In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8, High There has connected with some of the top women-focused cannabis organizations dedicated to furthering the support of women in the cannabis industry and bringing women-centric education to the masses.
We chatted with Amber E. Senter, co-founder and executive director of Supernova Women, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that was founded by Black and Brown women in 2015 with the goal of supporting Black and Brown people’s presence in the legal cannabis industry.
We also got insight from one of the most prominent organizations focused on empowering women in the industry, Women Grow. We talked with Women Grow’s Director of Community Engagement and Digital Production Tanya Osborne about the dedication and future of this iconic organization.
Finally, we spoke with Aliza Sherman, chief content officer at Ellementa, which is a female-focused organization that brings women together to provide important education on the health and wellness aspects of cannabis.
Join us in celebrating women-led organizations that are making the cannabis space more inclusive of individuals no matter the color of their skin or their gender. It’s clear these three organizations are filling a void in the industry and making it a more equitable place for all.
Supernova Women is a standout organization that was founded by Black and Brown women back in 2015. Over the years, the female leaders at Supernova Women have created opportunities for people of color in the cannabis industry. These women have executed their mission through advocacy, education and network building.
“Supernova Women formed to address a need to include Black and Brown folks in the conversation of cannabis legalization. We could not stand by and let big business come for the very same cannabis economy for which Black and Brown people are going to jail,” Senter told High There.
One of the most memorable advocacy accomplishments of Supernova Women is
the organization’s hand in working directly with the city of Oakland to help develop the very first social equity program in the United States.
“Supernova Women was behind the creation of the nation’s first cannabis Social Equity program in Oakland. Going a step beyond social equity licensure, Supernova also ensured that Oakland would earmark funding for grants, zero interest loans and technical assistance to aid in entering the market,” Senter said. Supernova Women has partnered with Hood Incubator and Beyond Equity to successfully advocate to have taxes lowered for cannabis businesses in the city of Oakland. The biggest tax breaks have been awarded to social equity operators and businesses.
Beyond the city level, the group’s advocacy has made such a large impact that has helped shape social equity initiatives on a statewide level in California and beyond.
“We also worked with Senator Steven Bradford’s office on SB1294, the California Social Equity Act of 2018 that now funds all of the local social equity programs throughout the state,” Senter said.
The organization is dedicated to furthering inclusion and support of Black and Brown individuals in the legal cannabis industry. Most recently, Senter explained that the group held rallies for cannabis tax relief at both the Oakland City Hall and California State Capitol.
Senter also shared how taxation issues with California’s recreational cannabis program were predominantly harmful to existing and hopeful cannabis business owners who are Black and Brown. Working with Ecotone Analytics, Supernova Women released the Social Equity Impact Report 2022. This report shows lawmakers how social equity programs are financially beneficial on a large scale.
Aside from advocacy, Supernova Women has a focus on education, with a prominent focus being its Workforce Development Program. “Supernova Women’s largest educational initiative is the Workforce Development Program, the first paid cannabis program of its kind in the nation, which has been made possible by Oakland’s Social Equity funding and community support. Its goal is to offer real-world training that participants can take with them directly into a job in the cannabis industry,” Senter stated. “Participants in the eight-week training program were trained in Manufacturing and METRC/ Compliance tracks. Every member of the cohort has been affected by the War on Drugs in their community.”
The organization also provides monetary grants to Black and Brown individuals.
When asking Senter about Supernova Women’s biggest learning since its founding in 2015, three words really hit home – power of persistence. “There have been so many moments, but the number one take away for us has been about the power of persistence. We have been working on cannabis policy and programming since before adult-use was even legalized in 2018, so we have seen a lot of wins. The regulated market is far from perfect, but by being persistent, we have pushed through the never-ending layers of bureaucracy to affect real change for Black and Brown people who are seeking opportunities in the cannabis industry,” Senter said.
People of color deserve to have ample representation in the cannabis industry. Supernova Women is dedicated to reversing the negative impacts on communities of colors caused by the War on Drugs.
“For 40+ years, Black and Brown people were locked up and denied freedoms for the same activity that is enriching many cannabis corporations today,” Senter explained. “Not only has the state fallen short on its promise to right the wrongs inflicted upon minority communities by the War on Drugs, but it has also perpetuated regressive War on Drugs 2.0 policies through oppressive taxation, which has to end. We cannot stand by and watch these oppressive racist policies enrich communities except for people of color.”
Live events will continue to serve an important role in the future of Supernova Women.
“Stay tuned, because there will be a return to the type of live events we love this year! Supernova Women are hosting a Fundraising Gala in LA this summer and a Bicoastal Summit geared towards Black and Brown people in the industry this Fall,” Senter said. “We’re looking forward to getting out and meeting more Black and Brown professionals who want to succeed in the cannabis industry. We all have a place here.”
Women Grow is a prominent organization that supports female leaders and ensures diversity in the cannabis industry. For almost a decade, this leading networking organization has set a precedent of bringing women together in order to improve our industry as a whole.
“Women Grow is a professional networking organization for women in cannabis. From entrepreneurs, business leaders, advocates, etc., the goal of Women Grow is to connect, educate, and empower the women of our industry,” Osborne told High There.
Women Grow empowers women in the cannabis industry in many ways. “The primary ways we empower are through education, facilitating connections to other brands, advocacy and organizing, professional development, and sharing resources such as access to funding, jobs in the industry, etc,” Osborne said.
Since Women Grow’s founding in 2014, the cannabis industry has greatly evolved. However, that doesn’t mean that the cannabis industry isn’t still lacking in representation, especially when it comes to women of color. “This cannabis community is ever-evolving. What was “normal” in 2014 is no longer,” Osborne shared. “It’s the equivalent of dog years in this industry. Our biggest learnings have been that the representation of women in the space is not as large as it seems. There still is a definite need to support women in this industry, especially women of color.”
