BIPOCANN was founded on the idea that the cannabis industry needed more representation from various groups that have traditionally faced barriers to entry as the industry grows.
Women have always been underrepresented in business and leadership, with a national average of 30% executive positions within the mainstream economy being held by women. The representation of women in cannabis is sadly below this average.
MJBizDaily’s 2021 Women & Minorities in Cannabis Report revealed that while female executive representation was up to 36.8% in 2019, this number fell to 22.1% in 2021. Furthermore, the same report reveals that only 13% of executive positions are held by minorities, down from 28% in 2019 after rising from 16.8% in 2017.
The recently-released Women in Cannabis Study showed that many BIPOC women are choosing to work in ancillary services as business owners, with 44% of BIPOC women indicating they owned an ancillary company compared to 22% who owned plant-touching companies.
Simply put, the industry was built for those of privilege and ease of access to funding and licenses, while women, BIPOC, and other underrepresented groups faced barriers to such necessities for market entry into plant-touching opportunities. Interestingly, Headset revealed in 2020 that women who make up Generation Z – those born in 1997 or after – are the fastest-rising demographic of cannabis consumers. With an industry with almost 80% male executives, almost 90% of which are white, are the needs of the consumers truly being recognized?
Last month, we honored the contributions of Black ancillary service providers in the cannabis industry for Black History Month, encouraging the cannabis industry to celebrate these innovators and visionaries year-round. With March being Women’s History Month, we are taking the opportunity to recognize six women who are making a difference in paving the way towards a more equitable cannabis industry for women and BIPOC leaders and companies.
Lorena Beltran, CannabiSalud
Where She Operates: Lorena Beltran is located in Mexico, with a global network and experience in the early cannabis industry in Denver, Colorado.
What She Does: Lorena Beltran is a long-time participant and globally recognized speaker within the cannabis industry, having been part of the team behind the infamous Charlotte’s Web products in Denver in 2014. She was involved in the legal reforms around cannabis in Mexico, prompting her to found CannabiSalud, the first international medical cannabis congress for health professionals in Mexico, which has positioned itself as one of the most important educational platforms for the health and business sectors. In 2018, Beltran moved to Mexico City and co-founded the company Mexicannabis, which focuses on research, advice, and activities within the legal framework. In 2020, Beltran co-founded a non-profit association called Alianza Latinoamericana de la Cannabis (ALCANN); that same year she became Chairwoman of the Board at GPS Global, and joined the advisory board at Regennabis.
What She Has to Say: “I just need to see the legalization [of cannabis] in Mexico mainly for justice reasons,” said Beltran in a recent YouTube interview, “That was my first drive when I saw everything happening because I’m from Chihuahua and I lived on the border for many years and I saw the War on Drugs front of me. I was working for Univision as a news anchor and news reporter, so I was covering all of that during those years of terrible violence in my country.” She explains that she saw that the War on Drugs included and often targeted cannabis. “I moved to Colorado [and] nothing made sense to me. I was like ‘these gringos prohibited marijuana to the world and now they’re legalizing, making money, not getting people out of prison, and doing a lot of crazy things that don’t seem right’. But at the same time, it’s a great step to start legalizing drugs so that was the first thing that got me into the industry.”
Where to Find More Information: The last CannabiSalud event was held in November 2021. Stay tuned to the CannabiSalud website for future event dates.
Christine De La Rosa, The People’s Ecosystem, The People’s Group
Where She Operates: Christine De La Rosa operates in the San Francisco Bay area and Austin, TX
What She Does: Highly regarded as a Latinx woman entrepreneur and advocate to watch, Christine De la Rosa is the CEO and Founder of Oakland, California’s The People’s Ecosystem, which is the expansion of the original The People’s Dispensary. Her work involves creating spaces and curating businesses throughout the entire supply chain that enhance the lives of our communities, individually and collectively. The People’s Ecosystem believes that cannabis is an alternative medicine that is a basic human right and sources cannabis from women and BIPOC cultivators. De la Rosa is on the Board of Directors of the National Cannabis Industry Association and is the Chair of their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee and is the committee chair of the DEIC Integration Committee. She is the lead author of Gender Parity in the C-Suite and co-author of Pathways to Equity Ownership in the Cannabis Industry as part of National Cannabis Industry Association’s and The Arcview Group’s co-sponsored Gender Equity Cannabis White Papers. Additionally, she serves as part of the New York Cannabis Industry Association Special Advisor Group – Social and Economic Equity and Social Justice and sits on the advisory board of Tetragram, Cannabis Doing Good and Regennabis.
What She Has to Say: In an interview in Authority Magazine, De La Rosa explained her work in gender parity in the cannabis industry: “I think many things can be done to support gender parity, but I also think none of those things can happen unless the foundation is set for that to be a reality. Gender Parity will only be achieved when discrimination and oppression are systemically addressed in policies and leadership. So, we as an industry need to work on those things first and foremost.”
Sumayyah Emeh-Edu, Canopy Growth Corporation
Where She Operates: Emeh-Edu works for Canopy Growth, one of the largest cannabis companies in the world, in Denver, CO.
