7 Women To Watch In Cannabis

The future leaders of cannabis are pioneering a new triple bottom line

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7 Women To Watch In Cannabis
Image credit: Garden Society
Erin Gore
15 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

With skyrocket growth at the advent of more and more U.S. states legalizing medical and recreational marijuana, the total cannabinoid market is projected to reach $44.8 billion by 2024.

Disrupting an industry that is disruptive by its very existence is an exceptional challenge. “As the market transitions from a state market to a national market, goods and services will likely begin to commoditize. A key success factor for leaders in this space will be developing brand equity and an experience that resonates with each individual customer,” says Scott Churchill, Director of Science and co-founder of MCR Labs, a Massachusetts laboratory. MCR holds a commanding share of the marijuana testing market in the state and has already begun expanding into other markets across the country.

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The women profiled in Green Entrepreneur’s Seven Women to Watch list are on a mission to redefine and dismantle the stigma associated with cannabis. These entrepreneurs are changing how leaders determine value, return on investment, what success looks like, and who gets to be successful. 

Proof that making money is not at odds with the greater good, these exceptional women are impacting the daily health-and-well-being of people all over the world. The new triple bottom line measures success in three distinct yet interrelated categories: Economy, Innovation, and humanity. 

Economy points to,  using revenue and investments with a laser focus on personal and investor wealth creation. The seven women are putting their money to work for greater economic benefit. Each of these entrepreneurs engages with non-profits and publicly funded programs that provide neighborhoods the resources needed for economic growth.

Innovation is seen in efforts that challenge traditional business models. These seven women are bringing unique sets of offerings to market with intentionally eco-friendly, inclusive, and holistic to their business’s ideology. From R&D to customer acquisition, and these pioneers are continuously testing new consumption models.

Humanity encompasses multiple facets. It includes physical, emotional, and financial health. Impact on the environment, targeted economic development in under-served and at-risk neighborhoods, are both cultural values embedded in every business decision and growth plan. 

Reinventing the cannabis customer experience: Elissa Hambrecht

Elissa Hambrecht, COO and Partner at fuméis an eleven-time serial entrepreneur. Hambrecht was the proprietor of a Mexican restaurant in Barcelona where she started her journey of building businesses from the ground up. Using her self-professed early-stage business operations super-power, she has built enterprises in the service industry, media, events, and in the wine industry. The latter has given her a rather unique view of the impact of stigma, as well as the importance of brands and building sustainable companies. “Prohibition is a very big problem and the failed war on drugs has taken a huge toll on our society,” says Hambrecht.

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Hambrecht sees the importance of building a strong, positive community as critical to turning historical wrongs into future rights. “Great companies are built by great teams, and in the process, the positive impact one creates by providing good jobs in places like Lake County, where fumé launched, where poverty and lack of opportunities are significant,” says Hambrecht.

The fumé umbrella of brands creates a ton of local jobs.“In just over a year, we have 81 people on the payroll and we are continuing to grow quickly. We seek to employ people who were disenfranchised by the war on drugs and give these people an opportunity to participate in the birth of a new industry,” says Hambrecht. Currently, fumé has three trademarks comprising its first set of brands. 

The company is living its mission statement by Planting Trees for Future Generations. Hambrecht and her partners are also active in the political and grassroots efforts to expand the number of local municipalities in California to allow commercial cannabis activities. Nearly 80 percent of California’s local municipalities have a ban on commercial cannabis, which in turn creates “pot deserts” and a lack of retail access.

“We need to work together to end prohibition, not only to un-do the negative impacts of over-incarceration, but also to make sure that cannabis is safe, and to educate consumers on safe practices,” says Hambrecht. She believes the legal industry as a whole is changing the world. 

Educating doctors and patients with preventative medicine: Dr. Jessica Knox 

Dr. Jessica Knox, a trained preventative medicine doctor, is co-founder of ADVENT Academy, CEO and co-founder of The American Cannabinoid Clinics, and Co-Founder of Doctors Knox, Inc. 

Together with her physician parents, Dr. Janice and Dr. David, and sister, Dr. Rachel, Knox is paving the way for preventative medicine. Her work is healing thousands of patients with cannabis and training other doctors to do the same. ADVENT Academy trains healthcare professionals in the physiology of the endocannabinoid system (ECS), the pharmacology of cannabis, and the delivery of endocannabinoid care. The American Cannabinoid Clinics offers comprehensive and holistic endocannabinoid care to patients. Doctors Knox educates the general public, through various mediums including television, online content and social media, and conferences to raise increase the number of clinicians specializing in endocannabinoid care. Her goal is to educate the general public about what ECS health is and how to achieve it. 

