A group of businesswomen hitting Capitol Hill on Thursday want lawmakers to recognize that the marijuana industry isn't just a boys' club.
Roughly 70 women — lawyers, marketers, business owners and horticulturalists — traveled to D.C. from around the country to try and convince their representatives in Congress to change marijuana laws.
"Women have never been more poised to be successful in a new industry," said Jane West, co-founder of Women Grow, the for-profit company that organized the event. "We are about to create a billion dollar industry."
Jane West, center
The businesswomen gathered at the National Press Club in the morning, where they heard from Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, both of whom have championed the emerging cannabis industry. Many attendees came from Colorado, one of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana.
"It's exciting to see women taking leadership roles in the industry and forming a peer-support group," Polis told the crowd.
The women planned to visit over 50 offices, touching base with lots of friendly lawmakers, like Polis, as well as some possible allies from states like Arkansas and Ohio.
The main policy issues they're hoping to change revolve around finances. Marijuana businesses have huge problems with banking, since their product is still a controlled substance under federal law. They're often forced to deal with cash, which exposes workers to risk.
Brooke Gehring, the 34-year-old owner and CEO of Patients Choice Colorado, understands the challenges. She's been in the business since 2009 and runs an 85-employee enterprise that grows and sells marijuana. She says it made $10 million in revenue last year.
Gehring is happy about the earnings, but it also means she needs to hire an armed guard to escort her staffers when it's time to pay taxes (the federal government has no problem taking the money, by the way).
"First and foremost, we need those people to be safe," she said.
Gehring addresses the crowd.
The gathering is also a chance for the industry's more established leaders, like Gehring, to help school younger entrants on the how to get things done in Washington.
Hillary Peckham, a 23-year-old recent college graduate from New York, falls into the latter category.
Her family business, Peckham Industries, sells road construction materials, but her mom came up with a project for Hillary and her sister, who also just graduated college. She suggested they take the family's unused, industrial-zoned land (apparently they have lots of it) and use it to grow medical pot.
"Both of us are really passionate about this industry and we wanted to do something as ladies," she said. New York will only issue licenses to five growers, but she's optimistic her new company will win out.
Jennifer Lauder, center, co-founder of Weekend Review Kit, an online cannabis magazine: "In the same way that the LGBT movement said, 'Your cousins, your neighbors, these are regular people just like me and you,' we want to show that cannabis is the same way."
Even with the work by groups like Women Grow, the marijuana business still favors men, according to women interviewed at the event. Solid statistics aren't available for the still-fresh industry, but these women see the imbalance in their daily work.
"We certainly know that we're not at 50-50, and there are elements of the industry that have not always been women friendly," said Taylor West, the deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association (no relation to Jane West).
But that could change, she said: "We have a chance here to shape it in the image we want it to be."
Ted Hesson was formerly the immigration editor at Fusion, covering the issue from Washington, D.C. He also writes about drug laws and (occasionally) baseball. On the side: guitars, urban biking, and fiction.