When it comes to the Cannabis industry, Fast Company recently declared, “Women are the Secret to this Whole Thing.” It’s not a secret anymore. The Insider explores this massive (and now very mainstream) retail opportunity as well as the products, the brands, and most importantly, the women business leaders paving the way.

We make up almost 51% of the United States population. We put in long hours at the office, in the classroom, at home, chasing children, cats, dogs. We try to take care of ourselves too, try to relax, to treat ourselves when we can. Some of us watched Weeds for seven years and some are now watching Broad City.

We know that recreational marijuana is legal in seven states and legal in some form in 26 states, as well as the District of Columbia. Those of us who haven’t yet benefited from this new legislation are eager to learn how to start. To put it bluntly, so to speak, we are the future of cannabis.

But now that we can make demands, we want to use marijuana on our terms. We want to use weed safely, efficiently, and, unlike many of our male counterparts, in the most aesthetically pleasing way possible. And that means a whole universe of products and accessories.

The Cannabis Accessories Revolution: Essential Products Now Trending

As Erin Rose Gardner, studio artist and founder of a luxury line of handcrafted roach clip jewelry called High Society Collection, explains, her customer wants a product that will “elevate your experience.”

“It’s kind of like somebody who makes really fancy whiskey glasses,” she told me. “You don’t need that kind of cup to have an experience of drinking whiskey but it feels better.”

On a 2014 episode of Weediquette, Krishna Andavolu’s Spike Jonze-produced docu-show on Viceland, Troy Dayton, CEO and founder of the marijuana investor network, The ArcView Group, predicts the marijuana industry will grow to 10.2 billion dollars over the next five years.

This particular episode, “Stoned Moms: The Marijuana Industry’s Greatest Untapped Market,” leaves little room for doubt about one of the fastest growing demographics.

Lisa Jones, artist, founder, and co-owner of Pigeon Toe Ceramics in Portland, noted that since legalization in Oregon two years ago, “there’s a dispensary on every corner.” She’s not being tongue in cheek. According to The Oregonian, there are 424 licensed medical dispensaries in the state.
Jones’s studio produces an impressive variety of handcrafted pieces for the home, from sleek pitchers and tableware to beaded sconces and hanging planters.

But it is her understated and conveniently pocket-sized stone pipe, which came about by accident, that’s been the most wildly successful. Formed from a rock she found in the Washougal River, she said, “I’ve never in my life launched a product like that. The demand was super high.”

Jones estimates that 80% of her regular customers are women, the sort with sophisticated, subtle taste. “There was nothing out there that was designed for women,” she explained.

Legalization has proved, for Jones, that “actually, a lot of really smart, successful people, and way more people than you think, smoke weed. It's dispelling the myth of the dumb lazy stoner that's pretty pervasive in our culture.”
And it was a pleasant surprise to discover she could “design a smoking device and it doesn’t detract from the brand or pollute it in some way.” At first glance, the pipe, which comes in ten colors, looks more like a piece of decorative pottery. “I only had one person ask me if it was a flute,” noted Jones.

Fueled in part by demand, Pigeon Toe is currently developing a Vices collection, which will include a flask, a stash box that doubles as an ashtray, and cleaning tools. And, of course, the line will feature a bong -- no small undertaking, given the delicate matter of calibrating water flow.

Read: Cannabiz -- How the New Business of Weed Impacts All Retailers

Women Leading the Business Side of Cannabis: A Massive Mainstream Retail Opportunity

Women on the business side of cannabis are working quickly to meet the specific demands of this new crop of female marijuana users, but it’s tricky, given decades-long stigmas and the still recent recreational legalization in states like Oregon, Colorado, and California, among others.

Designer and entrepreneur April Pride’s most recent venture, Van der Pop, is a cannabis lifestyle brand that does more than just offer an array of artfully curated “accessories created to make sure our mellow isn’t harshed.”

