Want To Work In Cannabis? These 7 Women Can Tell You How

illustrated by Richard Chance.
It’s everywhere these days — in your favorite gummies, craft cocktails, and even fast-food hamburgers. Across the United States, the cannabis industry is booming. And if you’ve ever been curious about what it’s like to work in this field — or wondered how you can leverage your existing professional knowledge into a cannabis-related career — then look no further.
Working in cannabis is lucrative, especially given how many people in this country use marijuana recreationally. Today, there are 55 million recreational marijuana users in the U.S. — and most of them are millennials. Considering stigma is decreasing and appreciation is growing for the plant’s diverse uses, it’s a great time to get involved.
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Even though it’s new, the cannabis industry is already heavily male-dominated. According to new data from Vangst, just 38.5% of the total surveyed employees identify as women. Even more worrisome: 74% of the companies surveyed had ten or fewer female-identifying employees, and 12.6% of companies had zero women in a director or executive-level position. Because the market will only continue to expand (it’s expected to be worth $146.4 billion by the end of 2025), it’s important to make racial and gender diversity a priority now.
In order to shed some light on some of the potential avenues for women to explore in the cannabis industry, we spoke with seven women from across the country who are currently making waves in this industry. They work in diverse roles — from marketing gurus to CEOs to budtenders — and successfully channeled their unique professional experiences (and appreciation for the cannabis plant) into successful careers in the cannabis space.
Read on to learn more about how these women got started, how it feels to be a woman or woman of color in this industry, and get advice for how to get your foot in the door.
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McKena Young, 23, Budtender at The Dispensary in Reno, NV



What do you do every day?

"Our goal is to provide the best-quality product for every individual consumer’s needs. As a budtender, I care for each patient differently and cater each experience specifically based off of customer feedback and best interest."

What were you doing before you entered the cannabis space?

"I was in the bar industry at the well-known and loved Hard Rock Hotel."

How’d you get into this industry?

"I’d like to say I was always in this industry. I always expected to be working in the cannabis industry, even before it became legal — manifestation is real!"

What do you love most about working in cannabis?

"Being behind the scenes is what I love most about this industry! It’s growing every day, and the longevity of this business is undeniable. I get to share so much of what I’ve learned with other people, but actually being in it and knowing the ins and outs is what makes it so lovable."

How is it being a woman in cannabis?

"Fortunately, my workspace is dominated by women! I have never felt intimidated by gender when it comes to performing in the workplace — no matter what position I might be in. But there will be certain people who are intimidated by having their questions answered by a woman, young woman, or woman of color."

What is your advice to someone wanting to break into the cannabis space for the first time from a different industry?

"Get your name out there! The key is to be persistent in applying to all cannabis avenues available and adding some sparkle so you stand out in a crowd of cannabis enthusiasts. This industry is growing and changing every single day, so there are plenty of opportunities, but because of the interest from so many people, it’s wise to get your foot in the door whenever you see one open."
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La Wanda Knox, MBA, 41, CEO & Consultant of Make Green Go in Oakland, CA



What do you do every day?

"My company is contracted by the City of Oakland to provide technical assistance to Equity Applicants in the City of Oakland. Our company provides online courses to over 300 equity applicants and facilitates monthly workshops. We also consult on legal matters, business planning, incubation issues, document review, business strategy, taxes and accounting, and more."

What were you doing before you entered the cannabis space?

"I was a manager in the wine industry and a business consultant for 7-Eleven franchised stores. I transferred all of my knowledge about compliance in a regulated market from the wine and retail industry to this industry."

How’d you get into this industry?

"Fifteen years ago, I was a medical marijuana patient and became very passionate about the industry as I visited dispensaries and talked to budtenders. From there, my husband and I began studying, researching, and teaching entrepreneurs on how to enter the legal cannabis market in Oakland. We’ve been working on a contract with the City of Oakland for the past two years."

What do you love most about working in cannabis?

"I love it when people discover the medicinal benefits of cannabis. I also love working with people of color in this industry, because we’re so innovative with our products and services. I love having the first government contract for cannabis and also love working with my family, including my husband (who is an attorney), my mother-in-law, father-in-law, and sisters-in-law, who are both doctors practicing integrative medicine with cannabis."

How is it being a woman in cannabis?

"Being an African-American woman in cannabis has been advantageous. I’ve experienced racial and gender discrimination from past employers, so I took this entrepreneurial route to fulfill my dreams of being a successful woman in business. It’s taken me over eight years to get to the point where I feel it’s all been worth it. I’m able to work alongside amazing women and help other women come up in this industry, too. It’s a blessing."

What is your advice to someone wanting to break into the cannabis space for the first time from a different industry?

