The 35 Most Influential Women In Cannabis
We celebrate the female entrepreneurs who are changing the game in 2020.
Women have not held back from taking their rightful place at the top of the cannabis industry.
According to one study, close to 37 percent of senior-level jobs in cannabis are held by women. This puts the national average for other industries in the country-21 percent-to shame.
The women on the list range from healers to extraction scientists; PhDs to PR specialists; influencers to icons; law experts to investment gurus. There is not one facet of the industry that these accomplished women do not work in. While there are well beyond 35 women in the industry worthy of praise-veritably hundreds-we chose this distilled group of women because they represent both the CEOs and the unsung heroes. Many operate with massive influence behind-the-scenes, while others are becoming industry household names.
Here are 35 of the most influential women in cannabis today. There is just so much power on this list.
Funding Innovation - Emily Paxhia
Who: Emily Paxhia
What she does: Managing Partner and Co-Founder at Poseidon Investment Management
Why she’s on the list: In her decade-long consulting career, Paxhia has reviewed thousands of companies in the cannabis industry, working with founders and brands as an early investor. Paxhia has propelled the industry on the Board of Directors of the Marijuana Policy Project and currently serves on the Board of Athletes for CARE.
Advice: “I fall in love with my career in cannabis over and over again. Even in the face of unbelievable challenges and seemingly constant friction, I am beyond grateful to be a part of building this next phase of this industry with my colleagues. Be curious, dedicated, and patient. We must recognize our privilege to be a part of something that comes along once in a generation. It is our time to be generous with our agency and attention to grow this industry worldwide.”
Paving the Way for Black Businesses - Wanda James
Who: Wanda James
What she does: Founder and CEO of Simply Pure
Why she’s on the list: James is best known for founding the first black-owned legal cannabis dispensary in the United States, Simply Pure, with her partner Scott Durrah. In her career, James worked on the National Finance Committee for President Barack Obama. She is a military veteran and former lieutenant in the United States Navy. James has built a cannabis empire in her home of Denver, Colorado, while remaining a powerful advocate for equity, empowering black-owned business owners to follow suit. Simply Pure’s coveted, humble storefront is located in the historic, now trendy Highland area of the city. James powers forward today as a strong advocate for business owners in the space.
Advice: “Never ever, ever, ever give up. If you are truly an entrepreneur you never stop. Failure is not an option. Lessons may sometimes be costly, both financially and emotionally, but true entrepreneurs never say never. We say, ‘OK. What did I learn and how did that make me smarter, stronger and more experienced and ready to do it again?’”
Tracking Success - Jessica Billingsley
Who: Jessica Billingsley
What she does: A tech and data compliance guru, Billingsley founded Akerna. It is the first publicly-traded cannabis company on NASDAQ that is female-owned and operated.
Why she’s on the list: Billingsley is a cannabis industry veteran and tech guru. Her work developing a seed-to-sale monitoring and regulatory compliance system was revolutionary.
Advice: “Be tenacious. Every day I am reminded, there is no straight path to success. In technology and the cannabis industry, it is important to focus on impactful innovation and solving problems better than anyone else. Tenacity opens doors; once inside, your ability to take what you know, the skills you’ve developed, and apply them in impactful and innovative ways is what will drive your ultimate success.”
Creating A Safe, Sex-Positive Space - Cyo Nystrom
Who: Cyo Nystrom
What she does: CEO and Co-Founder of Quim
Why she’s on the list: As the fierce co-founder of Quim, Nystrom (alongside Rachel Washtien) has blazed an unconventional trail and created a sex-positive female health line of cannabis products. Nystrom’s career has told a new story in cannabis. One that orbits health, wellness, and vagina talk. Yes, she has an endless well of creative phrases to describe to women what they’re going through (like “puffy taco” comes to mind). Nystrom candidly and honestly discusses how sex affects women’s bodies, and where cannabis is able to step in to help heal and comfort the most precious parts of our bodies. Don’t skimp on love for you or your partners' nether-regions.
Advice: “Know yourself— your strengths, your weakness, what you love doing and what you hate doing— and then find people to work with who are fundamentally different. My business partner, Rachel Washtien, is my polar opposite with regard to problem-solving and skillset and I firmly believe that the constant push and pull between us is exactly what will help us stay in business in the future.”
