabis Chamber of Commerce
• Marie Saloum, CEO, GreenPharms Dispensaries
• Leah Sigety, Arizona director of operations, Curaleaf
• Dr. Sue Sisley, MD, president and principal researcher, Scottsdale Research Institute and Field to Healed Foundation
• Tammy Stewart, founder and CEO, Full Spectrum Compliance
• Kaila Strong, director of retail marketing (West), Curaleaf; and board member, Arizona Cannabis Chamber of Commerce
• Marvina Thomas, CEO and founder, Fourtwenty Collections
• Carmen Toma, COO and co-founder, Hippie Chicks
• Ann Torrez, executive director, Arizona Dispensaries Association (ADA)
• Sarah Tyree, political director, Arizona NORML
• Kayla Weed, marketing manager, Trulieve Cannabis Corp