Women In Cannabis
Inspirational Female Leaders Making an Impact in Colorado and Beyond
As National Women’s History Month draws to a close, Lightshade would like to recognize the impactful women of cannabis.
Last year, we published our first edition of Women in Cannabis. It was—and still is—our goal to highlight the extraordinary women working each day to make a difference in our community. In this year’s edition, we’ve included a few more women making a difference in the cannabis industry, alongside the amazing women featured in last year’s article.
Women historically have struggled to achieve equal footing in the professional world and as recent social movements #MeToo and #TimesUp illustrate, in society and the larger business community, women still have a long way to go. Last year we pointed out that experts estimate the time it will take for women to achieve equality in the workplace at 217 years—sadly, this figure has not changed.
Cannabis is an outlier in the professional world and as our rebellious past suggests, we continue to defy expectations. Our industry is populated with inspirational and empowered women who are changing the world of cannabis and leading the way toward the transformation of the larger business landscape.
March is National Women’s History month. As our nation celebrates the achievements of women across a range of fields and industries, Lightshade would like to highlight a handful of the inspirational women making waves in our budding industry.
We are proud to hold space in the same field as the women discussed below.
Dahlia Mertens, Owner, Mary Jane’s Medicinals
Dahlia Mertens founded Mary Jane’s Medicinals in 2010, after being introduced to a cannabis-infused massage oil while in the mountains of Northern California. Filled with inspiration, she returned home to Colorado and set out to start a line of her own cannabis-infused topicals.
The MMJ movement was in its infancy, making it the perfect time to experiment with new products. Given Dahlia’s background in massage therapy, it only made sense that she start by using her oil on trusted clients. The feedback was outstanding and inspired her to invest her time, money, and energy in building Mary Jane’s Medicinals.
Given the newness of our industry at the time of Mary Jane’s Medicinals founding, Dahlia had to contend with a seemingly insurmountable stigma, and a lack of available research to help inform the creation of her products. Still, she didn’t skip a beat. Dahlia persevered and has built one of our industry’s most beloved brands. Today, Mary Janes Medicinals is a cannabis industry leader in healing topical products.
“When I first started this business and would broach the subject of what I did for a living, I never knew how people were going to respond. I got a lot of judgmental looks in the beginning.”—Dahlia Mertens to PopSugar, 2018
Kendal Norris, Owner, Mason Jar Events
Who doesn’t love a great event? And why shouldn’t our industry have its own unique canna-centric events company?
We don’t know if Kendal Norris, founder, and owner of Mason Jar Events was asking herself these questions when she started the company, but it’s easy to recognize her importance within our growing community.
Since 2014, Mason Jar Event Group has created experiences with a focus on high-end (seriously) cannabis culture, music, and dining. Known for their exceptional dinner affairs, resplendent with crystal glassware, banquet tables, and beautiful (and unique) floral arrangements, Kendall and her team craft elevated experiences like no other.
As a passionate cannabis consumer, with a history of hosting private cannabis-themed dinners in her own home, Kendal decided to start the company as a way to tell a new story about our favorite plant. Speaking to Dining Out magazine she said, “I became inspired after personally meeting with cannabis industries, discovering how they got started, and how they’ve tried to maintain a positive image. I wanted to do a series of celebrations to showcase this niche community.”
To keep pace with this ever-evolving industry, cannabis-themed events have started to crop up state-wide, but most pale in comparison to the luxurious soirees planned and executed by Kendal Norris and her team. We encourage you to keep up on all that Kendal and her team have planned—show your support for our community—join a cannabis-themed dinner party or yoga class organized by Mason Jar Event Group.
The next event is Yoga With a View and Cannabis Pairing Brunch on April 20, 2019, in Denver, CO. To receive an invitation to attend, send a Direct Message to @Masonjareventgroup on Instagram or Facebook, or reach out directly at masonjareventgroup.com.
Shannon Fender, Director of Public Affairs, Native Roots
Our friends at Native Roots (yes, we are friends) are inspirational counterparts in this now saturated marketplace. We respect their leadership and commitment to the cannabis community at-large. When they hired Shannon Fender as Director of Public Affairs, they made an outstanding choice (to put it lightly).
Shannon, as Director of Public Affairs, oversees Native Roots global government and community relations initiatives. She works in both the company’s established and new markets, gathering support from community members and stakeholders, to move the cannabis industry forward. She hustles every day to support the Federal legalization of cannabis in our country and to remove the stigma that has for too long plagued this beautiful plant.