Advocating For Athletes - Megan and Rachael Rapinoe
Who: Megan and Rachael Rapinoe
What they do: Rachael is the Co-founder and CEO of Mendi, Megan is Mendi’s first Athlete Ambassador and Advisory Board member.
Why they’re on the list: Both Rapinoe sisters have first-hand experience with the negative effects of being prescribed opioids and over-the-counter meds to combat pain. Rachael Rapinoe co-founded Mendi, a hemp-derived CBD sports brand, to improve all athlete's lives and advocate for a healthier, natural alternative. They're entering into a male-dominated industry head on to fight for athlete health and well being, and a more level playing field in sports and the corporate landscape.
Rachael’s advice: “Be bigger and better than you think is possible. Current status quos are typically only beneficial for one demographic, so think bigger and be disruptive. You can't do everything alone, so surround yourself with like-minded, trusted individuals and bring others into the fold.”
Megan’s advice: "It is very exciting to be a part of a company that is challenging the tired conventions of pain management by offering athletes at all levels a more natural alternative in CBD, but also challenging the Cannabis industry as a whole -- being a predominantly female-founded, ran and athlete-focused business model."
Rising Above All Challenges - Dr. Chanda Macias
Who: Dr. Chanda Macias
What she does: CEO of Ilera Holistic Healthcare, Chairwoman of Women Grow
Why she made the list: Dr. Macias is a pioneer. She is not only a Ph.D. and MBA, but the first black female entrepreneur to own a multistate cannabis operation, including grows and retail storefronts, across the country. Dr. Macias is a world-renowned research scientist in the biomedical space. Her most pioneering role to date may be as CEO of Ilera Holistic Healthcare founded in 2015 in Louisiana. Ilera recently partnered with Southern University to launch the first national CBD brand by a historically black university. Dr. Macias was even crowned Queen Zulu of Mardi Gras in 2020. Bow down.
Advice: “I've learned to be persistent and not accept NO as a final answer. Building a business in an unregulated federally illegal marketplace is not easy. I've learned to expect challenges. Those challenges have made me and my team stronger. If I am nothing else, I am resilient. I have built thick skin. My obstacles are my lessons. I apply those lessons every time I get up from a knockdown. Do you know every time I'm knocked down and get back up I go higher. It's my bounce back muscle.”
Building New Businesses - Shannon Donnelly
Who: Shannon Donnelly
What she does: Consultant, Founder and CEO of Healthy Honeys
Why she’s on the list: Donnelly is one of the most humble and hardworking women in cannabis and a veteran in the Colorado marijuana industry. She founded her CBD company Healthy Honeys in 2013, which was the first company to host at-home CBD parties (think Marie Claire, but for the cannabis generation). Donnelly’s other power comes in her consulting expertise that spans the country. Thank Donnelly for a veritable mountain of cannabis licenses across the country that have launched lucrative businesses, from storefronts to laboratories, in their respective markets. She’s an educator, a regulated cannabis subject matter expert, and a cannabis feminist.
Advice: “Hold yourself accountable for the way you speak to others, the plans you make, and, most importantly, the way you treat and respect yourself. Live true to your word, don’t gossip, be kind to yourself, these things will get you far in your professional and personal life.”
Reinventing Women-Centered Products - Erin Gore
Who: Erin Gore
What she does: Founder and CEO of The Garden Society
Why she’s on the list: Gore has told a beautiful, elegant story with her brand The Garden Society. It centers its product lineup on Rosette prerolled flower joints and cannabis-infused chocolate in elegant packaging. Gore speaks to those among us who may have felt no brand was really made for their point of view-- The Garden Society came along to put feminine, floral, whimsical cannabis on a pedestal.
Advice: “We are better together. We need to work together as a community to continue to affect positive change - be it changing the stigma of the plant, or being a voice for others who need to be seen and heard. Togetherness includes advocating every chance we get. Our collective effort is what will help evolve the industry as a whole. A rising tide lifts all ships! Truly empowered women empower other women. And we have the self-confidence to know that when one woman is successful, many others will follow. Let’s be proud of each others’ achievements. Let’s share our success strategies. This fast-moving, fast-changing industry is already hard enough for all. Let’s unite to form an industry of successful, women-owned cannabis businesses.”
