Photo by Torrey Bailey
Adelia Carrillo of Direct Cannabis Network and Vanessa Corrales of B Edibles
"Cannabis is a female plant, so we’re going to own it,” said Adelia Carrillo, CEO of Direct Cannabis Network, an Encinitas-based, business-to-business website for marijuana entrepreneurship and technology.
Carrillo launched Direct Cannabis Network in 2016, joining the increasing number of women taking a seat at the head of the marijuana table. In 2015, women made up 36 percent of leadership positions in the cannabis market, toppling the 22 percent national average for women in senior management positions in all other industries, according to Pew Research Center. At 36 percent, there are already more women in leadership roles in cannabis than in other new sectors such as tech, where 20 percent of top positions were held by women in 2013, according to the University of Denver.
“It’s that connection that we, as women, have with the plant, with wanting to help others or with wanting to take care of people,” Carrillo said.
Because cannabis is unmapped territory, women can design their own paths, and the industry’s open-mindedness has made it that much easier to climb to the top, Carrillo said. Kimberly Simms, who started the San Diego branch of the female-centric cannabis group Women Grow, agrees.
“It’s an opportunity for women to come in with a really equal, level playing field and say, ‘This is what I can bring,’” Simms said. “I’ve had my moments of machismo, but generally speaking, I feel like I’m always kind of surprised when I encounter that in the cannabis industry.”
In addition to running Women Grow, Simms has been a cannabis lawyer for eight years and notes that this kind of camaraderie between sexes isn’t common in the overall legal system where only one-in-three professionals were female in 2014.
The largest quantity of industry women executives can be found in cannabis testing labs, where they hold 63 percent of the top positions. The business of infused products is the runner-up with women holding 48 percent of executive roles. In Chula Vista alone, there are two marijuana-related cosmetic companies headed by women. Paola Nunez is the co-founder of Queen Concepts & Co., which produces hemp-infused age defying serums. Similarly, Sophie Felix is a partner at Rx Canna Care, which creates CBD-infused anti-aging creams, lip plumpers and cellulite creams. In Golden Hill, Vanessa Corrales’ THC and CBD-infused cotton candy company B Edibles also markets its products toward women.
“There are social media influencers who are trying to push the image of cannabis away from the stereotypical couch potato into the more alive, work harder, slay, wake up and grind kind of women empowerment methods with colors, glitter and glam,” Corrales said.
Scrolling through B Edible’s Instagram feed, there are photos of women playfully eating the medicated cotton candy, drawings of flower-filled joints and phrases like “Put this in your mouth,” which Corrales said has been well-received.
“On my Instagram, I see more and more tags and people direct messaging me, Latinas, saying ‘This is awesome. I love your message.’”
While this pink-centric marketing campaign may not appeal to all women, it’s an alternative to stereotypical cannabis culture that not only allegedly appropriates Rastafarianism, but is often accused of objectifying females too.
“[The marijuana industry] is allowing women… to call out certain moments when they may be placed as a more sexual object and to say this isn’t good for our industry, you don’t need to sell sex in this,” Carrillo said. “There are other ways to grow your business. There is a broader audience than just men in this industry now. It’s growing and transforming, and that’s not going to go good with the brand.”
In addition to being leaders in their respective fields, Felix, Nunez, Carrillo and Corrales are all also Latina. Corrales said that although the local scene lacks diversity, that is slowly changing. She goes on to add that cultural stigma is a culprit holding back cannabis-forward, Mexican-American entrepreneurs.
“I’m Mexican, and all I grew up knowing was that having marijuana or having anything to do with marijuana in Mexico or the U.S. was such a bad thing,” she said. “Being so close to the border, I feel like a lot of Latinas that would want to be in the medical marijuana business or are already cooking with marijuana to treat themselves are really scared to be open about it.”
Proposition 64 passed by 57 percent in November, but 56 percent of Latinos opposed legalization in 2015, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. However, in the same survey, four in 10 Latinos reported they were in favor of legalization, marking an all-time high for the demographic.
In hopes of banishing the shame Corrales said is shared within the culture, she and Carrillo plan to begin a group for San Diego-based Latinas in the cannabis industry. So far, they have a pending meeting to discuss the manifestation process.
“I want to see how we can assist, how can we help, what the community need is, what do you guys need to be compliant and to be a little bit safer and be open to say you smoke marijuana and to know you aren’t a drug dealer or a narco, and that it doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person,” Corrales said.
One main goal of this group would be to create educational pamphlets and hold meetings in Spanish, which she said isn’t available option through San Diego’s pre-existing cannabis groups even though one-third of the county’s population is Hispanic. There is the national group Minority Cannabis Business Association, but a local branch has yet to be created. And until the Mexican-American community establishes itself within the cannabis industry, Corrales said she’s there to translate and spread information she’s accessed through English-speaking groups and lawyers like Simms.
“We have so many awesome women in our community, generally speaking, that have great attributes,” Corrales said. “And in knowing more about cannabis, they can join the cannabis community that we have now and use whatever they’re passionate about to push cannabis in the right direction.”