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Female entrepreneurs have high hopes for cannabis industry

Legal cannabis is big business across the country. In 2017, it took in over 8 billion dollars in revenue. And now, as New York and New Jersey debate legalization, women want to cash in. My co-host, Stevie Hertz, reports.

HERTZ: Investors, entrepreneurs, and lawyers are gathered in a high-rise office overlooking Times Square. It looks like a classic networking event – a lot of hors d’oeuvres, power suits, and business cards. But these corporate types are meeting to discuss an industry that’s still mostly illegal in New York: cannabis, and specifically how women can make money from it.

ARGIE: One of the reasons women are in the Cannabis industry is that we tend to be risk takers. We’re the original witches, so we’re not scared of playing with a plant.

HERTZ: Jenny Argie started her Brooklyn business, Baked at Home, after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015. She focuses on the wellness market.

ARGIE: I sell infused CBD coconut oil that would benefit people with arthritis, helps blood flow, creates more of a chi to the body.

HERTZ: Because Argie’s products are made from hemp and aren’t intoxicating, she can legally sell them here. Recreational cannabis is currently illegal in New York State, but that might change soon. In January, Governor Cuomo proposed funding a study to see the pros and cons of legalizing recreational use. Hedge fund director Emily Paxhia says one of those benefits is that, for women, there’s less of a glass ceiling.

PAXHIA: There’s an opportunity to insert ourselves at the ground floor instead of trying to retroactively muscle in after it’s gotten too far down the path of being potentially more male skewed. 

HERTZ: And Paxhia is part of that. Only one in twenty hedge funds employs a female portfolio manager, according to a study by Northeastern University. So she created her own in a relatively open market – investing in the cannabis industry. But despite her success, Paxhia is now worried.

PAXHIA: We’re seeing a little bit of a homogenization of the type of people who are running companies, and it does tend to be a lot of white males.

HERTZ: According to a survey by trade publication Marijuana Business Daily, women make up less than a third of cannabis executives. And as the industry gets bigger and more corporate, women just get squeezed out. And it’s even worse for women of color. Dr Chanda Macias [SHON-DAH Mah-See-As] works to get more women involved through her industry group Women Grow. I called her at her busy dispensary in D.C.

MACIAS: There’s just a lot of barriers that we have to go through.

HERTZ: Just 5% of cannabis executives are minority women. Macias says it’s because banks won’t lend to cannabis businesses, so you have to rely on your own savings. That’s tough for women of color. And there’s also some fear because of cannabis arrests, says Macias.

MACIAS: Black women starting their own businesses are still fearful, just because of the history of it. If the black man has been locked up because of this industry, if our families remove the black woman, what do our children have?

HERTZ: According to the ACLU, African Americans are almost four times more likely to be arrested over marijuana use than white people, even though they use it at about the same rate. But despite all of this – through organizations like Women Grow – support, knowledge and money is being passed around. So, Macias is hopeful.

MACIAS: I’ve seen black women, Asian women, I’ve seen Latino women now having the courage to come out the Cannabis closet and to actually start to their ventures in this industry.

HERTZ: And back at the networking event in New York, the corporate types are also looking forward.

LOU: I would like my own wellness business.

HERTZ: Anna Lou graduated from Wesleyan last year and is eager to get started. But she’s not quite sure what that would look like.

LOU: Umm.. Like a spa, maybe like massage therapy using like cannabis oils, um having just like a lounge bar area. Honestly it can be anything.

HERTZ: New Jersey’s new governor Phil Murphy campaigned on full legalization and in Massachusetts you’ll be able to light up from July. So Lou, and women like her, have high hopes. Stevie Hertz, Columbia Radio News

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