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Breaking the cannabis glass ceiling

Ned Ehrbar
Producer

Amy Margolis identified a problem in the burgeoning Oregon cannabis industry, so she set out to solve it. The problem? Despite the industry’s newness and the encouraging early statistics about gender equity, a glass ceiling has developed in the cannabis business.

“For a long time, the cannabis industry was really self-congratulatory about how many women were in this space,” says Margolis, whose first interactions with the cannabis world were as an attorney. “As we started to see more money coming in, and we started to see this become really legitimate, what happened was the women just faded off.”

The cannabis business is booming, for sure, with legal recreational sales in 10 states, the District of Columbia, and Canada. The U.S. legal weed market is projected to hit $23 billion in revenue by 2022, and the industry added 64,389 jobs in 2018, an increase of 44% from the year before.

The problem Margolis pinpointed is that as the industry has grown and big money has poured in, women-run businesses have been pushed out.

“What I hear the most in this industry when I try and hold people accountable is, ‘We don't have a good pipeline of people of color to fill these senior positions. We don't have a good pipeline of women to fill these senior positions.’ We know that is not true,” she says. “Until you fix the capital side of things, until you fix who is investing and who you fix controls wealth, until you fix who makes decisions, you can't fix any industry because people want to fund other people who look like them.”

That’s why Margolis founded the Initiative , a first-of-its kind accelerator program for cannabis businesses started by women. The program’s first cohort of founders embarked on a 12-week program based out of the Commune , a cannabis co-working space also co-founded by Margolis.

“The initiative has completely changed our business model and the way that we're approaching certain aspects of our business to be able to handle the growth and scalability that we know we have,” says Samantha Montanaro, co-founder of the cannabis-focused social platforms Tokeativity and Alta.

“In startup life, you find yourself just going constantly because you're just trying to make this thing successful. This program provided an opportunity to push a slight pause button, and have experts take a look at what I've built and make recommendations for how I can make it better,” she says. “To be in a workspace Monday through Friday for 12 weeks now with a group of other female founders, the comradery and assistance that we gave each other was really, really cool. We definitely formed deep friendships. I can't wait to watch these companies grow and to see what they do.”

And Oregon is just the beginning, as Margolis plans to set up Initiative outposts in California, Colorado and beyond.

“I can't change the way global capital operates, but I can try and make a few women wealthy, and hopefully they will take that wealth and invest it in other women and businesses that value inclusivity,” Margolis says.

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