In Colorado, the number of women in marijuana industry is getting higher
Marijuana • The state soon will have its own cannabis network for women.
Published: May 18, 2014 12:55PM
Updated: May 18, 2014 12:52PM
With the Colorado state capitol building visible in the background, partygoers dance to live music and smoke pot on the first of two days at the annual 4/20 marijuana festival in Denver, Saturday April 19, 2014. The annual event is the first 420 marijuana celebration since retail marijuana stores began selling in January 2014. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

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.”