Not Just Smoke And Mirrors: 9 Women Shaping The $16.9B Cannabis Industry

When the 2018 Farm Bill passed, making hemp and CBD legal (so long as it contains less than 0.3% THC by weight), explosive consumer growth followed. According to a study by Eaze,  first-time cannabis users increased by 140%, and women, with an estimated $40 trillion in global consumer spending under their control, made up 38% of all cannabis users in the United States.

This has created a gold rush of companies infusing CBD into products targeted at female consumers, like sunscreen, lipgloss and lubricant with aphrodisiac properties. But it’s also opened up a pathway for ancillary businesses across the supply chain, point of sale, wellness, venture capital and technology. And, interestingly, many of the power players behind these companies are women.

Here are 9 female entrepreneurs that are shaping the future of the $16.9B cannabis industry.

Enterprise Resource Planning: Jessica Billingsley, CEO of MJ Freeway

Jessica Billingsley, CEO of MJ Freeway

Jessica Billingsley, CEO of MJ Freeway MJ Freeway

Billingsley started in cannabis by investing in a Colorado dispensary, which introduced her to the lack of software designed for growers to efficiently scale their businesses. She created MJ Freeway’s seed-to-sale technology, allowing cannabis manufacturers to track their data and business analytics so they can scale.

Voting Together Across Generations

With 9 years in the cannabis industry and over 2,000 clients in Australia, Canada, Europe, South America, Switzerland and 23 states in the United States, MJ Freeway has tracked more than $13B in sales. They have seen a 226% increase in revenue over three years and raised a $10M Series C round, led by Batu Capital Investments, in September of 2018.

Production and Dispensing: Beth Stravola, Chief Strategy Officer of iAnthus

Beth Stravola, Chief Strategy Officer of iAnthus

Beth Stravola, Chief Strategy Officer of iAnthus CBD for Life

Stravola is a former Wall Street executive turned serial entrepreneur who has founded multiple cannabis brands, including Stavola Medical Marijuana Holdings, Health for Life Inc., GreenMart of Nevada, GreenMart of Maryland, Elemental Health Group of Pennsylvania, and CBD For Life. With a footprint on both the East and West Coast, many of Stravola’s companies were acquired by MPX Bioceutical Corporation of Canada in a package deal for $25M. The acquisition of MPX, where Stravola was acqui-hired into the COO role, by iAnthus was reportedly to gain access to Stravola’s expansive cannabis properties and to her talent. The combined company now has 64 retail locations and 15 cultivation and processing facilities operating in 11 states and reaching over 121 million potential customers.

Stravola has been named the 3rd on Cannabis Business Executive’s list of the 75 Most Important Women in Cannabis.

Venture Capital: Emily Paxhia, Poseidon Asset Management

Emily Paxhia, Managing Partner of Poseidon

Emily Paxhia, Managing Partner of Poseidon Courtesy of Poseidon Asset Management

With her roots in psychology, brand strategy and user research, Paxhia brings a discerning eye to and keen sense for product-market fit to Poseidon Asset Management — a cannabis-focused investment fund she co-founded with her brother. With 25 cannabis-focused portfolio companies across AgTech (agricultural technology), machine learning, compliance and industrial hemp, Paxhia’s fund is one of the most well-diversified funds in the cannabis industry. In part because of their focus on industrial hemp as a building material.

Compared to cotton, hemp requires 50% less water and land to yield the same crop as cotton and, annually, an acre of hemp can produce as much paper as four acres of trees. Paxhia is making strategic investments in hemp as an industrial building material, which is an intelligent strategy given the plant’s strength compared to steel and sustainability compared to fiberglass. Paxhia also has served on the Board of Directors of the Marijuana Policy Project and currently serves on the Board of Athletes for CARE.

Venture Capital: Tahira Rehmatullah, Managing Director of Hypur Ventures

Tahira Rehmatullah, Managing Director of Hypur Ventures Courtesy of Hypur Ventures

Tahira Rehmatullah got her start in cannabis after attending Yale Business School when she watched her grandfather battle with cancer. As an investment manager at Privateer, a cannabis-focused private equity firm, she helped launch Marley Natural — the cannabis brand and advocacy group backed by Bob Marley’s estate — and went on to become the brand’s General Manager.

She is now the Managing Director at cannabis investment fund, Hypur Ventures. Hypur Ventures is one of the few sector-specific cannabis investors and has been investing in the cannabis industry since 2012. They are focused on cannabis categories like cultivation, distribution, retail, brands, genetics and technology that create long-term value across the industry’s supply chain.  In March of this year, they launched a second fund — $500M to put toward new cannabis businesses.

Rehmatullah also sits on the Board of Directors for DOPE Media, which was acquired by High Times Holding Co., the parent company of the 45-year old marijuana magazine, in September of 2018 for $11.2M.

