POLITICS
11/04/2015 04:11 pm ET | Updated Nov 06, 2015

These 10 Women Entrepreneurs Are Smoking The Marijuana Industry

The Oregon-based leaders are proving that weed is serious business.

PORTLAND, Ore. -- With recreational marijuana now legal in the state, entrepreneurs in Oregon are showing that the end of prohibition isn't just about smoking joints legally. It's good business, and the drug is both lucrative and popular in the places that have legalized it.

On July 1, Oregon joined Washington state, Alaska, Colorado and the District of Columbia in legalizing marijuana possession. A system to buy and sell cannabis wasn't set up until Oct. 1, so the state is only just beginning to see the monetary benefits of the plant.

While it may not be the safest or easiest move, marijuana's power players -- many of them women -- are proving that leaving your job for cannabis isn't as intimidating as it might seem. To help connect some of these leaders, a group called Women Grow has come together to host regular meetings and employment events for female marijuana entrepreneurs across the country.

Women Grow's biggest chapter is in Portland. The group connected The Huffington Post with 10 female leaders in the marijuana industry who live and work in the area, some of whom are members of Women Grow. While their backgrounds vary, these women all have one thing in common: They take weed seriously. Some of them left their day jobs to work in the industry, which is a daunting task. Weed is still illegal at a federal level, and nobody knows when a bank might shun a business for dealing in cannabis, a lawyer might drop a case or federal agents might come knocking.

These women are some of the people who are navigating those gray areas. Here are their stories:

  • Leah Maurer
    Leah Maurer
    If you're into the cannabis industry in Oregon, you know Leah Maurer.

    She's not only a reform activist, she's also a founding member of New Approach Oregon, a group that helped draft and fund Measure 91. The bill, which legalized marijuana possession, passed in November 2014 and was implemented on July 1.

    Maurer and her husband took a risk, moving to Oregon after narcotics agents busted their growing operation in Missouri. Instead of hiding, they decided to take a central role in the drug's legalization.

    The mother of three plays many roles in the industry: hosting get-togethers to help parents discuss how to talk about weed with their kids (it's "just like alcohol," people); co-chairing the Portland chapter of Women Grow; and acting as an evangelist and public relations face for the Oregon weed industry. Maurer wants to show that marijuana is not an intimidating thing -- it's a strong business opportunity.

    "Until we had legalization and regulation, this was not possible," she said. "The black market was being dominated by gangs and drug cartels. ... Now with the regulated legalized market it’s an open market, and it’s the best people in business who rise to the top, which completely levels the playing field and allows women to really take the lead."
  • Lizette Coppinger
    Lizette Coppinger
    Lizette Coppinger is the co-owner of the central Oregon medical dispensary Cannabend and the owner of Joint Scullery, a cannabis event company that provides catering services -- with marijuana edibles.

    Coppinger said it was always her dream to be a business owner in the industry.

    "But it was a very far dream for us, my parents were both very conservative. [Getting into cannabis] was a very hard decision to make."

    But, she said, her family has never been stronger. Coppinger has a 4-year-old, a 2-year-old and another on the way.

    "Being women, we just possess natural skills, like time management and multitasking," she said. "Once you’re a mother, you can really put fires out. Making a balance of family, home and business, we make fantastic business owners. I set an example for my children and my family."

    "There are no negative effects. If anything, I’ve never worked this hard my entire life, and my family has never been more together," she said.

    She said she's excited to see so many women in positions of power in the cannabis industry, not just because women make the field more diverse -- women make it better.
  • Ashley Preece-Sackett
    Ashley Preece-Sackett
    Without federal regulation, there are a lot of gray areas in the cannabis industry. That's where people like Ashley Preece-Sackett come in.

    She's the co-founder of Cascadia Labs, a research and development facility that gives growers a full profile of their plants, including potency and pesticide use, then helps certify them as Clean Green. Since federal laws won't let the Food and Drug Administration get involved with organic certification, Clean Green is the closest certification they can get, Preece-Sackett said.

