Written by Maren Schroeder, Vice President, Sensible Minnesota

The views and opinions in this post reflect my personal views and do not speak for Sensible Minnesota. I appreciate my fellow leaders granting me the opportunity to share about this experience via our blog.

Recently I was given the opportunity to attend the Women Grow Leadership Summit in Denver, Colorado. Nelson Guerrero of the Cannabis Cultural Association assisted in getting me a scholarship so I could attend and bring back information to help Minnesota moving forward.

The timing couldn’t have been better – upon my return, legislation was introduced to legalize cannabis for adult use in Minnesota! Although it’s not expected to pass this session, this gives us an opportunity to have the dialogue about where Minnesota will find itself in the story of the end of cannabis prohibition.

The event itself was great! I attended a full day of Lightning Talks with short speeches from industry professionals throughout the day. Thursday night, I attended an industry networking event where I met some key people from around the country who will help Minnesotans shape effective advocacy. On Friday, I had the opportunity to attend several “break out” sessions that included marketing cannabis and parenting for those in the cannabis industry (or advocacy).

The tenaciousness of the women (and men) I heard speak was incredible. Women like Tracy Ryan, the CEO & Founder of CannaKids and Saving Sophie, Betty Aldworth the Executive Director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Wendy Robbins and Karen Paull of The Marijuana Show, and many other industry experts inspired and provided wisdom from their experiences with cannabis. These women talked about everything from best practices in standard operating procedures, to cultivation and processing, obtaining investors, and even “Embracing the Bitch” (the actual title of a Lightning Talk by Ashley Heddy, Training Manager, BioTrack THC).

So what did I learn? A lot.

  1. The cannabis industry is the first industry women have led. Women in general hold approximately 22% of leadership roles and less than 5% of CEO positions in corporate America. In the cannabis industry, women hold approximately 36% of leadership positions within the industry, including making up 63% of the executive roles in testing labs. For more information on the numbers, check out thischart from Marijuana Business Daily. The cannabis industry is truly a “women’s world” and is a great opportunity for women to move into the corporate executive world of a brand new (and thriving) industry.
  2. Cannabis is the largest growing industry in America. Twenty-eight states allow medical cannabis and another eight now allow for adult use. This has created a multi-billion dollar industry that is (mostly) inexpensive to break into and serves the needs of over 32 million Americans who use cannabis. The increased tax revenue is funding schools, infrastructure, drug abuse prevention, and other important government programs. The sky has not fallen in states like Colorado and Oregon with the legalization of adult use, in fact, it has benefited them to tune of over $100 million and $60 million, respectively, in tax revenue. Minnesota is silly for not giving its residents the benefit of early entry into the cannabis industry.
  3. We can’t give up the fight. Whether you’re in Minnesota and begging for a real, working medical program, or you’re in Colorado fighting municipalities to allow retail facilities, there is a fight to end cannabis prohibition. Many times as an advocate/activist in Minnesota, I feel like we’re isolated from the rest of the country making progress on their laws. We’re not isolated, because every advocate in every state, legal or not, is still fighting against the failed war on drugs. It was eye-opening for me to learn significant issues remain even after legalization, so we need to keep pushing at every opportunity.
  4. Talking to your kids about cannabis is important. I took the opportunity to sit in a session that discussed cannabis and parenting and had no idea what to expect. The women (and men) in the room talked about their experiences with their children, schools, other parents, and the community at large who many “look down” upon them for working in the industry, having a medical need for cannabis, or parents that choose to use cannabis instead of alcohol. This was a discussion where my gut feeling was what everyone else was doing – be honest with your kids. I remember a few years ago a family member asking me to talk to one of my adolescent cousins about cannabis use. After a brief “studying” period, I sat down and had a real conversation: cannabis is safer than alcohol, but for adolescents, it can still affect brain development and it’s better not to use anything at all. Now the requestor of that conversation wasn’t super thrilled, but it helped my young cousin to understand that cannabis isn’t harmless but is safer than other legal substances.
  5. Normalize both medical and adult use. Since the 1930’s prohibitionists have painted cannabis as a dangerous drug done by far left “hippies” and minorities. They used racism to start and perpetuate the war on cannabis (and the war on drugs), now it’s time to show “middle America” that this simply isn’t true. Since beginning my open advocacy in 2014, I have talked with countless people who use, or at least have tried, cannabis in legal and non-legal states. As a community, we need to find ways to normalize use as a safer alternative and show that it isn’t just “far-left hippies” and minorities smoking the “devil’s weed” anymore.
  6. Come out of the cannabis closet. “My name is Maren, and I use cannabis. I hold a Master’s degree and various leadership positions within advocacy, the community, and my profession, and I encourage you to out yourself.”  You don’t have to start with a big public internet statement, but talk to your friends and family about your why, how, and when you use cannabis. Some use it for medical purposes – from treating deadly cancers to medicating for everyday aches and pains or relieving stress; others use it for “recreational” (preferred terminology: adult use) purposes as an alternative to more dangerous substances like alcohol. Whatever your story, start telling it. Come out of the cannabis closet, and if you wish to publicly share your story, contact me ([email protected]), I’m happy to help you.

The final, and most important, lesson learned is that we must work together and support each other in this work – we all share a common goal: ending prohibitions on cannabis and cannabis use. I personally resolve to work much harder on collaboration and cooperation with other advocacy organizations both in Minnesota and throughout the country.

While I enjoyed my time with colleagues and (now) role models from around the country (as well as the “swag bag” trip to The Clinic for some goodies), I’m happy to be back in Minnesota sharing my knowledge with my friends and fellow activists.