Telling The Cannabis Story - Zoe Wilder
Who: Zoe Wilder
What she does: Publicist, Founder of Zoe Wilder PR
Why she’s on the list: She’s a woman in PR that everyone loves. Wilder has paved the way for all cannabis advocates, artists, and marketers with her innovative style. For 18 years, Wilder has worked with hundreds of clients across industries that include cannabis, psychedelics, tech, wellness, music, art, wine, and spirits. Her work has propelled the careers of massive cannabis brands, all-the-while maintaining a voice that champions small businesses and philanthropists in the space. The truth of the matter is, the cannabis industry in California as we know it today simply doesn’t look the same without Wilder.
Advice: “Have a deep understanding of why this industry exists and know that it’s being built atop of many who took incredible risks and have experienced profound suffering navigating the unregulated market, and this continues today, even in the regulated marketplace. Know that there are many still imprisoned and they need your help to become free. There are many suffering that may benefit from your unique goods and services, especially when applied thoughtfully, with care and compassion. Educate yourself first and foremost, then assist and educate others, so, together, we build true sustainable and systemic change.”RELATED: 4 Cannabis Retailers On How Brands Can Help Them During The Pandemic
Inspiring Future Industry Leaders - Maha Haq
Who: Maha Haq
What She Does: Founder & President of Cannaclub University and Biz Dev/Education Admin at CannaSafe
Why she’s on the list: Haq is a powerhouse in cannabis education. She is President and founder of Cannaclub University, a web of student alliances for those students who seek to concentrate on cannabis science, and aim to enter the cannabis space post-graduation. Launching Cannaclub University at her alma mater of UCLA, the organization which now spans the country. She also works at an ISO accredited cannabis testing lab, CannaSafe Analytics. Haq is a champion for women and POC in the space, as well as a keynote speaker on cannabis education.
Advice: “Work to realize how powerful you can be in the cannabis industry. We have a unique chance to mold a massive new market. Opportunities are everywhere, from business development and policymaking to healthcare solutions and scientific research. Anyone can become a pioneer in this space. Engage and participate with your community — doing so will promote advocacy, education, and transparency. Study the past, impact the present, and plan for the future.”
Making Dispensaries Accessible To Everyone - Christine De La Rosa
Who: Christine De La Rosa
What she does: CEO & Co-Founder of The People's Dispensary
Why she made the list: De La Rosa is a force in the industry, along with her mighty team of co-founders at The People’s Dispensary including Christine, Charleen, Michael, Tamara, Rocio, Melonie, Melorra, Gidai, Cesar, Mike. Thank De La Rosa for making equity and ownership available to the masses in a way never imagined before. The People’s Dispensary is the closest thing to an equity franchise model that exists in the cannabis space, aiming to both serve and be owned by communities that surround the dispensary. And it’s growing from its Portland flagship to more markets: Chicago, Fresno, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. De La Rosa’s cause is close to her heart, as cannabis has been a treatment for her own chronic illness. “I honestly do not know what my life would be like today without cannabis.”
Advice: "The cannabis industry has the potential to be healing to an entire society by offering alternative therapies to everyone. I know from experience that this plant has enhanced my quality of life, but more importantly, it has saved my life. I am grateful to have had the access and ability to switch my entire pharmaceutical regimen to cannabis and create a new life on the other side of illness. I am a businesswoman and understand the need for the bottom line. However, my advice for current and future cannabis entrepreneurs and business owners is to lead with the goal of utilizing cannabis to heal communities at every level and let go of the greed that has embedded itself into the industry. Prioritizing the health and well-being of our communities will lead to the bottom line that you are seeking in a way that is sustainable and accessible. Never lose sight that each of us has the power to create an industry that is just."