ECS knowledge is critical to maintaining balance in the human body by delivering feedback and controlling communication within and between the organ systems. “Through the lens of the ECS, we see just how important and impactful nutrition, supplementation, detoxification, mind-body therapies, and relationships are in health and wellness,” says Knox.

In medical school, Knox and many of her fellow clinicians-in-training were disappointed that their training focused on using pharmaceuticals to manage chronic disease and medical codes to boost billing instead of good health. “I began to feel that no space in the conventional medical system was designed to engage patients in true health partnership with their clinicians or to activate patients' self-actualization as the innate healers we all are,” says Knox. 

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Knox has a message for the cannabis industry: ECS needs to be the north star in product and service development. Shifting to a more thoughtful approach to the usage and dosage of CBD is critical at the stage in the industry where it is being infused in a lot of products without intent, minimizing the potential impact. 

Knox says it’s the real-life stories of healing that will drive change: “Patient stories are powerful and their insistence that clinicians get up to speed on cannabinoid medicine is strong.”

Changing the high-cost status quo of CBD while demystifying Chinese culture: Dr. June Chin

Dr. Junella Chin, co-author of Cannabis and CBD for Health and Wellness, and her bi-coastal team of doctors at MedLeafRx have treated over 10,000 patients by integrating medical cannabis into treatments plans. 

Chin was introduced to CBD in medical school when she struggled to stand on her feet in the operating room for extended periods of time due to ankylosing spondylitis (AS), a progressive type of arthritis that causes extreme stiffness and nerve pain, a disease she has had since her teens. While few physicians treat children, Chin extended her work to the pediatric field, treating young people who have intractable epileptic seizures from traumatic brain or spinal cord injuries, cancer, and colitis. In some cases, these patients have exhausted pharmaceutical options, surgeries, and ketogenic diets. While the treatments are incredibly effective, they are also cost-prohibitive. “A few doses a day costs hundreds of dollars a month. My pediatric epilepsy patients spend, on average, $1,000 - $3,000 per month on medical cannabis,” says Chin.

Believing that CBD should be as available and affordable as aspirin, Chin is on a mission “to develop and provide innovative, high quality, low-cost cannabinoid products to impact lives around the world”. She says contributing factors to the extremely high prices are: Demand, the cost of extraction equipment, expensive labor, land costs, a lack of global distribution system, and the lack of trust. 

“Over the years, Global CBD has bought and tested imported CBD from all over the world and found high levels of nickel and lead. Some products had no CBD at all,” says Chin. With strong family ties in the country resulting from her family’s China and U.S. import-export business and with the full support of the Chinese government, Chin and her team are miles ahead of anyone growing or extracting hemp in China as well as global distribution. 

“This is an opportunity to demystify China, Chinese culture, and identity during a time of an extreme political climate,” says Chin. “As a result, the endeavor has opened a dialogue about globalization, collaboration, mutual respect, and equality.’  

Harnassing capitalism for the greater good: Charlotte Hanna

Charlotte Hanna is the founder of Community Growth Partners which is launching Rebelle, a new cannabis brand that enables those directly impacted by the criminalization of marijuana to directly benefit from a now-legal, lucrative industry. 

After years of ventures, including a successful career at Goldman Sachs, Hanna has witnessed the power that financial and human capital can play changing the world for good. While others solely see the desire to make a profit, Hanna sees something else. “I have developed my own opinion about how capitalism can be used as a force for the greater good. People have lost faith in the institutions and many of us are increasingly expecting companies in the private sector to help solve social problems,” says Hanna. 

Hanna helped launched a program with San Francisco AIDS activist icon Ruth Brinker. Together, they transformed vacant lots into mini-farms staffed with homeless women who sold their products to local restaurants. To this day, Hanna counts Brinker as one of the best disrupters and heroes in her own life. “She didn’t let anything stop her from actualizing her dreams – and sometimes they were big ideas that seemed unattainable. When I asked her how she did it, she told me if you can reinvent yourself, you can transform any situation,” says Hanna.

Hanna leads the vision for her new brand Rebelle. As a long-time consumer of cannabis, she felt a calling to get more actively involved once legalization discussions commenced. “I’ve never understood why, as a society, we decided to criminalize a plant that grows on our planet for a reason,” says Hanna. “I’m a soccer mom and I smoke weed occasionally. So what?” 

Redefining what a successful CEO looks like: Erin Gore

Erin Gore is the founder of Garden Society. It’s a cannabis-lifestyle benefit corporation focused on bringing high-quality products and education to women 35-years and older. Gore is a trained chemical and biological engineer whose career at German industry giant Henkel provided plenty of opportunity for financial and professional growth, but the traditional definition of what success in the corporate world looked like did little to feed her soul. 