"My advice is: Come on, what are you waiting for? We need professionals that have HR, marketing, bookkeeping, operations, sales experience, and other skill sets immediately. There’s plenty of room to do what you're good at in the cannabis industry; you don’t have to reinvent the wheel — just apply what you do best."
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Felicity Chen, 26, Cofounder of Potli in San Francisco, CA



What does your company do?

“We're a modern wellness brand with a mission to heighten your kitchen and daily rituals with the benefits of cannabis and hemp. We believe that delicious, honest ingredients like our raw wildflower honey, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil, and chili oils enhanced with full-spectrum cannabis are an ideal way to empower happier and healthier lives.”

What do you do every day?

“Each day is different. From strategizing the next product launch to signing on and training new retail partners, daily operations, sponsoring cannabis dinners, regulatory compliance checks, and creating content with our peers — the list goes on!”

What were you doing before you entered the cannabis space?

“I grew up in the food world, and after graduating from BU studying operations, I moved back home to the Bay Area to work in business development, signing on tastemakers and service providers with startups such as Gilt.com, Uber, and MealPal. Many of the amazing people I met along the way are advisers to our business today.”

How’d you get into this industry?

“Cannabis is nourishment for my soul, and I would say the same about my relationship with food. By bringing the two together, we're hoping to solve people's ailments and their worries in the format of condiments.”

What do you love most about working in cannabis?

“We have the most special community. Without trying to, we have a mostly female supply chain — isn't that extremely powerful? There's a real sisterhood from retailers, distribution partners, brand owners, and influencers, and we love working together and uplifting one another.”

How is it being a woman in cannabis?

“Coming from the tech industry, where gender imbalance is not atypical, similar problems still persist in the cannabis industry. Being an owner empowers me to make that change. Whenever I have to make a decision where I may doubt my choice, my business partner asks, ‘Would a man do X?’ The answer is always that a man would never do or even think to question X, and I'm reminded to be confident in myself and to crush every day.”

What is your advice to someone wanting to break into the cannabis space for the first time from a different industry?

“The skills you have already acquired [can be applied to] the cannabis industry. Take some time figuring out what you want your role to be. Become a brand associate (Potli is definitely hiring) or train to be a budtender! If you are thinking about starting a brand, start your Instagram and build a loyal following with good content and a business plan.”
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Karson Humiston, 26, Founder & CEO of Vangst in Santa Monica, CA



What do you do every day?

"We are a recruiting platform for the cannabis industry; we connect leading cannabis businesses with the best talent on the market. As we grow, my role continues to change; less than three years ago we had zero employees, so I was literally doing sales, recruiting, accounting, marketing, customer service, etc. I have done every role in our company except coding, which I tried and failed miserably."

What were you doing before you entered the cannabis space?

"Not a ton, I was in college! Growing up and in college, I started a lot of mini companies, like a student travel agency called On Track Adventures."

How’d you get into this industry?

"When I was a senior, I sent an email to my network asking them which industries they were interested in working in. Over 70% responded saying the cannabis industry. This intrigued me, so I took a week off of school to go to a cannabis trade show to learn more. I found out the cannabis industry was about to take off, there were tons of jobs, and cannabis businesses had a hard time hiring. I started Vangst while still in college and haven’t looked back since!"

What do you love most about working in cannabis?

"I love how quickly the industry is moving — no two days are the same, and that’s what keeps it so interesting. Our clients are growing so fast and they need to hire great people, and we are right in the middle of all of it."

How is it being a woman in cannabis?

"I personally haven’t had any experiences where I felt disadvantaged because I am a woman. That said, as you will see from a report we just released, less than 40% of professionals in the cannabis industry are women. With all of the growth our industry will see over the next five years, and all of the jobs being created, we have the chance to build one of the most inclusive industries in the world. Study after study shows diverse teams outperform teams made up of only middle-aged white men, so the smart companies who want to win will do this."

What is your advice to someone wanting to break into the cannabis space for the first time from a different industry?

"Great decision and we would love to help you. Visit Vangst.com to check out our hundreds of open jobs! The great thing about the cannabis industry is that there are so many jobs that don’t require any cannabis knowledge or experience."
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Shiree Dyson, Cofounder & COO of Osanyin in Oakland, CA



What do you do every day?

"Osanyin holds a micro-business license in cultivation, distribution, and delivery. I currently manage the day-to-day administration and oversee the delivery arm of the company."

What were you doing before you entered the cannabis space?

"I had career for over 20 years working in arts administration. Having worked with artists all these years, cannabis definitely held some space there as well."

How’d you get into this industry?

"I was introduced to the industry by a former employer."

What do you love most about working in cannabis?

"I love continually learning about the various components of the cannabis plant and hearing personal stories about how cannabis has improved an individual's quality of life. I am also proud to be working with other women, building a company and creating opportunities for others as a point of entry into the legalized cannabis industry as well."

How is it being a woman in cannabis?