Soothing The Masses - Olivia Alexander
Who: Olivia Alexander
What she does: Founder and CEO of Kush Queen
Why she's on the list: The long-time social media influencer has launched multi-million-dollar brands via social channels including Kush Queen. Alexander has grown her beauty and wellness line to include THC-infused and CBD-only products such as bath bombs, pain relief lotions, and edibles, even items that emphasize minor, yet vital, cannabinoids like CBG and CBN. The modern-day Weed Bae is also the founder of The Crystal Cult, a fashion-forward brand for cannabis accessories as well as cannabis content hub The Budd.
Advice: “The greatest lesson I’ve learned in my journey in the cannabis industry is the priceless value of being seen. This plant has allowed me to be seen and to pass it on and see others. ... Other than the 18-35 white male stoner, most people's cannabis experience has been invisible, not unlike their own personal narrative. When you see all types of people with differing beliefs and life paths seeing themselves in your brand- you have done something more powerful than marketing.”
Formulating Power Plants - Jewel Zimmer and Taylor Lamb
Who: Jewel Zimmer and Taylor Lamb
What they do: Co-Founders of Juna
Why they made the list: Zimmer’s career launched in San Francisco as she is a sommelier, pastry chef, and serial entrepreneur. Her alchemical food experience led her to sell single-origin chocolate with adaptogenic raw cacao extracts with Barneys beginning in 2009. Lamb brings growth marketing leadership to Juna, with her exceptional track record in driving accelerated business growth, coming from direct-to-consumer sleepwear brand Lunya as well as popular jewelry brand, Gorjana. Perfectionist brand Juna is helping people find wellness through “plant-powered biohacking,” as the company says. Zimmer and Lamb go out of their way to formulate products with either certified organic ingredients or ingredients grown with organic, biodynamic practices to make single-origin, sun-grown hemp oil.
Advice: "Make sure your product A. solves a clear problem/need, B. truly is effective and can enhance someone’s life, C. can fit into your customer’s routine, and D. that your brand resonates with a specific target demographic. This is the formula we follow when developing into new products and new product categories for Juna. When it comes to branding and brand voice, we always aim to be authentic and honest. Since we are both within Juna’s target demographic, it makes it a bit easier to always step back and ask ourselves if it resonates with us on an emotional level - did we laugh, learn, or connect with it? And ultimately, is it something we would want to share with our friends?
In addition to that formula, we find it paramount to always stay profitable as a business. This is a controversial topic among start-ups, especially in cannabis, but it’s also a way to differentiate. So many brands are raising more funds than they need and spend frivolously to make a splash. They are pushed to hit aggressive revenue numbers so they put that first and profitability takes a backseat. This isn’t a sustainable business model which is why we sadly see so many companies going bankrupt in the industry. We recommend basing your acquisition costs off of the customer's first purchase AOV instead of LTV (a customer lifetime value). Get scrappy, get creative, always negotiate, and look for ROI to stay profitable.
If you stick to that formula and stay profitable, you will succeed!"
Navigating The Investor Seas - Daisy Mellet
Who: Daisy Mellet
What she does: Partner at Merida Capital Partners LP
Why she's on the list: During Mellet’s tenure at Merida Capital, the firm has grown from $7 million assets under management and 50 investors to more than $125 million and 250 investors. Having quadrupled its number of employees, Mellet brings her process-oriented knack for professional infrastructure to the largest private equity fund focused on cannabis, fueling Merida’s rapid portfolio growth.
Advice: “The cannabis industry can be difficult to navigate and still presents many operational obstacles, so patience, energy, and a sense of humor while problem-solving are key. When it comes to investors, it’s critical to be as transparent and accessible as possible because this is a new space and for many, a real leap. Finally, I remind myself how lucky I am to be in this sector, I feel so privileged to work with and meet real pioneers who continue to push the needle forward. I’m simply excited by what we’re doing, and that makes all the difference.”
Raising A Glass - Cynthia Salarizadeh
Who: Cynthia Salarizadeh
What she does: Founder and President House of Saka, Founder AxisWire, Co-Founder Green Market Report.
Why she’s on the list: Salarizadeh has dedicated her career to reversing the negative marijuana stigma created by Reefer Madness marketing. Launching one of the first hemp and cannabis-dedicated firms, Salar Media Group, in 2016, Salarizadeh has gone on to launch a luxury cannabis wine brand House of Saka. The dreamy weed wine available in California comes in two booze-free cannabis beverages akin to rosé and a sparkling white.