    A lack of federal rules means weed growers can easily find a "lab" that will certify that their product has a certain potency level or is grown with few pesticides. Preece-Sackett -- who's also the vice-chair of Portland's Women Grow -- wants her lab to help set the standard and get products as close to federal certification as possible.

    "The labs aren’t being overseen," she said. "Joe Schmoe, he can open up a lab in his basement down the street by spending a little money, and then test for pesticides, which you could end up inhaling."

    She started as a small family company in Bend, Oregon, but will soon expand to a 10,000-square-foot facility in Portland. She takes pride in her humble beginnings as a horticulture student, and is empowered by the women who surround her.

    "Going into the industry I never thought I'd wear as many hats as I do, but the more I get to meet these women and hear their stories, the more I want to make a difference. Women are creating a path for others to follow in this industry, and we've done it right so far."
  • Genny Kiley
    Genny Kiley
    Genny Kiley practiced law for nearly 10 years at Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt, one of Oregon's largest firms, covering business transactions.

    But when she found herself working on a legal and professional team dedicated to legalization in Oregon, she saw a new industry that was underserved by lawyers and banks.

    "Many law firms were and still are understandably hesitant to enter the cannabis space," she said. "It became clear that the industry’s need for legal services was much greater than a big firm would be comfortable with providing anytime soon."

    She left her company in 2014 to start Emerge Law Group, a full-service firm that represents marijuana businesses with accounting professionals and criminal and compliance attorneys. Indeed, marijuana companies still struggle to find banks that will hold their green due to vague federal guidelines. Kiley helps those business owners figure out where to put their earnings.

    Without firms like Kiley's, businesses would have no legal recourse when, say, the Justice Department attempts to shut them down through the courts. (And businesses are having that problem regularly.)
  • Sara Batterby
    Sara Batterby
    She immigrated to the U.S. from the U.K. in 1995 to pursue a career as a technology consultant, led a real estate company for eight years before moving to the Bay Area and co-founding a venture fund to teach Silicon Valley investors that there's a powerful business case for investing in women.

    Then, she set her own example.

    Sara Batterby is the CEO of the cannabis cultivation company HiFi Farms and a founding chair of Portland's chapter of Women Grow.

    "Working in the industries of technology and finance absolutely made it very challenging to be recognized and succeed as a woman," she said. "One thing that’s really important to me in coming into the cannabis industry is recognizing and realizing the opportunity to do that a little differently and create an equal playing field for women in this business."

    Batterby wants her role in Women Grow to support new entrepreneurs in the industry -- male or female -- and make Oregon the role model for other states looking to legalize.
  • Ginny Burdick
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Oregon state Sen. Ginny Burdick (D-Portland) is a top advocate for gun safety legislation, fought to get secondhand smoke out of the workplace with the state's Clean Air Act of 2007 and co-sponsored groundbreaking legislation in 2005 aimed at shutting down Oregon's meth epidemic.

    She also serves as the co-chair of the Joint Committee on Marijuana Legalization, a state committee set up to consider legalization law before it is implemented, and is one of the many power players in the Portland community who want to make Oregon a leader in the industry.

    Burdick said she'll work "to ensure that Oregon sets a national example on implementing recreational marijuana use." She saw that the cannabis trade was alive and well in Oregon even before it was decriminalized.

    "We had far too many people in our prisons, in our criminal justice system for marijuana offenses," she said. "To the extent we’ve been able to do research, marijuana is less harmful than alcohol in terms of its effects on society."

    Oregon can help curb the stigma against marijuana and show how it can be turned into a profitable, responsible industry, she said.

    "[The industry] needs to be brought out into the sunshine. If we do our policies right, we will make life much easier for people who are trying to do it right and be good business people, good citizens," she said. "That’s been my goal all along: to have a viable, successful industry that will eventually become a traded sector industry."

    She added, with a smile, "We are very good marijuana growers in Oregon."
  • Whitney Hobbs
    Whitney Hobbs
    In two years, Whitney Hobbs went from a server and brewhouse worker in Montana to the co-founder of Highly Distributed, a wholesale cannabis distribution company in Oregon.

