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March 21, 2022
Nine Women-Owned, Barrier-Breaking Cannabis Brands to Support Year-Round

BY TAYLOR ENGLE | Photography courtesy of respective brands, original graphics by Ember

For centuries, women worldwide have made crucial contributions to advance the story of cannabis, from the Scythian women warriors of Central Asia who utilized the plant in ancient rituals, to Billie Holiday defiantly crooning about her consumption at the height of the American Prohibition era.

These brave women played a key role in bringing the plant to its increasingly accepted status today; they experimented with cannabis medicinally, therapeutically, and spiritually, while fearlessly advocating for its destigmatization the way San Francisco medical cannabis rights activist 'Brownie Mary' Rathbun distributed THC-infused baked goods to AIDS patients in the 1980s. 

While cannabis's benefits are now utilized by adults of all ages, genders, and races, the plant has historically had a special relationship with women’s bodies, with ancient texts outlining how the cannabis was used to soothe a spectrum of symptoms of PMS and menstruation, menopause, and even childbirth. In today's evolving cannabis market, women were recently reported to be the fastest-growing consumers of legal cannabis—a figure that steadily rose throughout 2020, with NBC stating that "the future of cannabis is female."

As the ever-expanding cannabis industry continues to transition from underground legacy operations to a fully legal market, women are still innovating from within, advocating for and working towards a more equitable industry that honors the plant’s healing origins, and ensures that we make room for minority business owners to achieve a fair shot at the legal market. 

This roundup of nine women-owned cannabis brands highlights some of the incredible work women are accomplishing in the industry, and how they’re paving the way for more women and minorities to find their footing in cannabis today.

Miss Grass

Self-described as “weed for the times,” Miss Grass is run by a team of 13 women—all "cannabis lovers and true stoners"—whose mission is twofold: to positively contribute to an equitable, inclusive cannabis industry for all, and to take an "audience-first approach" focused on building safe spaces for their community to feel inspired and find connection. Miss Grass provides cannacurious smokers and seasoned tokers alike with premium, sustainably grown, high-quality cannabis in beautifully designed packages, and content that shares historical, cultural, and scientific education about the plant.

Co-founder and CEO Kate Miller is intent on creating a culture that centers on wellness and equity, both through the products Miss Grass provides to consumers, and within the workplace where the magic happens in the first place. "When you strive to have a strong understanding of the various reasons people consume, the injustices that have been inflicted in the name of the plant, and the stigmas that persist to this day, it pushes you to stay accountable and consistently check in—especially in terms of advocacy and inclusivity," Miller told Ember.

Ensuring education is at the forefront, Miss Grass is also especially focused on uplifting women and minorities in an increasingly complex legal industry. Miller explained, “Women are the fastest-growing group of cannabis consumers, yet we’re so underrepresented in the industry as a whole—from brands to products to retail. At the top, there's only two percent of women in executive roles, which is even less than the already-low national average of 29.8 percent."

"When you strive to have a strong understanding of the various reasons people consume, the injustices that have been inflicted in the name of the plant, and the stigmas that persist to this day, it pushes you to stay accountable and consistently check in." —Kate Miller, Miss Grass

"It's an even worse situation for minority operators. There is a lot of talk in our industry about racial inclusion and equity, especially due to this plant's deeply racist political roots. But less than four percent of cannabis businesses are Black-owned," said Miller. "The lack of representation trickles down and means that women's and minorities' needs aren't often a focus, or if they are, they're being catered to in a disconnected and inauthentic way."

So how can the legal industry start to make an impact for change? "It starts with putting the right regulatory framework into place to support and prioritize minority and women operators," Miller answered. "Not just from access to licenses, but even more importantly, access to capital and strategic resources." Miss Grass continues to be dedicated to giving back and connecting with other do-gooders in the industry, collaborating with organizations like Last Prisoner Project, National Bail Out, Trans Lifeline, Cage-Free Cannabis, and more. 

Kikoko

Co-founded by Amanda Jones and Jennifer Chapin in 2015, Kikoko is an industry-leading cannabis wellness brand offering uniquely innovative plant-based alternatives to pharmaceuticals and/or alcohol. From infused teas and honeys to micro-dosed mints and tinctures, Kikoko’s products are all created with sungrown cannabis, terpene-rich botanicals, vitamins, and even plant adaptogens—an optimal combination that is both environmentally friendly and geared towards holistic wellness for their communities. 

