Back in 2014, Windy Borman was no cannabis connoisseur. But she knew a good story when she saw one. A documentary filmmaker with roots in the Pacific Northwest (she spent her teen and college years in Oregon), she moved to Denver in 2014 shortly after Colorado’s first legal cannabis stores opened their doors.
“I just couldn’t ignore it,” she recalled in a recent interview with Leafly. “All the amazing stories I was hearing about women having success in the industry—that piqued my curiosity as a storyteller. But as a non-cannabis user, I didn’t necessarily feel like I had a way to tell that story.”
'All the amazing stories I was hearing about women in the industry—that piqued my curiosity as a storyteller.'
Borman’s previous films had zero relationship to cannabis. The Eyes of Thailand was about an elephant hospital in southeast Asia. The Big Picture re-framed the discussion about dyslexia.
As she watched Colorado’s cannabis industry grow around her, Borman noticed that, unlike finance, law, or tech, the cannabis industry was rife with budding female entrepreneurs, CEOs, and scientists.
“In 2015, I heard this statistic that women accounted for 36 percent of leadership in the cannabis industry,” she said. “And when you compare that to the national average, well, the national average is 22 percent.”
What Does It Mean?
Seeing an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a fast-growing industry with no glass ceiling in place, women signed up in (relative) droves. That’s when the filmmaker decided on her next project: She would document the leadership of women in a history-making movement.
“I started interviewing people over the phone, just to try to see if that was true,” Borman recalled. “And then also: What did it mean” for women to embrace executive roles in a new industry? What difference did it make? Her research led her to the realization that the more-visible role of women in this industry was leading to gains in gender parity, as well as in areas of social justice and environmental sustainability.
Four years and more than 100 interviews later, Borman unveiled her documentary, Mary Janes: The Women of Weed, on the film festival circuit last fall. The movie will be screened on May 15 at the Seattle Art Museum; on May 24 at Banker’s Hill Club in San Diego, and on May 26 at Sacramento’s Crest Theatre.
New Industry, New Values
The documentary serves as part primer for the cannabis curious (how the plant is grown, the difference between hemp and cannabis, THC and CBD, and Indica and Sativa), and part exploration of the core values that women in cannabis bring to the industry.
Along the way, Borman introduces more than 40 women in various sectors of the industry: from Sara Batterby, the CEO of HiFi farms; Karin Lazaurs, the founder of edible company, Sweet Mary Jane, who entered the business through her love of baking; AC Braddock, CEO of Seattle-based Eden Labs, which makes cannabis extraction technology and is hosting the Seattle premiere; and Andrea James, founder of the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Girls.
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Borman also serves as the film’s narrator, bookending it with her own journey from non-cannabis consumer to documenting her first time getting high.
Be the Founder
So why is the cannabis industry so enticing to women?
“It provides two unique opportunities for them,” Borman told Leafly. “They didn’t have to get stuck at being the senior vice president of something and having all of these men promoted over them. They could be the founder, they could be the CEO. Then they can hire the colleagues they want to work with.”
“When we see women start businesses,” she added, “they typically hire more diverse colleagues because they intuitively know that when you have diverse perspectives on things, your business is more successful.”
‘We Have a Lot More to Lose’
The growing profile of women in the cannabis industry is worlds away from the previous stigmas that surrounded women and the drug. It wasn’t so long ago that Mary-Louise Parker’s character in Weeds was an eyebrow-raising anomaly.
“I think traditionally women have been more cautious about coming out about their cannabis use because we have a lot more to lose,” Borman said. “There are states where if the father uses cannabis, nobody’s calling child protection services. But if the mother does, they get a phone call.”
The women who lead companies in this emerging industry, Borman said, are paving the way for others to be more open about their relationship with cannabis. Female leadership is resulting in “less stigma and less shaming,” she said. “There used to be the big ‘coming out of the green closet’ moment, right?”
The Stigma Is Real
Borman experienced some of that same stigma herself. The filmmaker’s initial funding efforts were met with resistance. That’s not unusual in the film world, but her efforts were made more difficult by the subject matter. Some investors were skeptical: Why women? Others were, not surprisingly, averse to having their financial support associated with cannabis.
Though she eventually found financing partners, Borman said, the challenges she struggled with are similar to the hurdles faced by women throughout the cannabis industry. By and large, she pointed out, venture capitalism consists of white men giving money to other white men.
“Three percent or less [of all startup capital] is given to female founders,” she said. “Less than one percent is given to people of color. So 96% of startup funding for technology—or any other type of business—goes to white men. That model is being applied to the cannabis industry. Now that more states have legalized, more conservative investors are looking at the industry. And that’s who they’re used to funding.”
Next Up: TV Series
Borman sees Mary Janes as way to both raise awareness of female entrepreneurs and the problems they face—she says the percentage of women executives in cannabis has already dipped to 27%—and to educate people in states that haven’t yet legalized and regulated.
'There are so many women in cannabis we could have kept filming.'
Her master plan is to broaden the documentary film into a TV series, expanding each of the issues into multiple episodes. “We might do one about women’s access to funding,” she said. “We could do one about cannabis and sexuality. We might need to do an episode or two to highlight what specific states are doing. We could do a couple episodes leading up to the mid-term elections and then the 2020 election.”
For Borman, the potential for the women in the cannabis industry is, well, high. “One of the wonderful problems we had is that there are so many women in cannabis we could have kept filming.”