Advice: “Keep your head down. Keep your ideas to yourself. Keep going. The cannabis industry is one of the most challenging business environments to operate within. Individuals and organizations generally do not understand just how restrictive and unique it actually is until they jump in. On top of the regular impossible hurdles that women face in business, like the fact that only 3% of venture capital funding is granted to female-founded businesses... add a federally illegal component and the obstacles become exponentially greater. If you are here for the right reasons, you will find the challenges less overwhelming. Overall, the most successful entrepreneurs in this industry embody a combination of grit, intelligence, flexibility, and skill matched with passion that cannot be shaken.”
Writing About Weed - Mary Jane Gibson
Who: Mary Jane Gibson
What she does: Actress, comedian, journalist, and co-host of Weed+Grub podcast
Why she made the list: No cannabis women entrepreneur list is complete without Gibson, an actress, writer, and longtime culture editor at High Times. Today, she pens pieces for Rolling Stone and Green Entrepreneur and co-hosts the popular cannabis podcast Weed + Grub alongside fellow actor/comedian Mike Glazer. Gibson is a prominent advocate and voice in the industry. She has traveled the world tracking the legalization of medical marijuana, adult-use cannabis, and CBD with integral public figures, brands, and personalities since 2007.
Advice: "I've learned from the people who've fought to legalize cannabis for decades that we're all in this together. We need to keep working with compassion, openness, and honesty so that everyone can benefit—and profit from—this incredible plant that's brought me joy, unlocked my creativity, and given me a writing career. I hope industry leaders will listen to the cannabis community, and that we'll all celebrate federal legalization together soon."
Investing In The Best - Codie Sanchez
Who: Codie Sanchez
What she does: Managing Director and Partner at Entourage Effect Capital
Why she's on the list: Sanchez’s work at venture capital and private equity fund Entourage Effect Capital had included the launch of their third dedicated fund for $150MM, making them one of the largest PE funds in the industry. A former journalist, Sanchez is a pundit and columnist on investing, macro trends, cannabis, and startups and she sits on the board of the Arcview Group as well as Magma Partners.
Advice: “There is nothing that can take the place of good old-fashioned preparation. What I quickly realized through many sweaty foreheads in investing, is that often we are so busy going out to chase what we want we have no real idea what to do with them once we ‘catch’ it. Start by learning as much as you can about the business behind cannabis, liking the plant is not enough in this incredibly rewarding but challenging industry.”
Killing It In PR - Rosie Mattio
Who: Rosie Mattio
What she does: Founder and CEO of MATTIO Communications
Why she’s on the list: Mattio is the American entrepreneurial dream realized. She has created a communications business that has grown to serve over 25 marquee cannabis clients. MATTIO was voted number 1 cannabis firm by Green Market Report. Founded single-handedly by Mattio in 2004, her PR firm has grown to dominate and propel the cannabis space in its influence and representation.
Advice: “My one piece of advice is to be collaborative. Early in my career, I understood the power of connections and my agency is built upon the strength of the networks I’ve cultivated and continue to grow. Whether it’s connecting companies with media, facilitating partnerships between brands or introducing entrepreneurs to one another (clients or not), bringing people together is the secret of my success. I firmly believe that when you help others, you help yourself - and it feels great! The spirit of collaboration can grow an industry, and in turn, your business prospers, as well. It’s the ultimate win-win.”
Capturing The Green Rush - Ophelia Chong
Who: Ophelia Chong
What she does: Founder of Mogu.Care, CEO and Founder Stock Pot Images, Co-Founder Asian Americans for Cannabis Education
Why she’s on the list: Chong is a breath of honest air in the California cannabis industry, of which she is a veteran since founding cannabis and psychedelic image resource Stock Pot Images in 2015. Chong is well-known for her photography, graphic design, art direction, and education. She teaches Marketing and Self-Promotion at the Art Center College of Design and has been an art director at CalArts since 2008. Chong also co-founded Asian Americans for Cannabis Education with Monica Lo and Tiffany Wu in 2015. Her latest venture Mogu.Care, founded in 2020, specializes in innovative growing products for “adaptogens and in the future entheogens.”
