Women in Cannabis

Written by BlackbirdGo October 11, 2018
The People

In a world that is virtually dominated by men, it’s difficult for women to break out and be recognized - let alone in the relatively new, ever-growing billion dollar cannabis industry. In 2017, just 26.9 percent ofthe executives in the cannabis industry were female, despite the fact that women comprise 53 percent of cannabis users. However, that’s not to say that women haven’t made massive impacts in the cultivation, distribution, and destigmatization of cannabis. Here are just a few of the most influential ladies that have done (and continue to do) amazing work in the cannabis industry.


Mary Jane Rathburn, more popularly known as Brownie Mary, was an activist known for her famous “magically delicious” brownies in the 1970s. She originally sold her cannabis brownies on the streets of San Francisco for extra income and gained quite the reputation. Eventually, word got around to the police, and she was arrested at the age of 57. Rathburn was sentenced to 500 hours of community service, which lead to her activism in the cannabis industry.

When the AIDS epidemic struck in the 80s, it quickly became one of the most misunderstood and neglected health issues of its time, particularly due to its prevalence in the gay community. Rathburn began distributing her brownies to AIDS and cancer patients after noticing the positive effects cannabis had on their symptoms. This inspired many medical professionals and researchers to study cannabis’ medicinal properties and spearheaded the movement to legalize medical cannabis.

Rathburn was arrested three times because of her continued involvement in the cannabis industry, yet she continued to fight for the legalization of the drug. She played a huge role in the passing of Proposition P in 1991 and Proposition 214 in 1996 and can be credited with helping open the country’s first medical cannabis dispensary in California.


Wanda James became the first black business owner to open a dispensary in the state of Colorado. However, James is not just a successful businesswoman (though she has three!)—she’s also deep in the politics of the cannabis movement, working to normalize the legalization of the plant and reverse existing and future possession-related convictions.

In her career, James was a lieutenant in the US Navy and moved on to become a member of President Obama’s National Finance Committee. Her interest in the cannabis industry came when her brother was sentenced to 10 years in prison for possession of cannabis. Ever since, she’s worked tirelessly to eradicate the negative racial stereotypes within the industry.

James has been prominently recognized and awarded multiple times for her activism in the cannabis industry, and she continues to fight. She makes it a point to hire minorities within her companies, and she is fighting the Denver City Council’s tendency to concentrate growing, dispensary, and consumption areas in lower-income, high-crime areas, creating the illusion that the presence of cannabis is somehow correlated. James believes that cannabis need to be perceived as positively as craft beer and wine.


Mieko Hester-Perez made headlines in 2011 when she shared the story of her son Joey. He was diagnosed with a severe form of autism as a baby and after years of pharmaceutical medication and malnutrition, Hester-Perez turned to medical cannabis to help her son. In just a few months, Joey’s health completely turned around for the better. His appetite increased, his weight returned to a healthy range, and his social skills vastly improved. She credits the use of medical cannabis for saving her son’s life.

Since then, Hester-Perez has become a force to be reckoned with in the cannabis industry. She’s become a cannabis consultant and advocate for families with special needs children, helping them when they have reached a crossroads in traditional medicine. She’s the co-founder of the Unconventional Foundation for Autism, an organization that provides unconventional treatments for people with autism that are not covered by healthcare providers. Hester-Perez continues to fight against the stigmatization of cannabis and push for more positive recognition in the healthcare industry.


As general popularity and acceptance of the benefits of medical cannabis increase, so does the interest in its effects. Dr. Cristina Sanchez, a renowned Spanish molecular biologist, has dedicated her career to studying the effects the drug has on the body on a molecular level. Early in her work, she studied the effects of cannabinoids on the neuron cells but has since shifted to a much less, yet arguably more important, use of the drug.

Her research has reflected that the use of cannabinoids actually kills off cancer cells while leaving the healthy cells intact, though these studies are still in their early stages. She has also shifted her studies to focus more on the anti-tumor effects of the plant in relation to breast cancer, leading a revolutionary study that could potentially save millions of women’s lives. Her next step is to take it to a clinical level where she and her team may begin work on actual patients.

These are just a few of the many amazing ladies that have made the cannabis industry into the booming business it is today, even in a world where they don’t have the upper hand. While the world has a long way to go until the plant is generally accepted, we can be sure these powerful and inspirational women—in addition to countless others—will get us closer with every passing day.