Women Are Taking The Lead Across Vermont's Budding Cannabis Industry

Jun 21, 2018

They’ve been called Mary Janes, Puffragettes and the Women of Weed. Whatever you choose, women are making their mark on the rapidly growing cannabis industry — and Vermont women are no exception.

Ashley Reynolds is President of Elmore Mountain Therapeutics, a company that sells CBD extract and a topical balm.

CBD is a non-psychoactive compound extracted from the cannabis plant. People use it to treat an array of ailments, from chronic pain to anxiety.

And in the year-and-a-half she’s been in the cannabis industry, Reynolds has made a point of partnering with other businesswomen.

"There’s this industry for us and what we call 'breaking the grass ceiling,'" she said. "That there’s a whole culture of women that are harboring and snowballing this awesome effect of this billion dollar sector that is the cannabis industry, not being dominated by men."

Elmore Mountain Therapeutics President Ashley Reynolds stands in front of the landform for which her business is named.
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR

In addition to selling her products to nearly 50 Vermont retail establishments, Reynolds partners with other  businesses to add CBD to their own product lines.

She says many of those businesses are led by women:

"We work with 15 cafes across Vermont, where they offer our product in CBD-infused lattes and smoothies," said Reynolds. "And then we work with ... 20 total other women-owned businesses where we either directly add our product into their products to make a CBD line or we use their services to help run our business."

Reynolds says the women business leaders she works with – from body care business owners to chocolatiers – have been her mentors. And now she’s doing the same for Vermont women looking to get into the cannabis industry.

This week, Reynolds spoke to more than a dozen women from around Vermont as part of the first workshop in the Women of Cannabiz Learning Series. The summer-long series is being offered by Heady Vermont, a woman-led cannabis events and marketing business.

This promotional pin from the documentary 'Mary Janes: The Women of Weed' is a rallying symbol for what some are calling the 'Puffragette Movement.'
Credit Emily Alfin Johnson / VPR

Women entrepreneurs came to learn the basics of starting and running a cannabis-related business. Some of them are already working with hemp-based products that are legal in Vermont. Others want to take advantage of changing state laws.

Recreational cannabis use will be legal for adults in Vermont as of July 1. Many of these women are betting a regulated market won’t be far behind.

Some of the women are medical marijuana patients interested in selling the edibles they currently make for their own consumption. Others are working with CBD extract, making bath and body products, homeopathic aids, and even dog treats.

Karen Devereux and her husband run a business in Barton called Northeast Kingdom Hemp. Hemp doesn't have the psychoactive properties of marijuana but it has higher amounts of CDB, which they extract from the plant. It’s a family business, but Devereux says it took some convincing to get everyone on board.

"I’m not a big cannabis person, myself. You know what I mean? But I was ok with my husband wanting to grow hemp," she told the group. "And my parents were kind of like, 'What are you doing? Growing pot?' You know, and they still kind of really separate pot from hemp. Like my father works in the hemp field. I mean he shucks the buds. He’s 86 years old. You know, but he still thinks people 'people who get high on pot.' You know?"

On the other hand, Devereux says her mother, who uses CBD to manage her arthritis pain, is a real convert.

Workshop presenter Monica Donovan is the CEO of Heady Vermont. She says changing existing perceptions is just one of the challenges faced by the cannabis industry.

Heady Vermont CEO Monica Donovan, at the head of the table, kicks off her workshop titled 'Cannabiz 101.'
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR

"Cannabis is a very challenging industry to get into," she said. "It’s all about education … the past two years and the next few years education is really, really important. It’s important to arm people with knowledge of what they can and can’t do, of what they should and shouldn’t do and, you know just helping people, like, ease into that transition."

There are things cannabis business owners can’t do, because the federal government lists the plant as a Schedule I drug. That means, according to the government, it has no medical value and a high potential for abuse. And that designation makes it hard for businesses to work with a bank, get insurance, and participate in online marketing and e-commerce.

But women already in the industry, like Donovan and Reynolds, are determined to help other women entrepreneurs navigate the changing landscape.