Advice: “Place your hands over your heart, that is where your power is. Place your hands on your head, that is where your inspiration comes from. Open your mouth and say ‘I trust you,’ that is where your strength comes from. Place your hands with others, and that is where your community is. Lastly, look in the mirror and bring all of that together and you are complete. Who you are is who you present to others, and you are an unstoppable force when you stand tall and say ‘I am here.’”
RELATED: Recreational Weed States of America
Doing It With Style - Sonia Hendrix
Who: Sonia Hendrix
What she does: Founder at GALLERY PR
Why she made the list: Hendrix is a bridge from fashion to cannabis and back. She is responsible for building the following, amplifying the voices, and shouting from the rooftops some of the most ingenuitive brands in the cannabis space today. Companies that Hendrix has gifted with her PR touch include CuraLeaf, Sherbinskis, Select, Post Malone's brand Shaboink, Double Barrel, and more. Hendrix founded her company GALLERY PR in 2018, with dual headquarters out of both New York City and Los Angeles. Hendrix uses knowledge from her decade-long fashion career to propel the cannabis industry into new frontiers—including The New York Times' first-ever Style Section profile of a cannabis cultivator.
Advice: “Absolutely nothing in the cannabis industry will be easy. The only way to succeed is to work smart and be relentless.”
Standing Up For True Justice - Jodie Emery
Who: Jodie Emery
What she does: Activist, civil liberties advocate, and public speaker.
Why she's on the list: British Columbia's Princess of Pot has been a long time cannabis and political advocate with Cannabis Culture magazine along with video channel Pot TV. She regularly attends and organizes rallies, protests, and marches, unafraid to speak truth to power, even in places where there’s risk involved. Her latest focus has turned to opening Jodie’s Joint cafe, a cannabis lounge based on the Amsterdam-style coffee shops.
Advice: “Cannabis legalization law reform shouldn’t simply create and reward a new mega-corporate and government cartel with prohibitive laws and regulations. Authentic legalization should mean the liberation of, and support for, those who laid the groundwork for today’s new cannabis regimes – especially the advocates, patients and victims of prohibition who continue to suffer exclusion and criminalization. As you get involved with cannabis businesses, make sure to do so with passion and compassion, and stay true to the core mission of legalization. We need genuine freedom and fairness for us all.”
Influencing Millions - Koala Puffs
Who: Koala Puffs
What she does: Social media influencer
Why she's on the list: Trading on her genuine and relatable brand of humor, Koala Puffs is one of the largest cannabis content creators in the world, with nearly 1 million followers across Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, and Twitter. On top of her successful CBD gummy and merchandise lines, the budding mogul has debuted her first single on Spotify and will be featured in the upcoming ensemble stoner movie 4/20.
Advice: “Don’t chase trends, try your best to come up with original, quality content that you would watch even if it wasn't you making it. Surrounding yourself with other people that love doing what you're doing will help you stay constantly motivated. Just make sure that you truly love what you're doing, because the internet is not always a friendly place. Do things that haven't been done before! Have fun with it and bring your ideas to life. The universe will take care of the rest.”
Putting CBD On Sephora’s Shelves - Casey Georgesen
Who: Casey Georgeson
What she does: Founder of Saint Jane Beauty
Why she’s on the list: Georgeson took her expertise in the mainstream beauty world, as a former Sephora executive, and translated it into CBD. She did so as a working mother of three. Georgeson is well-known for Saint Jane Beauty's ability to expand CBD's retail clout, years before other companies started to catch on to its transformative power as a skincare secret ingredient. Before entering CBD, Georgeson brought her expertise to beauty and wine brands that include Marc Jacobs, Kat Von D's line of cosmetics, and Cupcake Vineyards.
Advice: “Patience, Agility, and Integrity. Patience with the roadblocks like payment processing, legal challenges, paid advertising. Agility to adjust your strategy at a moment's notice. And finally, integrity is essential. Working with and producing products with integrity is non-negotiable given the amount of misinformation around Cannabis and CBD. You have to be deeply invested in the right mission in order to break through, resonate with customers, and to endure the headwinds.”