Her work in the cannabis industry stretches back to her time working as a contract lobbyist in Colorado. She collaborated with cannabis industry leaders to solve major challenges until arriving at her home with Native Roots in 2016. In addition to her daily work with Native Roots, Shannon is a founding Officer of the Board of the Cannabis Trade Federation, the preeminent organization working to create a professional, credible, and unified industry in Washington D.C.
We are lucky to have a cannabis advocate like Shannon Fender working inside of the political space for the rights of cannabis consumers and businesses nationwide.
“What I have really tried to do in my role, both within the company and as well as reaching out to other organizations and setting that standard of excellence is organize and be better about talking about what we are doing as an industry and a community.”—Shannon Fender speaking to the Seed to Sound podcast
Karson Humiston, Owner & CEO, Vangst
At only 25 years old, Karson Humiston is the youngest female cannabis entrepreneur on our list, but her impact is immeasurable. In 2015, seeing a gap in the cannabis workplace, Karson founded Vangst—a platform designed to connect cannabis employers with potential employees.
Vangst was founded in a flash. Humiston, during a cannabis trade show in New York City, on day one, formulated her business concept—she returned for day two with a stack of homemade business cards and a load of ambition. Earning enough leads to prove the viability of her concept, Karson made the move to Denver and hasn’t looked back.
Fast forward to the present and we find Karson and Vangst in a vastly different space from where she began. With over 12,000 candidates, more than 53 companies, and an estimated 200 job openings on the platform, Vangst has grown to become an integral part of the Colorado cannabis community.Last year, Karson was selected to Forbes 2018 Top 30 Under 30 list for Enterprise Technology. As an advocate for removing the stigma associated with cannabis Humiston is outspoken and inspired.
Speaking to CNBC in 2017, Karson explained, “Convincing people to leave being a manager at Neiman Marcus or Chanel to manage a dispensary is a transition, and people aren’t exactly comfortable with the industry yet, so as a company, we have an obligation to educate our candidates on the industry, on where the industry is going, and where the opportunities are.”
Nancy Whiteman, Founder & CEO, WANA Brands
Nancy Whiteman, a relative veteran in the growing field of cannabis, is a powerhouse. A former marketing executive, Whiteman defies the stereotype of what people think of when they picture cannabis entrepreneurs.
“A 58-year-old mother of two, Whiteman presents as more sales rep than drug lord: russet hair in a sensible bob, a sly sense of humor tucked beneath a Northeaster reserve and the professionally tidy business casual of someone who started her career in suits.”—Inc.
Whiteman has adeptly navigated the entirely too-complex world of cannabis regulations, building Wana into one of our industry’s most beloved brands. How did she do it? She’s made it this far because of her ability to persevere against the odds, her grit, and her talent for improvisation.
Wana has grown considerably since Nancy founded the company in 2010, and as the industry grows, female cannabis entrepreneurs continue to look to her for inspiration. We know we do.
Dani Fontaine, Founder/Co-Owner, Colorado Hemp Project & Nature’s Root
Dani Fontaine’s hemp farm situated just outside of Pueblo, Colorado, was the first of its kind to operate legally in our country since the prohibition of cannabis. Dani, an outspoken advocate of hemp, founded the Colorado Hemp Project to demonstrate to the world the value of this sustainable and renewable, multi-use crop.
“This plan was taken from us and I plan to give it back to the people.”—Dani Fontaine to Fox & Nug, 2015
Since starting her cannabis career in 2008, Dani has been instrumental in bringing organic edibles to market, creating awareness around cannabis use for health, and fights as a fierce advocate for hemp and traditional cultivation practices. Fontaine is an inspirational woman, working for the greater good by helping to provide global access to this healing plant and is outspoken on topics related to cannabis and the industry overall.
“I think the cannabis industry as a whole is developing in my eyes a little slower than what it should be. It’s usually after three to five years you really start to see the fruits of your labor, and then, that’s when the big money wants to come in and not recreate the wheel, but help you build the wheel. It’s evolving nicely but with where we used to be in the late 1800s and early 1900s with cannabis here in America, we are really behind.”—Dani Fontaine to American Spa
Kristi Kelly, Marijuana Industry Group
Kristi Kelly is a vocal advocate for cannabis in America, an industry veteran, and all around cannabis renaissance woman. She’s been working to legitimize our industry for over a decade and has been instrumental in raising the profile of women in cannabis, having been named one of America’s 50 most powerful women in cannabis, and one of the top 100 political cannabis influencers. Kristi is prominently featured in the book Breaking the Grass Ceiling: Women, Weed and Business, and as the Executive Director of the Marijuana Industry Group, she provides consulting services for aspiring businesses and entrepreneurs in the cannabis space nationwide.
