hero-graphic-7 Women Who Helped Shaped the Cannabis Industry
Posted by Ellie Herring / Jan 28, 2020

7 Women Who Helped Shaped the Cannabis Industry

Women have played an important role throughout history, and cannabis is no exception. From activists to entrepreneurs, women have helped pave the way for legal cannabis. In 2019, women make up 38.5% of the cannabis industry. Women representation is crucial in every workplace, especially in the still-forming cannabis sector. Diverse teams continually outperform homogeneous ones — inclusivity benefits everyone. In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting some incredible women who’ve helped transform cannabis.


Brownie Mary

Mary Jane Rathbun, also known as Brownie Mary is known for her medical marijuana activism. Brownie Mary coined her name during her time as a hospital volunteer at the San Francisco General Hospital, where she (illegally) distributed cannabis brownies to AIDS patients during the ‘80s. Brownie Mary was arrested on three occasions, with each drawing national media attention to the medical cannabis movement. She is recognized for her unwavering dedication to providing relief to those in need with the use of cannabis. Brownie Mary is also known for contributing to the first medical cannabis dispensary in the United States, the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club and her help in passing California proposition 215, which legalized medical cannabis in California. 


Jane West

Recognized by Inc. Magazine as “the most widely recognized female personality in cannabis,” Jane West is a well-known entrepreneur and activist in the cannabis industry. Known for her lifestyle brand Jane West and founder of the women’s cannabis networking organization Women Grow, West has created a legacy of supporting women in the cannabis industry. Women grow, a community of women in cannabis, hosts a variety of events throughout the year which have cumulatively drawn over 100,000 people. Her lifestyle brand Jane West focuses on cannabis products and thought pieces for the modern consumer. Today, over 80% of West’s company is held by women and people of color.


Madeline Martinez

Madeline Martinez is a long-time cannabis advocate and entrepreneur. Her career started as a correctional officer in California but pivoted after retiring to help fight the harm done by the War on Drugs. Martinez helped collect signatures in 1998 for ballot measure 67 in Oregon, which led to the legalization of medical cannabis. She also joined the team that introduced measure 91, which legalized possession in the state. Wanting to provide a safe place for consumption for medical cannabis consumers, Martinez opened up Portland’s first cannabis consumption lounge, known as the World Famous Cannabis Café. Now, Martinez focuses on federal reform efforts and is a member of the NORML Women’s Alliance and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.


Dr. Ester Fride

Dr. Ester Fride is an Israeli scientist recognized for her discoveries on the endocannabinoid system and nursing. The endocannabinoid system helps regulate our sleeping, appetite, mood, memory, and the effects of cannabis. Her findings helped shape future cannabis research and placed a wider importance on a healthy endocannabinoid system and breastfeeding link. She went on to further research cannabinoid deficiency effects, which helped propel medical cannabis research and advocacy.


Rachel Gillette

Rachel K. Gillette is one of the first attorneys in the United States to dedicate her practice to the cannabis industry. Her work has helped shape compliance and tax laws related to cannabis. Gillette also served as Colorado’s executive director for NORML, an organization dedicated to reforming cannabis laws. Gillette is a founding member of Women Grow and the National Cannabis Bar Association.


Elvy Musikka

Elvy Musikka is a cannabis activist and one of two remaining patients still enrolled in the United States Investigated New Drug program. This was the first and only federal medical cannabis program that stopped accepting new patients in 1992. Through the program, Musikka receives 300 joints per month, approved by the federal government. After suffering from eye conditions and failed surgeries her entire life, Musikka turned to cannabis to help relieve the pain from her vision impairment. After experiencing relief from medical cannabis, Musikka became an advocate for the plant. She frequently praises the plant and attributes her vision today to the healing properties it provides. Her vocal support of the plant and clear benefit cannabis has given her propelled medical cannabis conversations. Her inspiration earned her a spot on High Time’s 50 women honorees in 2019.


Wanda James

Wanda James is the first black woman to own a dispensary, Simply Pure. James is known for her focus on social equity and reform within cannabis. James worked to push amendment 64 across the finish line, which legalized cannabis in Colorado. James continually speaks about the importance of diversity and representation within the cannabis industry through speaker sessions and appearances at key events. James is also vocal on her social media profiles, specifically Twitter, about her progressive views on politics and cannabis. Wanda James has used her platform to give a voice to those disproportionately targeted by the ineffective War on Drugs, specifically people of color.   

Want to hear about more incredible women in cannabis? Check out our podcast, Seed to Sound for interviews with leaders across the industry. Our women in cannabis report also highlights the current representation of women in the industry, check it out!


Membership has its privileges. When you create your Vangst profile, you get direct access to the largest network of cannabis professionals.Make connections, forge relationships, and chart your course in the cannabis industry - it all starts here.

Join The Network


Just getting started? We got you. Crossing over? We got you. Climbing the Cannabis ladder? We got you.Search jobs, follow companies, and set alerts for new postings so when it comes to landing your dream job, you never miss a beat.

Search Jobs
Tags: Cannabis Social Equity, cannabis hiring, cannabis industry