Case in point, customers can easily shop the brand by product or “benefit" on Kikoko's website, exploring wellness solutions based on the need for sleep, calm, creativity, focus, or energy. Kikoko recently launched Wild Womxn, a line of mini pre rolls made with flower that's exclusively sourced from artisanal women-identifying growers.

"We believe in female equality, and what better way to show that belief than founding a company, hiring women to help run it, and making products for their needs?" —Amanda Jones, Kikoko

Beyond their carefully designed cannabis products, Kikoko is dedicated to providing consumers with thorough education on the plant and its benefits, especially as it pertains to women’s health. “We unabashedly set out to create a brand for women. When we got into the industry in 2015, there was no female-centric brand and there were no low-dose products," Co-founder Jones told Ember. "We founded our company because of a girlfriend who had cancer. Cannabis helped her, but the products back then were so high in THC that everything made her uncomfortably high."

"We were also one of the first to come out with benefit-based products because we knew that women wanted help with replacing alcohol and finding relief for certain issues," said Jones. "We believe in female equality, and what better way to show that belief than founding a company, hiring women to help run it, and making products for their needs?”

Sundae School

Sundae School is an Asian- and woman-owned cannabis lifestyle brand, fusing plant-based products with playful "smokewear" designs that promote cannabis culture while keeping wearers fully dripped out in contemporary streetwear-inspired garbs. The global brand, with leading team members from South Korea and California, is also dedicated to sustainability and waste reduction methods, utilizing recyclable and reusable packaging for every product. 

Founded by Korean brother and sister duo Dae and Cindy Lim, Sundae School brings a refreshingly unique perspective to the cannabis industry; having launched at MedMen in 2019, the brand's offerings today include miniature and full-size pre rolls, first-of-its-kind Mochi Gummies in Asian-inspired flavors like Lychee Dragonfruit (available at MedMen California stores), and a full line of lifestyle merch, from fuzzy leopard print to Year of the Dragon-themed graphic tees.

"When it came to our cannabis line, it was a no brainer that when we were able to, we would partner with an equity manufacturer... Community, to us, means striving to build an ecosystem where we all win. And we will continue to do that with every step forward." —J Tran, Sundae School

"I'm born and raised in Oakland, California, so I have a unique perspective on cannabis and community. As I watched the cannabis industry grow in the last few years since [the legalization of recreational marijuana], I realized how much further away it got from the community that actually built it," said J Tran, Sundae School's CRO and Head of Cannabis, to Ember in a 2021 interview.

"Sundae School has always been a platform that spotlights minority voices. So when it came to our cannabis line, it was a no brainer that when we were able to, we would partner with an equity manufacturer," Tran stated. "We partner with SF Roots. Not only because we are continually inspired by them, but most importantly, they are our friends. Community, to us, means striving to build an ecosystem where we all win. And we will continue to do that with every step forward."

Kush Queen

Founded by the original “Kush Queen” Olivia Alexander, Kush Queen is a multi-million dollar cannabis wellness brand offering consumers only the award-winning finest available in THC- and CBD-infused offerings, from bath bombs to beauty products and intimacy enhancers. Alexander told Ember that Kush Queen's community knows their women-led work is not from "a brand manufactured for profit, but one cultivated from years of dedication to cannabis." 

Those years of dedication began when Alexander started working at a dispensary in 2006. Since then, she worked with a multitude of cannabis brands to help boost their social media reach, creative direction, and digital strategy for ultimate success. The maven eventually decided to take her expertise in-house, launching Kush Queen with the intent of sharing her own unabashedly authentic story.

"Since I was a budtender in 2007, I always dreamed of owning my own brand. Over the years working in the trenches in cannabis before Kush Queen existed, I imagined how I would lead a cannabis company differently," Alexander explained to Ember via email, simultaneously calling out how the legal industry needs to lower the barrier for entry for legacy operators, women-owned brands, LGBTQIA+-owned brands, and BIPOC operators to increase industry inclusivity.

"I’m on a quest driven by the audacity to believe that I could create a brand that can be transparent, loud in its convictions to social change, and relentless in the pursuit of the most effective products." —Olivia Alexander, Kush Queen

"The Kush Queen team and community shows up in a unique way for Kush Queen because they know my story, my politics, my psychedelic hobbies, and most of all my activist heart," said Alexander. "I’m on a quest driven by the audacity to believe that I could create a brand that can be transparent, loud in its convictions to social change, and relentless in the pursuit of the most effective products."