Kelly Perez, CEO, & Founder, & Courtney Mathis, President & Founder, KindColorado
Kelly Perez is passionate about cannabis and the community. As CEO and Founder of KindColorado, she is instrumental in creating awareness around issues surrounding cannabis and social justice—working tirelessly to join together businesses, nonprofits, communities, and projects.
Cannabis businesses have recognized the importance of philanthropy and responsibility as key initiatives and work with Kelly (along with Courtney) and KindColorado to bring these initiatives to life because breaking the stigma associated with cannabis and the drug war is critical if we want to bring this beautiful plant to the world legally.
“One of these days it won’t be cannabis and the community—it’ll be cannabis IN the community…what we get most excited about is the opportunity for communities (those disproportionately impacted by institutional neglect) that happens to be where many grows and processing facilities are located, to be served by the growing cannabis industry that gets to define itself as a business for good—people, profit, community. Working to change the cannabis narrative from the War on Drugs to a force for social change is pretty damn cool.”—Kelly Perez to the Cannabist, 2016
Courtney Mathis came from the nonprofit space giving her a unique perspective on the cannabis industry. She has a singular take on business and community involvement, which has helped to shape the mission of KindColorado. Courtney coined the phrase “cannabis doing good” which makes perfect sense as it’s representative of her core values and commitment to showing the world what our industry is capable of.
“I know the cannabis sector is capable of changing the world for the better. I also know that motivating a new industry to think about social responsibility and sustainability is a really hard ask when it’s painted as a “should” rather than an opportunity.”–Courtney Mathis for MJBizcon in 2018
At KindColorado, she has been instrumental in creating opportunities for cannabis businesses to engage with nonprofits, neighborhood associations, and other sector leaders. She’s worked with cannabis businesses of every size, and alongside her work at KindColorado, Courtney is also the co-founder of Conscious Cannabis Co. and works in partnership with Grasslands Content Agency to produce inspiring cannabis events.
At Lightshade, we continue to work with Kelly, Courtney, and KindColorado on projects related to our own Corporate Social Responsibility efforts and have found her insight, experience, compassion, and commitment to the community instrumental in bringing our CSR efforts to life.
Shannon Brooks, VP of Marketing & Corporate Social Responsibility, Lightshade
We’d be remiss not to mention Lightshade’s own Shannon Brooks. Shannon is committed to bettering our community, eliminating the stigma surrounding cannabis, and changing the cannabis conversation within the media. She is instrumental in all that we do at Lightshade and is part of what makes us unique within this growing community.
Shannon is committed to giving back for the right reasons. Speaking to the Cannabist in 2017, she explained, “Some businesses like to make donations so they can write it off, those giving back from cannabis organizations are really doing it for the right reasons. I do think the public needs to know this is the case.”
In addition to the hard work she does at Lightshade, Shannon serves on the Board of Directors for the Cannabis Trade Federation (CTF). The CTF is a national coalition of cannabis-related businesses that represent all aspects of the industry. They are focused on creating a professional, credible, and unified organization for our industry, and promote social responsibility, sensible cannabis policy, and the ongoing professionalization of this highly regulated and increasingly organized community of businesses.
At present, the CTF is lobbying for the State’s Act, which will alleviate many of the challenges facing the cannabis industry, such as banking, credit card acceptance, and unfair tax laws.
Shannon also serves on the CDOT Task Force for Drunk and Impaired Driving. In order to create awareness around the dangers of impaired driving, Lightshade is actively involved in helping to shape the message of this critical public safety issue. Shannon helps to ensure that cannabis has a seat at the table and is properly represented in this important conversation.
At Lightshade, we are committed to giving back to our community. Shannon is involved in forging partnerships with local nonprofits, organizing staff volunteer days, and is a fierce advocate for corporate social responsibility within the cannabis community at-large. It is through our work in the community we are able to demonstrate Lightshade’s absolute commitment to doing good.
This list is only a fraction of the hard-working, inspirational, and empowered women involved in the world of cannabis. Through the remainder of this month, as Women’s History Month draws to a close, Lightshade will continue to honor the women making an impact in our industry and encourage you to do the same. Show support for the women in your life who are making a positive impact each day.