In addition to online sales and a permanent showroom in Seattle, Van der Pop is in the midst of launching SESSION, the equivalent of an upscale weed Tupperware party hosted in-home by a large group of cannabis-curious female friends and led by a locally sourced marijuana expert called a Vandy.

After a pilot period revealed just how many questions women have with respect to getting high, Pride wants to provide women “a safe space” to do just that.

“There were no retail stores for a brand like ours,” Pride said. “Mainstream stores are afraid of alienating the customers who are buying the most. Women don’t want to out themselves necessarily to their long-time personal shopper or to friends.”

But while breaking new ground might involve an obstacle or two, it seems to be a calling for Pride, whose aim is to fill a void in the market. Echoing Lisa Jones, Pride explained that part of the inspiration for Van der Pop came from a male colleague in the industry who told her, “There’s nobody that’s doing anything for women. There’s nobody doing anything at the high end.”

Van der Pop recently commissioned Erin Rose Gardner to design a beautiful custom rose gold keychain roach clip. According to Pride, part of its brilliance lies in the fact that, “you would never know what it is.”

Pride also mentioned something noteworthy about the customers attracted to objects like these. “I find the people who want those specialized pieces are true stoners. They immediately see the need for it because they’re also using it so frequently.” Despite that, Gardner has found that her regular customer base is actually “more mainstream.”

When she first began designing her line, before she realized it would become a business, Gardner was, “more concerned with what people were thinking of me.” But since legalization, “those thoughts don’t even cross my mind. It’s very normalized.”

The Line Between “Stoner” and Mainstream Customer is Disappearing — Fast

When I hear these seemingly contradictory observations, I wonder if the disparity between the true stoner and the mainstream customer is disappearing. As getting high evolves from illicit to medically acceptable to recreationally legal, the customer evolves as well. And the cannabis business owner follows her lead. Perhaps the mainstream customers Gardner is familiar with are already, or are soon to be, the true stoners.

Stephanie Hua, food writer and founder of the San Francisco-based gourmet marshmallow edibles company, Mellows, said that at the outset, “women were my target demographic, mainly because as a female consumer with a lower tolerance than your average male patient, I found there were not many products available to meet my needs.”

Her mellows are low-dose, allowing women to “easily titrate and find your personal sweet spot.” In spite of her female-centric approach, Hua has found that her customers are in fact evenly split across gender.

Until legalization becomes federal, cannabis companies like Hua’s remain somewhat local and cash-based. Even high-profile cannabis outfits, like Whoopi Goldberg and Maya Elisabeth’s eponymous Whoopi & Maya menstrual relief line, is sold only in California. Accessories, however, from places like Pigeon Toe, High Society, and Van der Pop, enjoy far more freedom federally and can therefore do farther-reaching business online.
But in my conversations with all four of these quietly revolutionary female business owners, I noted a shared commitment to the integrity of both their handmade products and to their aesthetically sensitive customer.

I also found that all four conveyed a practical sort of optimism, earned, it seems, by watching more and more female cannabis consumers emerge from behind so many once-closed doors.

“It's easy to forget sometimes that there is still a stigma surrounding marijuana for many people outside of our little green bubble here in San Francisco,” Hua told me.

“But the face of cannabis is changing, and I think that as cannabis use normalizes in our culture, it will no longer be a surprise if that face looks like yours or mine, or your mom's or even grandma's.”

Want more expert market advice like this? Meet hundreds of on-trend vendors and sit in on dozens of free retail strategy sessions at the next Culture+ at ASD — the largest wholesale smoking accessories trade show and advocacy platform in the U.S. — in Las Vegas. Get your free ticket here.

Written by Katie Schorr. Companies mentioned:

High Society Collection - Handcrafted roach clip jewelry

Pigeon Toe Ceramics - Elegant ceramic smoking accessories

Van der Pop - Designer Cannabis smoking accessories and Tupperware-inspired events

Mellows - Gourmet, Cannabis-infused marshmallows

Whoopi & Maya - THC-infused tinctures, medical Cannabis rub menstrual relief collection