“The more success I had with my career at Henkel, the more isolated I felt in my personal life,” says Gore. Emotionally and physically exhausted, she found herself at a crossroads. In the choice of prioritizing her work or herself, she chose herself.

Gore and her team are removing the stigma barrier that prevents many women from finding the health on their own terms. Considering that 70 percent of women choose which cannabis products to purchase based on a friend’s recommendation, Gore knew that creating an educational, female-focused community was critical. The challenge was the lack of access to licensed retailers that engage and appeal to women.

In order to reach as many women in her target market as possible, Gore created a two-pronged go-to-market model that includes both retail and direct-to-consumer in-home parties, without compromising a consistent brand experience. The in-home parties provide the ability to learn from peers and purchase directly through the Garden Society website. 

Gore founded the first Employee Resource Group (ERG) for Women at Henkel, Gore has long held a commitment to elevating other women. She has been disappointed to see the lack of women represented at the capitalization table and the slowing number of women founders. Every move she makes at the helm is not just about providing exceptional products and services specifically for women; her decisions, actions, and investments are deconstructing unconscious biases that default to men as CEOs. 

“It’s exciting to look to the future of cannabis and see how this industry can create a new normal for women in the workforce,” says Gore.

Helping others in the cannabis industry: Christine De La Rosa 

Christine De La Rosa, a formally trained artist-turned-techie-turned-serial-entrepreneur, is co-founder of The People’s Dispensary. Born, raised, and educated in Texas, De La Rosa moved to California in 2008 with the help of her best friend Michael Schliekerm. They became co-founders.

The dispensary, to De La Rosa and her co-founders, is an opportunity to create an industry model that changes the money-first mentality. “One of the most significant ways we plan to disrupt this industry, that is now so focused on greed, is to bring our communities with us on this journey to wellness,” says De La Rosa. 

The innovative reinvestment model created by The People’s Dispensary has been deployed beyond Oakland. When her team started to receive requests from other communities across the nation, they knew they were onto something transformative. Over 20 communities that have requested The People's Dispensary open in their cities: places like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Fresno, Chicago, Buffalo, and Rochester, to name a few. 

The community re-investment model includes three tiers. The first is called the Rapid Response Funds which can be used in a no-questions-asked approach by anyone particularly the homeless, in the community who is in crisis. The second tier is via micro-grants of $10,000 - $15,000 for businesses that employ members of the community and require some capital for continuity. The third is an investment in people with big, viable ideas who do not normally have access to capital including people of color, women, formerly incarcerated and veteransAt the exit, the return is re-invested into the community foundation. 

“We are not only a business, we are a movement and our mandate, as a cannabis company, is to serve the communities that have been historically ignored,” says De La Rosa.

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De La Rosa knows first-hand the transformative power of cannabis, and not just from an infusion of capital. In 2010 she almost died from a pulmonary embolism due to undiagnosed Lupus.  De La Rosa was prescribed eleven pills a day as well as a monthly infusion to do basic functions. Her quality of life was almost non-existent. She stayed on her synthetic drug protocol for five years before looking at an alternative. Cannabis helped her to get off of medication completely. She says the impact was immediate and the realization that she wanted to help others.

“I made a pact with myself that I would try to reach as many people in my lifetime with this message of hope from a plant that had been systemically demonized and kept from us,” says De La Rosa.

Dismantling the competition in the CBD market: Laura Fuentes

Laura Fuentes is the co-founder of Florida-based Green Roads, the nation’s largest private CBD company. Fuentes has a life-long history of defying the odds. 

After becoming a mother in her teenage years, Fuentes earned a pharmacy degree and spent two decades in the industry. Despite doubt by some of her friends and family about her decision to leave the job she worked so hard to achieve, Fuentes saw opportunities to heal people with plant-based medicine instead of synthetic drugs. 

She witnessed patients unknowingly falling victim to addiction and the opioid crisis. “I felt helpless not being able to provide any type of alternative and witnessing their decline over time was extremely painful to watch,” says Fuentes.  

“I consider every grateful message Green Roads receives from people who are living better lives because of what we do the ultimate vindication and reward for overcoming those obstacles,” says Fuentes.

Green Roads was founded after witnessing her friend and eventual Green Roads co-founder Arby Barroso overcome opioid addiction. Barroso has deep expertise in hemp, and, together with Fuentes, they created their line of CBD products. Now employing over 120 people, they have scaled their operation. 

Fuentes has faced sexism in the cannabis industry, recalling one example where a potential client would only work with her male partner. The mindset of barriers as opportunities plays an important. Fuentes and her team want to define what the industry standards by which all CBD products should adhere. They are building brand equity bound to set the Gold Standard in a crowded market. 

“To call myself the CEO of an award-winning CBD company that helps millions of people is just astounding and I’m grateful for it every day,” says Fuentes. 

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