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In Colorado, the number of women in marijuana industry is getting higher

Published May 18, 2014 12:55 pm

Marijuana • The state soon will have its own cannabis network for women.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Denver • Christie Lunsford used to feel so lonely.

As a medical marijuana caregiver, she would attend cannabis industry meetings and be the only woman in the room.

"The first time I saw another female, I was really excited. That was in 2010," said the 43-year-old Denver wife and mother, who has branched out to cannabis marketing, product development and sales.

These days, she attends some cannabis-industry meetings that are all-women — and all about women. What began several years ago with a trickle of women tiptoeing into the brave, new weed world has turned into a stream in Colorado.

This summer, the state will have its own cannabis network for women, Women Grow. The new organization will stage educational symposiums and regular monthly events where like-minded women in the industry can connect and mentor or be mentored.

More than two dozen women in the Denver area, ranging in age from late 20s to mid 60s, are running large grow operations, opening storefronts and developing topical products and edible lines. Women are selling marijuana-friendly real estate, creating software for the industry, taking the reins at cannabis testing labs and climbing into leadership roles in the policymaking and legislative arena.

The intent is to tip the statistics that show nearly half of men admit to having tried marijuana but only a third of women have.

They are persuading more women to try to consider cannabis by staging pot-themed events that appeal to the more feminine side of users, including spa and yoga retreats, upscale culinary and art soirees, bachelorette parties and even symphony and marijuana mashups.

"We are encouraging women to come out of the woodwork," said Jane West, owner of Edible Events Co. and founder of Women Grow. "We need their voice in this industry."

Women are not only jumping into an industry built by men and cashing in on the explosion of business opportunities that Colorado's legalization of marijuana has created. They are also gentrifying and gentling pot's testosterone-laden image.

That old stereotype of a woman in skimpy clothing suggestively holding a bong? So yesterday, these women say. They point to their classy websites and ads where women are depicted in business clothes, not bikinis, and the appeal is aimed more at the malbec and tapenade crowd instead of "stoners."

"Women have been more like accessories in the industry. They've been objectified and used to draw in men. No more. Now, we women are saying we enjoy cannabis as well," said Olivia Mannix, who teamed up with Jennifer DeFalco to form the cannabis marketing company Cannabrand.

They recently launched an online "canna-culture" store where women can buy stylish clutches along with artsy pipes and fancy stash boxes.

"Classin' up the joint" is the way Diane Fornbacher describes the female impact on the cannabis industry in "Ladybud," her magazine devoted to women's issues related to weed.

Fornbacher has been one of the pioneers in the pot industry. For about two decades, she was a writer for "High Times" and the pot-growing magazine, "Skunk." In more recent years she has been one of four female members on the 19-member governance board for NORML, a national organization devoted to reforming marijuana laws.

Fornbacher last month moved to Highlands Ranch from New Jersey, drawn by both the legalization and the growing network of female ganjapreneurs. "There is a kind of sisterhood here," Fornbacher said.

That sisterhood has a wide range of women who support each other. They praise each other's products and services and send customers each others' way.

NORML is also carrying out an outreach for women nationally with the NORML Women's Alliance, which is billed as an offshoot organization for women against prohibition.

The Colorado group will be more about women trying to support each other in a business that is complicated because it is new and it falls between conflicting state and federal laws.

"It's a fantastic, exciting industry," Lunsford said, "and we want to be leaders in it." Women of Colorado cannabis

A look at some of the other women who have emerged in the female network of the cannabis industry:

• Julie Dooley, a Denver mother of three, who turns out healthy infused products like Grown Up Granola and Sensible Seed Mix as president of Julie and Kate Baked Goods.

• Jessica Billingsley and Amy Poinsett. They started the MJ Freeway Business Solutions company to develop software for the cannabis industry.

• Genifer Murray who put her microbiology degree to use by starting CannLabs Inc., a THC testing lab, and Heather Depres, the lab director at CannLabs who is lending her expertise to the state Marijuana Enforcement Division.

• Kristi Kelly, who presides over several storefronts and two industrial indoor grow operations with her Good Meds Network.

• Meg Collins, the director of the Cannabis Business Alliance, an industry trade group.