    Last year, she decided to go full time in the industry after educating people about CBD, a compound in cannabis that, unlike THC, doesn't have euphoric effects and is still thought to have medicinal properties. She also found it unjust that people who wanted to use marijuana as a medical aid weren't able to.

    "As I learn more about the social injustice, it just lit that fire for me," she said. "I decided I needed to spread my wings and do as much as I could for this movement."

    Hobbs' company serves as the middleman between growers and retail businesses in Oregon. Now that marijuana is legal to buy and possess in the state, she only stands to benefit.

    She said the support of women in the industry pushed her toward success. 

    "I couldn't have done what I did without Women Grow," she said. "I was able to link in with a lot of stellar people in the industry who gave me confidence. I made a lot of connections ... and I cultivated relationships where I'm actually partnering with people in the industry."
  • Inge Fryklund
    Inge Fryklund
    Inge Fryklund is a former Chicago prosecutor and an all-American badass, having worked overseas for the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.N. and with the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. In her favorite photo of herself, she sits smiling on a tank.

    Fryklund said her case work in Chicago led her to see the racial imbalance in drug arrests, and the number of defendants whose rap sheets listed minor drug offenses.

    "They were unlikely ever to obtain legitimate employment; the drug policies were simply cycling them back into the drug economy," she said. "Much of the violence -- and the high murder rate -- was due to gangs fighting over drug territories. It was like 1920s Chicago with prohibition of alcohol and Al Capone all over again."

    Working overseas between 2001 and 2014, Fryklund said she saw governmental corruption stemming from the U.S. war on drugs, so she came back to join Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of current and former law enforcement workers who support drug regulation instead of prohibition.

    Now, she wants to end the war on drugs for good.

    "I’ve never much paid attention to the federal scheduling of marijuana, I knew it was wrong," she said. "It is absolutely the stupidest policy, and it’s not just dumb, it’s harmful. It’s impeding the ability of people to do it right. If you can’t get banking, you have to go around the law. If you can’t do research, what is that going to do? Education is a huge part of it. ... It was always my goal for Oregon to be the national example of a place that does it right."
  • Madeline Martinez
    Madeline Martinez
    Madeline Martinez retired from being a California correctional officer to fight marijuana prohibition full time when she saw the devastating effects the drug war had on families.

    "Being a Latina mother, and then grandmother, I have always been all too aware of the disproportionate numbers of minorities arrested for marijuana related offenses," she said. "My concern for parental rights and custody issues is what fuels my passion in my fight against marijuana prohibition."

    Martinez went on to be the executive director of the Oregon chapter of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, as well as a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

    She began working directly with communities 1998, collecting signatures for ballot Measure 67, which eventually led to the legalization of medical marijuana. Later, she joined the team fighting for Measure 91 -- the bill that legalized possession in the state and passed with 56 percent of the vote in November.

    But it's her wacky business that solidifies her legend status in Portland. The World Famous Cannabis Cafe launched in 2009 as a pub-style venue for medical weed patients to hang out and smoke. The cafe was the first of its kind, and gave patients who lived in federal housing a place to medicate.

    Today, anyone 21 and older can enter. Instead of booze, you'll find budtenders to pack you a bowl (it's BYOM, people), live music and even "Stoner Bingo."

    She said she's now working on fighting prohibition at the national level "to protect the rights of women and families stuck in the gray areas created by legislative changes across the country."
  • Andi Bixel
    Andi Bixel
    There's nothing intimidating about weed ice cream!

    There's plenty intimidating about deciding to join a new, semi-legal industry when the rules and legality are unclear. That doesn't faze Andi Bixel, who founded Drip Ice Cream, a cannabis treat for medical patients. (For now, there isn't a system in place for non-medical customers to buy edibles in the state, but there will be.)

    She said that despite fears over federal law, she wanted to get involved when she saw so many other successful entrepreneurs jumping on board the cannabis train.

    "I think its important to set an example now, rather than get into the industry later and work your way to the top," she said. "Let’s show that women are coming in as equal players. It’s a lot of fun to create new rules. This is exciting. The culture shift that’s happening now because of cannabis is so great, and it’s exciting to be a part of that."

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