Widening the Cannabis Audience

Several years ago, I brought my Aunt Jackie to a major cannabis expo. Unfortunately, all did not go as planned. The crowd in the convention center was 80 percent male. The booth next to ours was staffed entirely by scantily clad women. By the time we arrived, an ambulance had been dispatched to the expo five times to take away incapacitated attendees. It was clear that this was neither a comfortable nor a welcoming place for a female baby boomer.

The 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that men are 50 percent more likely than women to have used cannabis in the last month (9.6 percent of males to 5 percent of females). These numbers reveal that cannabis is often seen in our culture as a “male activity.”

And indeed, the famous people associated with “stoner culture” are almost entirely men — think Snoop Dogg, Willie Nelson, or Cheech and Chong. The legal system raises the stakes for women, with the threat of removing child custody from mothers who consume cannabis in prohibition states.
The cause for this gender gap is societal. And the cannabis industry has a lot of power to close it.

I believe there are two angles that the cannabis industry can take to make its products more accessible to women: wellness (as in mental and physical health) and pleasure. If companies can get these messages right, potential for growth will be enormous. Plus, people who have felt uncomfortable in the industry will be made to feel welcome — what’s not to love?

There are over a million medical cannabis patients in the 23 states that have legalized at least some form of medical marijuana. Currently, however, many people’s understanding of the medical benefits of cannabis is restricted to terminal or severe chronic illnesses like cancer, epilepsy, AIDS, and multiple sclerosis.

What about the power of cannabis to reduce anxiety, aid sleep issues, and ease minor aches and pains?

Vaporizing cannabis dramatically decreases the lung irritation that comes along with traditional smoking, and eating cannabis completely cuts out the smoke. If the medical cannabis industry effectively brands its products — particularly vaporizers and edibles — alongside other natural health products, more people — including women — might try them.

(As it happens, my company, Dark Heart Nursery, is developing Alchemy, a line of vaporizer pens that puts wellness at the center of the experience.)
In addition to the wellness benefits of marijuana use, there is no denying that cannabis helps some people enjoy themselves. The de-stigmatizing of cannabis as a recreational product is making it more accessible, but the way that we talk about cannabis has not caught up.

What if we talked about its pleasures in terms that were friendlier toward women?

For an example outside of marijuana, just look at the sex industry. Sex is intimately connected to both wellness and pleasure — but for the longest time the sex industry catered primarily to men. In 1977, Good Vibrations came onto the scene as one of the first sex device companies marketed specifically to women, creating a safe space for them to explore sexuality. Today, it has grown into a multi-million dollar company with a strong e-commerce division. Clearly, the company occupies an important niche in the market. Why aren’t we working more diligently to fill this niche within cannabis?

My company, Dark Heart Nursery, is focused on how we create and market products for women. That’s what we’re trying to do with Alchemy. And we are not alone. Women Grow is a national organization that works to educate and connect women working in cannabis. Auntie Dolores is a Bay Area-based, woman-owned and -operated edibles company that seeks to appeal to women — and other consumers — through packaging and messaging.

Readers might note that I am a man talking about these issues. As much as I love working on creating a more welcoming cannabis industry, I know that much of the work needs to be done by more diverse voices. That’s why Dark Heart is working to strike a gender balance in our employees.

Oh — and we’re hiring.

Dan Grace is owner of Oakland cannabis clone emporium Dark Heart Nursery. Visit darkheartnursery.com for more information.