Media and Community Advocacy: Tahirah Hairston, Co-Founder of The High Ends

(Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Beautycon)

(Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Beautycon) Getty

Tahirah Hairston is a writer and editor with a storied career working for media brands like New York Magazine, Lenny Letter, where she was the deputy editor, and now Teen Vogue, where she covers fashion and beauty features. Hairston is the co-founder of The High Ends, a media company and community for women, particularly women of color, to express themselves and share their stories about their experiences with cannabis culture.

Hairston also highlights stories about women working to legalize cannabis and rectify the contradiction between the huge influx of investment into the cannabis industry against the number of African American people who are still incarcerated from the War on Drugs. With The High Ends, Hairston aims to create a safe space to have interesting cultural conversations, but also to actively rectify the glaring injustice inherent in the industry.

Inclusive Brand Development: Mary Pryor, Co-Founder of Cannaclusive

Mary Pryor, co-founder of Cannaclusive

Mary Pryor, co-founder of Cannaclusive Courtesy of Cannaclusive

Mary Pryor is the co-founder of Cannaclusive, a collective focused on inclusion in cannabis brands and media. As a woman living with Crohn’s Disease, Pryor moved from New York to Los Angeles to access legal marijuana as a way to mitigate pain. After attending a number of cannabis events in LA, she and her co-founders, Tonya Flash and Charlese Antoinette, saw very little representation of people of color. The irony that African Americans shaped the American zeitgeist of cannabis culture, often at the cost of incarceration, was not lost on them.

Pryor, Flash and Antoinette launched Cannaclusive to facilitate fair representation of underrepresented cannabis consumers. They offer consulting services across investment strategy, personal brand-building, PR and journalism. They also offer stock photography and content creation to support inclusive storytelling more broadly. This ensures that underrepresented consumers are being represented in the media and integrated into emerging cannabis brands’ core strategy as a valued ally in the fight for legalization and destigmatization.

Health and Wellness: Shannon Lee, CEO of the Bruce Lee Family Company

(Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images) Getty

Shannon Lee, daughter of the iconic martial artist, philosopher and actor, Bruce Lee, is the CEO of the Bruce Lee Family Company and chairperson of Bruce Lee Beverages. Before fancy supplements and bio-hacking were even a thing, Bruce Lee was experimenting with food, nutrition and herbal remedies to optimize his intense workout routines and maximize his physical performance. With the legalization of CBD in markets across the U.S., Lee is continuing her father’s legacy by collaborating on a unique CBD oil that is rooted in her father’s famous dedication to purity and human performance.

In January, Bruce Lee Beverages signed an agreement with Vitalibis, a wellness brand that makes full-spectrum CBD products. Together, Vitalibis and Bruce Lee Beverages will launch a proprietary CBD oil with natural herbs and ingredients inspired by Bruce Lee’s personal nutrition and wellness practice.

Health and Wellness: Whoopi Goldberg, Co-Founder of Whoopi & Maya

Whoopi Goldberg and Maya Elisabeth, co-founders or Whoopi & Maya

Whoopi Goldberg and Maya Elisabeth, co-founders or Whoopi & Maya Timothy White Copyright 2016

Beloved actress and talk-show host, Whoopi Goldberg, is no stranger to speaking her mind — and that includes advocating for the therapeutic use of medical cannabis to mitigate pain. After experiencing the therapeutic properties of cannabis to alleviate menstrual cramps, Whoopi sought out a partner to create and launch a cannabinoid product focused on women’s pain relief.

This led her to Maya Elisabeth, CEO of OmEdibles and three-time winner of the Cannabis Cup, who co-founded Whoopi & Maya with Goldberg in 2015. Since then, they have grown from a staff of four people to 18 people and provide products designed to help women mitigate pain to partners in California and Colorado.

Lifestyle Accessories: Whitney Beatty, CEO of Apothecarry

Whitney Beatty, CEO of Apothecarry

Whitney Beatty, CEO of Apothecarry Courtesy of Apothecarry

Whitney Beatty was a successful entertainment executive working at Warner Bros. when she was diagnosed with crippling anxiety that sent her to the emergency room twice-over, fearing a heart attack. As she began to use medical marijuana to regulate her anxiety, she realized that storage options for cannabis that controlled humidity and looked stylish weren’t on the market. Apothecarry was born as a solution to the shoebox, redefining the image of cannabis users as consumers who are no longer hiding their stash in the proverbial closet.

Since the launch in 2015, Apothecarry’s luxury cannabis humidor has been featured in The Hollywood Reporter, Forbes, Entrepreneur and LA Weekly. Apothecarry was also selected for the first cohort of Canopy San Diego cannabis business accelerator and won the Arcview Group’s 2017 Los Angeles Pitch Prize.

Read this article on it’s original posting at Forbes.com

Scroll to top