"Women are largely invisible as players in the cannabis industry, which is ironic because the cannabis plant itself is about feminine energy (the female plant produces the cannabinoids that are responsible for the physical and spiritual effects of cannabis). The legalization of the industry is dominated by men, white men in particular, from the growers to the investors. It's the typical boys' club, where women are invisible. Seeing this unfold, I desire to create spaces representative of women, the LGBT community, and Black and Brown communities, based on our stories and our desires for products developed from our experiences."

What is your advice to someone wanting to break into the cannabis space for the first time from a different industry?

"Become engaged and learn about the plant itself. Join and/or follow organizations doing the work for the legalization of cannabis on a national level and a local level. Start where you are, in your city, county, and state. What is the legislation currently in place, and how does it impact what you want to do? Who are the players writing, consulting, and influencing those policies? Cannabis has been around for decades, and as the industry slowly shifts from illegal to legal, make sure you are represented. Don't wait for someone else to write the narrative, which may not include you, but help to create it and include the voice that is reflective of your story."
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Kimberly Dillon, 38, Chief Marketing Officer of Papa & Barkley in Los Angeles, CA



What do you do every day?

“My company makes cannabis wellness products to improve people’s lives, and the range of products includes pain balms, tinctures, capsules, and patches. Our products are 100% natural; we don’t use any of the solvents or chemicals that are common in the industry. We have [also] been working on educational materials, since there is so much confusion in the market, especially in the CBD space."

What were you doing before you entered the cannabis space?

“I have a background in consumer packaged goods and tech startups, so I have the strong traditional marketing background that comes from working at big companies like P&G and Clorox, as well as the scrappiness you need to survive at a number of tech startups in Silicon Valley.”

How’d you get into this industry?

“I applied online. I am embarrassed by how boring that approach was. I guess to my credit, I wrote an amazing cover letter.”

What do you love most about working in cannabis?

“It’s the Wild West, and we’re building a new industry from scratch. We have the opportunity to change how people take charge of their health and well-being by inspiring people to turn not just to cannabis but to all plants. There’s a possibility that we can also eradicate criminal records and address racial injustices produced by the fake war on drugs, as well as create countless new jobs and companies that are better for society and for the planet.”

How is it being a woman in cannabis?

“There is no difference between being a woman in tech and a woman in cannabis. We are striving to have our equal share of the pie and not face bias, harassment, or tokenization in the workplace. This industry was primarily black market just a few short years ago, and establishing workers’ rights for people who still work for black-market companies that are transitioning into legal businesses is difficult."

What is your advice to someone wanting to break into the cannabis space for the first time from a different industry?

Cannabis has billions of dollars on the table and lots of people who want a piece of that pie. For individuals getting into the industry, that means a lot of maneuvering and facing competition. For some that’s really exciting, especially if we can find humor in all of the zig-zagging that we have to do on a daily basis."
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Gen Garcia, 37, Customer Success Manager at Seed Technology in San Clemente, CA



What do you do every day?

"We provide dispensaries with kiosks and software that helps educate consumers, support staff, and increase sales. Seed offers credible and consistent cannabis education, a live menu, and a product-recommendation engine that helps guide users to find items that may be well suited for them."

What were you doing before you entered the cannabis space?

"I have my master’s in psychology and worked in the mental-health field for the last seven years. While helping individuals suffering from substance-use disorders, I began researching harm reduction and alternative methods of treatment and repeatedly came across information on cannabis as a treatment for many of these issues. My years of research have convinced me that cannabis has great potential to help individuals suffering from many different ailments."

How’d you get into this industry?

"I, like many teenagers, started experimenting with cannabis in high school. In recent years I began to experience severe migraines and found cannabis to be a helpful tool for managing my symptoms. When I was presented with the chance to help create an educational cannabis platform called Seed, I jumped at the opportunity."

What do you love most about working in cannabis?

"I love being able to participate in an industry that has the potential to make a positive difference in people’s lives. My passion lies in helping others, and I wholeheartedly believe that through education, the responsible use of cannabis can help people lead happier and healthier lives."

How is it being a woman in cannabis?

"It is challenging to be a woman in cannabis, and we are definitely a minority. [But] I think the solution lies in the power that women have when we unite — there is strength in numbers. As laws change and cannabis becomes fully legal, we need to ensure that this industry is inclusive — not just of women, but of people from every race, culture, age group, and background."

What is your advice to someone wanting to break into the cannabis space for the first time from a different industry?

"Prepare to be overwhelmed, confused, and frustrated — and get ready to have fun, learn, and grow. It is a very exciting industry, with laws changing regularly and projections of huge profit, coupled with the reality of unique challenges. Working in this industry is often like any startup business, and at times it will be very challenging. Be respectful, kind, and inclusive. If you want to get into this industry, do it for the right reasons."
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