Creating Culinary Delights - Kristi Knoblich Palmer
Who: Kristi Knoblich Palmer
What she does: Co-Founder at Kiva Confections
Why she's on the list: Palmer entered the cannabis marketplace with Kiva at a time when the space left much to be desired with many edibles suffering from inaccurate dosing and lackluster branding. With an emphasis on consistency in micro-dosing and providing a premium culinary experience, she has brought Kiva products to more than 550 dispensaries across six states with Kiva's Blueberry Terra bites being the best-selling cannabis-infused chocolate in the country.
Advice: "Customer service should always be at the forefront of your business. Companies don't have relationships with each other- people do. Putting relationships first and hiring a team that does the same will do a lot to set your business apart. That, and creating stellar products. Exceptional people and products will always take you far.”
Raising The Bar - Kerrigan Behrens and Kaley Nichol
Who: Kerrigan Behrens and Kaley Nichol
What they do: Co-Founders of Sagely Naturals
Why they’re on the list: Behrens and Nichol have always pushed boundaries, whether that means busting stigmas surrounding cannabis use or landing their products in conventional chain stores like Neiman Marcus or CVS. With a line of top-selling relief and recovery creams, capsules, sprays, and roll-ons, the endgame is making Sagely a household name in the medicine cabinets of even the least likely CBD consumers. Since founding their company in 2015, Behrens and Nichol worked meticulously with chemists and naturopaths to create products with an unwavering dedication to, the ideology their whole company's ethos ascribes to, "whole-self wellness."
Kaley’s advice: "Given the relative newness of the cannabis industry, regulators haven't yet caught up with establishing quality standards and enforcement protocols. This puts the onus on cannabis brands to develop and adhere to their own stringent standards, hold their suppliers accountable for quality excellence, and educate the cannabis consumer as to why strict standards are paramount. We learned early on back in 2015 how critical it is to a cannabis brand’s longevity to constantly challenge, refine, and improve these standards and protocols. It’s a duty that is imperative to creating an everlasting cannabis industry."
Setting The Bar For Cannabis Business Conferences - Cassandra Farrington
Who: Cassandra Farrington
What she does: Co-Founder and Board Chair, MJBizCon, Marijuana Business Daily
Why she’s on the list: Cassandra Farrington facilitated countless connections in the cannabis industry, founding MjBizCon in 2012, at a time to have paved the way for the whole industry’s success today. Her partner Anne Holland and Farrington founded the company at a time where the industry was just beginning to spark. Their conference series has educated and connected thousands of cannabis entrepreneurs, as 2019’s MjBizCon brought a record 36,000 attendees. You have Farrington to thank for how far this industry has gotten up to this point.
Advice: "It is indeed possible to forge your own self-funded, and therefore self-controlled, path to success in the cannabis industry. Don’t assume that just because everyone else is raising money, that you need to do that too. At the very least, don’t allow that be a default position without exploring all other avenues and possibilities. The flexibility of controlling your own destiny – and that of your business – is well worth the effort. And at minimum, if you *do* decide to seek outside funding, you’ll have those other ideas as contingency plans. Any entrepreneur worth investing in needs plenty of those."
Leading The Science Pack - Katie Stem and Kate Black
Who: Katie Stem and Kate Black
What they do: CEO, COO, and Co-Founders of Peak Extracts
Why they’re on the list: Combining their super powers—Katie Stem’s pre-med and a degree in traditional Chinese medicine, herbalism, and acupuncture combined with Kate Black’s experience in design, chocolate making and culinary management—Peak Extracts was born. Peak’s line of vegan, gluten-free single-strain couverture chocolates was born. It’s one of the highest-selling concentrate brands in the state of Oregon.
Stem's advice: “Amid all the regulatory uncertainty and ups and downs, revisit the beginnings, and why you started. In my case, it was because cannabis changed my life for the better and helped me manage my Crohn's disease, and has the potential to help so many others. I'm sustained by the stories I hear on a daily basis of our products making a meaningful impact.”