Today, Kush Queen's innovative product offering includes their celebrated bath bombs, award-winning THC-infused beauty products from their sister brand KINGDM, premium flower, as well as intimate essentials like their latex-safe, water-based lubricant, available in MedMen stores soon. Alexander's new book The Essential Guide to Cannabis for Women: How to Buy, Use, and Enjoy Cannabis for Recreation and Wellness is slated to launch at the end of this month and is available for pre-order now.

Pure Beauty

 

California-born cannabis brand Pure Beauty is one of the industry's standout boutique brands leading today’s shift towards more sustainable, environmentally progressive practices, creating the first-ever plant starch mylar bags in the cannabis industry among other breakthroughs. Pure Beauty's notable focus on elevated visuals and sophisticated aesthetics is evident throughout their offerings, most recently displayed in their collaboration with cult streetwear brand Aries, available now exclusively at MedMen California stores.

Co-founder and CEO Imelda Walavalkar studied human rights in grad school at Columbia, and with a nonprofit background in criminal justice reform, she hoped to further positive change in the lives of formerly incarcerated people in her community work. Today, her driving intention as one of the few POC women founders in the cannabis space has come to fruition with Pure Beauty, a brand that is as dedicated to expungement and equity as it is to sustainability.

This overarching initiative is reflected both in the brand’s efforts and the team itself, which is made up of over 65 percent women and minority operators. “The reason we've been able to do things the way that we’ve done them and without a lot of resources is because everybody that we collaborate with are all friends who are a part of our community," Walavalkar told Ember

"We're a diverse team with very different backgrounds and perspectives, but we're unified in our vision. There's no marketing team that’s, like, focus-grouping ideas: We're literally doing everything ourselves," Walavalkar explains. "The voice is our voice and I think that authenticity is felt by people." Read Ember's interview with Walavalkar to learn more about how the Pure Beauty team's eco-friendly cultivation practices include donating used soil to public parks and more. "We talk to the plants, we play them music, and they're hand watered every day," said Walavalkar.

Garden Society

 

Founded by CEO Erin Gore and CMO Karli Warner in 2016, Garden Society is a women-owned and operated cannabis brand with a deep dedication to quality, future-forward values, and innovative products that highlight the healing power of the plant. Together, the duo utilized their experience in cannabis, wine, public relations, and entrepreneurship to build a luxury cannabis brand geared towards wellness of mind, body, and soul.

With a degree in Chemical and Biological Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Gore is more than fluent in the scientific side of cannabis; Garden Society actually started in traditional medical cannabis as a legacy brand. Together, Gore and Warner today are passionate about uplifting women in cannabis, bringing their unique skill sets and mentorship know-how to empower peers and broaden the industry’s voices.

“We believe access to fair and safe capital is a huge barrier to women and minority operators in the legal industry,” Warner said to Ember via email. “As a brand, supporting retail placements and getting onto shelves is getting more and more expensive, giving a leg up to white, cis-male owned and well-funded brands. Educating consumers about shopping their values and getting to know the brands they are consuming is really important."

"We believe access to fair and safe capital is a huge barrier to women and minority operators in the legal industry... Educating consumers about shopping their values and getting to know the brands they are consuming is really important." —Karli Warner, Garden Society

Garden Society offers infused edibles and pre-rolls designed for a variety of desired consumer experiences, connecting responsible farming to conscious customers. The brand actively pushes against the stereotype that women-owned cannabis brands are "niche"; Warner wrote, "Garden Society participates in three of the fastest growing product categories in California (edibles, pre-rolls, concentrates and soon, flower) making up a combined 65% of the total addressable CA cannabis market—and women are the fastest-growing cannabis consumer segment. Nothing about that is niche!"

Today, Garden Society considers itself a pioneering brand in the industry, aiming to break the plant’s stigma for good with products that resonate with customers on a deeper level; the brand continues to be supportive of the greater wellness conversation, partnering with mental health-focused nonprofits that serve BIPOC communities like Sad Girls Club.

Dr. Norm’s Wellness

 

Dr. Norm’s Wellness is the industry’s answer to the need for high-quality infused edibles that taste as delicious as the results they deliver. The brand was co-founded by brother-and-sister team Jeff Koz and Roberta Wilson as a means to honor their late parents, who were both healers in their generation.

Their father, “Dr. Norm,” was a medical doctor who brought his own special brand of personal care to his patients, highlighting the importance of health and wellbeing to Koz and Wilson for years to come. Their mother Audrey was also a healer in her own right—a caring pharmacist known for her homemade cookies, baked with love.