What She Does: Sumayyah Emeh-Edu is focused on ensuring diversity, equity, and inclusion priorities are reflected and measured throughout Canopy Growth Corporation, with a priority on implementing talent-driven practices fundamental to an open and inclusive environment. Emeh-Edu is charged with providing consultative strategy and guidance for Canopy with the goal of further empowering the company to address complex business and social realities related to cannabis through a truly inclusive workforce.
What She Has to Say: “I am inspired and excited to be leading Canopy’s approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion and embrace this as an opportunity to enable people from historically excluded groups to not only participate but benefit from an industry where criminalization has historically negatively impacted them,” noted Emeh-Edu in a Press Release upon entering the position of Vice President of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion with Canopy Growth, “I see the power of cannabis in improving people’s quality of life and am eager to work with the leadership and workforce of Canopy to co-create an environment capable of addressing complex issues while cultivating spaces and tools that instill diversity and inclusion into every facet of our industry.”
Niriksha Kannan, LeafLink
Where She Operates: Niriksha Kannan works in social impact at LeafLink, the platform that simplifies the wholesale cannabis supply chain for brands, distributors, and retailers in over 30 markets. She works on building equitable programs for both LeafLink employees and the larger cannabis community and is based in Brooklyn, NY
What She Does: Niriksha Kannan is driven by the power to inspire transformational change. She believes there is so much to learn from one another, and so much we can accomplish when we come together. Through her work as Social Impact Manager at LeafLink, she is focused on how to use the company’s platform to create equity, build community and reshape the modern workplace through innovative programs that allow people to bring their whole selves to work.
What She Has to Say: “I view my work in social impact as honoring the human dignity that we all deserve. Growing up as the daughter of immigrants and seeing how hard they worked to create a life of opportunity for me and my family, I was finely tuned from a young age to understand the importance of being seen, heard, and celebrated. Working in the regulated cannabis industry, there is such an opportunity, and important duty, for us to create space for underrepresented communities and ensure everyone can prosper, especially those who paved the way in the legacy market.”
Where to Find More Information: Connect with Niriksha Kannan through LinkedIn to learn more about her work to create a more equitable industry.
Sarah Kiah Morton, LOCKGREEN
Where She Operates: Sarah Kiah Morton is based out of Hampton Roads, Virginia, with LOCKGREEN stash box products being available for shipping across the U.S.
What She Does: Sarah Kiah Morton is the President and co-owner of LOCKGREEN, a 100% Black-owned, Virginia-based company selling locking, smell-proof, and water-resistant stash boxes and ancillary products. With the goal of providing protection, promoting safety, and supporting the values of Responsible Consumers, LOCKGREEN products are carefully curated to be used for secure storage and travel. In addition, the company’s mission is to educate the community on cannabis laws in hopes of preventing unnecessary law violations.
An active community member and board member, she was recognized as one of Hampton Roads, VA’s Top 40 Under 40 in 2019. During the COVID pandemic, she left her Vice-President level position with one of the largest employee benefits brokerages in the country to stay home with a newborn baby and two children in virtual schooling. It was then that her entrepreneurial ambitions had an opportunity to flourish. Sarah enrolled in Purdue University’s Master of Science in Communications program with a concentration in Integrated Communication and Advertising and began building a business plan, which resulted in the birth of LOCKGREEN.
What She Has to Say: “A big piece of our company is educating the community so Virginians can prevent marijuana convictions that could be avoidable if they knew the law,” she explained to her local news station, “Less than 4 percent of marijuana companies are owned by Blacks, and we are excited to have a positive impact on the industry.”
Where to Find More Information: Learn more about LOCKGREEN’s stash boxes and education on cannabis laws at their website. Follow them on Instagram @lockgreenproducts.
Kim Napoli, Vicente Sederberg LLP
Where She Operates: Kim operates within the Greater Boston Area of Massachusetts, yet serves clients across the nation with Vicente Sederberg LLP.
What She Does: Kim Napoli is the Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion for the leading cannabis law firm Vicente Sederberg LLP. In this role, Napoli is responsible for assisting clients in the creation, implementation, and progress made towards their goals related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Since 2017, Kim has served on the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission’s Cannabis Advisory Board as the appointed expert in minority business development, helping this body in the development and implementation of the state’s cannabis regulations and policy. In 2021, she joined the U.S. Cannabis Council’s Task Force, which works to shatter barriers to access for Black entrepreneurs. At Vicente Sederberg LLP, Kim is part of a team that advocates for environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) practice within cannabis businesses.
What She Has to Say: In an article in MJBizDaily, Napoli recognized the need for leadership in cannabis to be representative of the consumer. “Buying power among diverse consumers is going up exponentially, so you want to be able to represent the communities that you want purchasing from you,” Napoli said.
Where to Find More Information: Read more about Kim Napoli and her professional journey and services offered here.
These women leaders in cannabis demonstrate that success is found by having a big vision for the cannabis industry, which includes creating spaces and opportunities for women, BIPOC, and all underrepresented people to thrive.
BIPOCANN’s mission is to increase BIPOC visibility to advance representation and economic growth in the legal cannabis industry, which includes elevating the women leaders within our membership who are truly working towards a more equitable industry. Browse our extensive and growing Business Directory, where you can view Women-Owned businesses within our network.
Learn more about BIPOCANN and the membership options available for individuals and businesses here.