Although there is still room for growth as an industry, Women Grow has made some significant strides as an organization over the years. For example, in years past, Osborne and her team drew support via virtual lobby days and events, and it was the first cannabis organization to partner with a religious institution.
“I was fortunate to produce the first and presumed most significant virtual lobby days for women in this industry with our team in 2020 and 2021, of which we garnered support across New York State. Since 2019 (barring 2020), we have produced The Business of Cannabis Summits with Emmanuel Baptist Church of Brooklyn, New York. This was the first time that a religious institution partnered with a cannabis organization to host an event to educate its congregation and surrounding community,” Osborne explained.
Although virtual events have garnered so much success for Women Grow and their altruistic mission, the organization can’t wait to get back to hosting in-person events in the near future. The leaders at Women Grow hope you follow their progress and keep an eye open for what’s to come.
”We look forward to safely returning with in-person events. We want people to stay tuned, as we have several initiatives in the works. While we have a seat at the table, we build our own and show other women to do the same. Our goal is to create a room full of tables,” Osborne said.
When it comes to supporting women in the cannabis space, doing so with trusted information and community is key. Ellementa is a women-centric wellness network that prioritizes community connections and reliable education.
“Ellementa’s mission is to empower women with better information about alternative paths to wellness. We share information that is science-based or research-backed but also provide forums where women can share their personal experiences and wisdom,” Sherman told High There.
Ellementa started its mission in by facilitating in-person events, where women could meet with like-minded individuals in various cities across the United States and were encouraged to share their insight about cannabis wellness with one another. “At that time, early 2017, there were no in-depth resources for women to learn about the health and wellness benefits of the cannabis plant, for both female health as well as for women to utilize in their roles as caregivers to their family and loved ones,” said Sherman.
The organization also created a site called HerCannaLife.com, featuring exclusive interviews with leading women in the cannabis industry. Sherman also co-authored a book with Dr. June Chin. The book, Cannabis and CBD for Health and Wellness, allowed for Sherman and Dr. Chin to go on a book tour in 2019, where they met with many Elements members and leaders.
Like many individuals across the world, the COVID-19 pandemic affected Ellementa’s approach to events. “When the pandemic hit in March 2020, we were hosting 25-35 live events every month, led by our team of Ellementa leaders, women in local communities who were in the cannabis industry or looking to break in,” Sherman shared. “We were providing women with a platform and format to educate other women about cannabis in a consistent way. We had to cancel all of our in-person events, our main source of income.”
Ellementa and its leaders had to find a way to overcome the struggles brought on by the pandemic. Ultimately, they shifted their strategy and found a new way to connect women in the industry.
“We immediately went online with regular webinars and virtual book club events. We then morphed those into a weekly podcast, ‘The Ellementa Show,’ broadcasting live-to-tape Sundays at 12 p.m. PT/3 p.m. ET and work with cannabis and wellness companies who sponsor our podcast or advertise in our emails,” said Sherman.
Sherman continued, “Over the years, we’ve expanded our conversations from cannabis only to include CBD and now other plant medicines including psychedelics and a variety of healing modalities. By including cannabis alongside discussions about adaptogens, meditation and yoga, ayurveda and more, we are totally normalizing cannabis as a medicinal plant, a healing herb.”
In the cannabis industry, it’s essential for operators to remain open-minded and agile in their approach. This was a great quality for Ellementa to have in order to adjust its approach when the pandemic hit. Since its founding in 2016, Ellementa’s ability to remain flexible has been an important quality.
“We have learned the need to be flexible, first given the legal limitations of marketing cannabis and banking when your company has anything to do with cannabis,” Sherman said. “Then with the pandemic, we quickly learned the need to be flexible and very creative to maintain a company but totally transform how the company operates to stay in business. It was a tough and humbling lesson, but we realized producing the podcast brings us joy – and helps so many others – so we’re lucky.”
Ellementa’s persistence and laser focus has led to many great accomplishments for the organization over the years. However, its greatest accomplishment is being a valued resource to women.
“When we surpassed hosting Ellementa events in over 75 cities across North America and were on the verge of expanding to other countries, that was an amazing time. We were so proud of what all of our Ellementa leaders were doing and were forging amazing friendships and strategic alliances,” Sherman explained. “But the most rewarding moments come often when a woman contacts us directly to say how much they love what we are doing or how our content transformed their life. That is the greatest reward of all, the most amazing accomplishment. To help another human being or her entire family or her circle of friends, her community and more. That is why we do what we do.”
Women have a unique perspective and drive that helps propel our industry forward. Overall, Ellementa is a huge supporter of women in the cannabis industry and of women’s health and wellness.
“Women bring an important perspective to the cannabis industry. All of the early cannabis companies founded by women were started by women who saw a need – for pain relief, for relief from cancer treatments, for more compassionate end-of-life care for a loved one – and wanted to help others,” Sherman said. “There is so much compassion infused into the female-owned cannabis companies we’ve known over the years. They bring more than a bottom-line mentality to the industry (although we don’t discount the need to be financially intelligent in any business). Cannabis is a healing female plant and the more we respect her, the more benefits we can all gain from her.”
Ellementa will remain a highly esteemed organization focusing on the true value of women in both cannabis business and in their personal lives. “The cannabis industry needs people with integrity and heart. Women can bring their talents and skills to the table to help point the industry in the right direction – toward compassionate care and producing the types of products that help people live healthier, happier lives,” Sherman concluded.