Focus on the Grass, Not My Ass

Sexual Discrimination in the Cannabis Industry


Note: This piece was originally published in Weed World Magazine UK (distributed throughout the US, UK).

The documented millions of men and women who shared an all-too-common story, via the hashtag, #MeToo (created by actress Alyssa Milano), demonstrated how prevalent inappropriate behavior in the workplace is around the world – with the historically covert cannabis industry no exception.

The most poignant stories from the farm are of women being paid a little more to trim topless; the unsaid expectation of providing “extras” to superiors; and blatant rapes, with no recourse within this historically covert and ordinance-free industry.

Power is the key word in the mix, as the tides turn in the traditionally male dominated weed industry; with women rising up, founding their own businesses, and calling the shots.

Mark Cobb is a woodworker in Oregon who’s been around its cannabis industry for years. He said, “Harassment is harassment,” stating that any business where men are in positions of authority lends itself to sexual harassment – which is a sad statement in itself. He then added that women are no different.

“I’ve seen the ‘marijuana groupies’ that gravitate to the growers, willing to do whatever to have a grower man,” Cobb added.

The extraction and exploitation of Mother Earth goes hand-in-hand with violence against women. It isn’t across the board, but from my own experience, it’s more common than not. It’s time to stop blaming survivors and take a look at this system that demands women do things they don’t want to do, just to barely survive.
— Nikki Norris, Radio Producer, KMUD, Humboldt County

Women are not the only victims in the harassment arena. One man, who will remain anonymous, claimed a male doctor in the cannabis space in California repeatedly harassed him and other men in the workplace, daily, with no repercussions; and the only way to stop the abuse, to quit the job.

In Southern California, Nikki Rigsby, was more pragmatic stating, “Predators prey, regardless of the environment.”

Kyra Reed took the bud by the stem, so-to-speak, creating the campaign and hashtag, #NotInMyIndustry, with a Facebook page where cannabis workers can share their concerns.

Reed’s passion for the campaign was ignited when a prominent cannabis company in Colorado hired its CEO, knowing he had sexual harassment charges against him from a former partner. Shortly after the hire, all the woman on its Board of Directors walked out, with at least one act of bribery alleged.

“I just can’t believe in the era of Weinstein and #MeToo, that this is being tolerated,” Reed said. “Every woman in the company walked out, and mainstream publications, like Forbes, didn’t tell the whole story.”

In a 2017 Diversity in Cannabis Survey, conducted by New Frontier and Women Grow – a national organization of professional women in weed -  1,700 participants were queried on their experiences with gender and racial discrimination in the cannabis industry.

The report gave good marks in gender equality; failed in racial diversity; and showed a whopping 45 percent of participants stating they’ve either witnessed sexual harassment on the job, or experienced it themselves; with one-third reporting they knew someone who had been sexually harassed.

When low-level employees were separated out from the main numbers, the percentage of sexual harassment jumped to 30 percent, with 49 percent reporting they were aware of abuse to others.

Sadly, age made no difference to the level of abuse. It’s also interesting to note, a national poll conducted by the Washington Post in 2011 gave the same numbers, with nearly half of all Americans reporting that sexual harassment in the workplace was a serious problem. Today, that number has jumped to 64 percent.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the crux of the matter is power, intimidation, and knowingly providing a place for predators. Encouraging companies to respond seriously and immediately to any complaints by employees is key, no matter how small the issue may seem. The commission also clarifies that harassment does not necessarily have to be of a sexual nature, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex or gender.

A woman who works for a high-profile cannabis company said, though she’s been suspended regarding a male manager’s conduct towards her, wage disparity between men and women is the larger problem, stating, “It’s actually a pretty hopeless feeling working for a male-dominated company when you know they don’t respect your work – when you know you do good work.”

Another woman who has worked in both the black market in Northern California, and in the more corporate cannabis space in Southern California, states there’s not much difference in the mind-set of men from north to south.

Women are definitely marginalized to a great extreme, no matter how much experience you have. There’s an unspoken attitude that every man in the business subscribes to; they have no problem whatsoever making sexually inappropriate comments and have no respect at all for women - to such a degree that they don’t even realize they are being inappropriate.
— Anonymouse Cannabis Industry Worker

The Harvey Weinstein’s of the cannabis industry do exist, whether or not they know they are being inappropriate or not; with another woman sharing anonymously her disturbing encounter during a job interview. After sharing with the business owner, she was healing with cannabis and wanted to teach others how to heal, things took a turn for the worse.

“I waited for him to speak to me in person,” she explained. “He invited me into his little room behind the curtain, and there on his canna-couch began to get intimate – trying to touch and kiss me. That was in 2014, and I’ve yet to break into the cannabis industry – but I now consider it a blessing.”

On the flip-side, a topical maker in California said she only hires women, calling it “the sisterhood of the traveling pants.”

“We have shared stories across all ethnicities, finding common ground from the oppression of our familial males and father figures,” she shared. “We’ve cried together and healed together. Everyone who works with me says they feel so much better after they leave. We heal each other by knowing we are in the same club.”

Power harassment is the mental and career confinement of a woman in business.
— Shanna Perry, Owner, Shannabis, cannabis media & news company

Shanna Perry is owner of Shannabis, a media and news company within the cannabis industry in Las Vegas, Nevada. She feels that power plays are worse than sexism in the space, stating, “Power harassment is the mental and career confinement of a women in business.”

Perry feels she was personally held back and demeaned like a child by men in the industry, for speaking her mind. There’s an old adage, when men speak out they are assertive; when a woman speaks out, she’s being bossy.

Thankfully, the outing of high-profile predators has brought this issue to the forefront in many industries for the first time in America and the world, with many hoping the conversation alone will put predators and intimidators in their place. Time will tell in the world of weed if everyone will demonstrate better behavior, as the covert cannabis industry is now viewed under the microscope on an international stage.

 Link to New Frontier data (report is available for $149.)