Black's advice: “Acknowledge and respect that legalizing and normalizing cannabis is, most importantly, a medical movement, not a movement for profit. This is a hard-run marathon for those of us who have a foothold in the industry. The story is just being written and this is a ripe time for creativity and invention.”
Reinventing Luxury - Cindy Capobianco
Who: Cindy Capobianco
What she does: Lord Jones Co-Founder and Chief Brand Officer.
Why she’s on the list: Capobianco is a trail-blazer in the CBD category with her company Lord Jones. It was one of the first to be featured in big-retail chains like Sephora, and it was purchased for a record-breaking $300 million by Cronos Group.
Advice: "Surround yourself with people you trust, do something you feel deeply connected to, stay curious and keep it real. I have worked closely with my husband Rob for years and have come to understand how important it is to have my best friend by my side. We didn’t realize when we started that all the jobs we had previously would prepare us for launching a non-profit medical cannabis collective that would eventually grow into Lord Jones. Nothing is more rewarding than when our customers tell us that our products have changed their lives."
Investing In Female Entrepreneurs - Amy Margolis
Who: Amy Margolis
What she does: Founder at The Initiative and attorney at Margolis Legal
Why she's on the list: Margolis is the Founder of The Initiative, an accelerator program designed for female entrepreneurs and executives to have the tools to build wildly successful cannabis companies. She has been a practicing attorney more than 18 years routinely representing cannabis growers, she founded the Oregon Cannabis Association advising businesses and investors on corporate development, and she opened The Commune, a venue that hosts cannabis events with an office and boardroom space.
Advice: “For those entering the space or even continuing to grow in the industry, be fearless and take the necessary risks. Now more than ever, we need to encourage corporate cannabis to fight for equity and inclusivity in the space, because it’s the right thing to do and because we must remember that this industry was built off the backs of those impacted by the war on drugs. Until no one is incarcerated for cannabis, companies that are thriving need to make sure that is part of their mission and commitment.”
Laying Down The Law - Trina Fraser
Who: Trina Fraser
What she does: Partner at Brazeau Seller
Why she made the list: Fraser is one of the most informed lawyers in the cannabis space in Canada, and her expertise has grown as international markets continue to open. Industry experts look to Fraser for insight on the rules and regulations the “grand experiment” of federal legalization has shown in Canada. Follow her on Twitter for a honest, raw, brilliantly analytical birds-eye view of the industry.
Advice: “Every cannabis company needs a dreamer, a stickler, a salesman, an aficionado, a bean counter and, most importantly, a leader. Chances are, you aren’t all of these things. Be honest about your personal skill set and build a team around you to fill the gaps.”
Baking Excellence - Nancy Whiteman
Who: Nancy Whiteman
What she does: CEO of Wana Brands
Why she made the list: Whiteman has been lauded as the "Martha Stewart of Edibles" and the "Queen of Legal Weed." And for good reason. The CEO of Wana Brands, which has grown to become the top-selling edibles brand in the United States according to BDS Analytics. Whiteman's vast experience in business development and marketing made Wana well-poised to take the throne.
Advice: “Run your own race. It’s easy to get caught up in trying to keep up with what everyone else is doing and worrying that they have more money or connections. Focus instead on creating the best, most differentiated product you can create at the best possible price. The rest will follow.”
Adding Star Power - Bella Thorne
Who: Bella Thorne
What she does: Founder of Forbidden Flowers
Why she made the list: This once Disney star actress, director, and all-around fashion icon is a newly-minted cannabis mogul. Thorne launched Forbidden Flowers in 2019 to much fanfare in the California marketplace, given the brand’s fearless marketing and Thorne’s ability to spark new, hyper-feminine life into the industry. Thorne is an outspoken advocate for medicinal use of cannabis, pointing to its ability to ease symptoms in her own struggles with anxiety and depression. The sparkly containers and branding alone make her line a collector’s item worth seeking. Forbidden Flower’s cannabis is grown in partnership with the brand powerhouse Glass House Group. Each batch is cultivated in an indoor Santa Barbara growhouse using strictly organic methods. Thorne tells Forbes a CBD line is in the works, so something to look forward to.