Roberta Wilson eventually started a traditional cookie company called Audrey's Cookies to carry on her mother's legacy; the line of baked goods was carried widely at Whole Foods, Sprouts, and Costco. Although Audrey’s Cookies weren’t infused with cannabis, Wilson and Koz decided to combine the best of their parents’ worlds by bringing the healing power of the plant to their mother’s tried and true recipes, with a focus on formulations that are precisely dosed, pure, full of flavor, and follow the best practices available in edible manufacturing.

"[We need to] convince VC companies to support women-owned [cannabis] businesses with seed money in the same proportion that they support male-owned businesses." —Roberta Wilson, Dr. Norm's

Today, their award-winning cookies are legendary in the industry, bringing perfectly dosed tastiness to every type of cannabis consumer while honoring their family’s legacy. They also remain passionate about empowering women and minority operators in the space. Co-founder Roberta Wilson said to Ember, “It’s super important that the legal cannabis industry recognize the strengths that women bring. Statistics show that women are better at managing companies, people, and budgets. Women-owned businesses have a higher rate of return on investment, lower employee turnover, and higher profit margins than male-owned businesses."

How does Wilson envision much-needed change? “In order for the cannabis industry to continue attracting strong, successful women, we need to pay them equal to their male counterparts; promote them into positions of authority and management; and convince VC companies to support women-owned businesses with seed money in the same proportion that they support male-owned businesses.”

Kiva Confections

 

Scott Palmer and Kristi Knoblich Palmer were just a young cannabis-loving couple when they founded Kiva Confections in 2010 in their home kitchen. Today, they’re considered key contributors to the setting of the cannabis industry’s gold standard scale. The couple was inspired to start crafting their own cannabis-infused chocolate bars at home after visiting a local chocolatier.

Since then, Kiva has become a pioneering institution in the legal cannabis edible world, using locally grown cannabis, sustainably sourced cacao, and all-natural flavors in every product. As a Bay Area born and raised brand, Kiva also has a year-round commitment to "celebrating, supporting, and advocating for the LGBTQIA community," which they express with continuous donations, education, and hosted events. Through collaborations with equity partners like Oakland's Community Gardens Delivery, Kiva continually educates and acknowledges the harmful effects of the war on drugs on the Black community.

When co-founder Kristi Palmer was asked what she wants women to know about working in cannabis, she said, "The cannabis industry is ready for you to come and make a name for yourself. What an incredible opportunity it presents right now. It’s fairly new, the major players are still being defined, and the ways of doing business are being created. Women can come in and make their mark in cannabis."

The brand recently expanded outside of California just last year, launching their products in Arizona, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Hawaii, Ohio, and Oklahoma. Kiva also expanded their offering with Lost Farm: an innovative line of higher-dosed strain-specific gummies and chews infused with 100 percent live resin for a distinctively full spectrum, true-to-the-plant high.

As to why Palmer loves working in cannabis? "The people are a rare breed," she told San Francisco Business Times. "You're open to change. You're able to pivot and think on your feet. You're passionate about helping people, about doing what's right for people: for cannabis consumers, for patients, for equity and civil justice."

THC Design

 

THC Design is one of the industry’s leaders in premium cannabis cultivation. Women-owned and operated under a Social Equity license, the team is comprised of a diverse array of individuals, bringing perspective from different backgrounds, cultures, and personal histories to every product. 

The brand was co-founded by Ryan Jennemann and Jairia Pass, experienced industry experts dedicated to moving cannabis closer to sustainability and conscious consumption practices. THC Design is a brand for growers, operated by experienced, expert cultivators with a rich plant history that dates well back into the traditional legacy era. 

In THC Design's own words, having a diverse team is central to the work they do: "From our Executive Board to our Cultivation Team to our Trimmers and Delivery Drivers, we know that our diversity is one of our strongest and most valuable traits, since it offers us perspective and empathy for all walks of life." As a values- and education-driven brand, THC Design's Community Outreach program highlights initiatives that serve veterans, the LGBTQ+ community, as well as growers with their co-op.

The team aims to set an industry standard for cultivation, prioritizing renewable energy sources and a first-and-foremost responsibility to eco-friendliness and sustainability. THC Design is also passionate about advocating for the cannabis community, legalization, access, and research funding, regularly meeting with California lawmakers to ensure fairness is included in the ongoing regulation of cannabis in the state and beyond.


Taylor Engle is a freelance writer, editor, and public relations/marketing specialist based in Brooklyn, New York. In her free time, she loves to cook, do yoga, and hang out with her cat.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
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