Seven Female Pioneers of Cannabis
These women are forging their own paths in the industry.
As all of us know, it’s the female version of the cannabis plant which creates most of the medicine and fun cannabis users rely on it for. Similarly, women have significantly contributed to the widespread movement for legalization and normalization that has now spread throughout the country and the world. With the dramatic shifts in cannabis policy, women have begun to exit the cannabis closet and create their own spaces in culture, business and cultivation that reflect their tastes and priorities. They follow in the footsteps of several trailblazers, many of whom are still working in the industry today. So in honor of Women’s History Month, we present seven of these trailblazers, detailing the accomplishments that have pushed them forward.
Listed on her website as “the real-life Nancy Botwin’ — the cannabis-dealing female protagonist of the early-oughties cable show “Weeds,” Dr. Dina Brewer initially gained fame for her role as Snoop Dogg’s medical marijuana consultant. Her advocacy for the plant stretches back to 2003, when a friend approached her for access to cannabis. Opening up the first medical marijuana physician’s office in Southern California led to her opening the long-running dispensary Alternative Herbal Health Services. Through Snoop, she solidified her bona fides in hip hop by consulting with several high-profile MCs, including Everlast, who wrote “My Medicine” after her. She currently works as a cannabis consultant.
Since 2013, Jane West has parlayed a series of bring-your-own-cannabis events she hosted in her native Colorado into a national consortium of female cannabis entrepreneurs, Women Grow, as well as her own eponymous cannabis brand. Despite a series of setbacks which found her losing her original job as an events planner, West helped establish Women Grow throughout the country and develop a professional persona which gave birth to a line of vape pens, paraphernalia and CBD products.
Jumping from success to success throughout her business career, Wanda James made history by opening Colorado’s first Black-owned cannabis dispensary, Simply Pure, with her husband Scott Durrah. A former Air Force brat. James joined the Navy, and after her service worked in real estate and food services before moving to Colorado in 2004. Since the success of her dispensary, she has also opened up a grow operation and edibles company and founded the marketing and consulting firm Cannabis Global Initiative. In addition, she managed Colorado governor Jared Polis’s congressional campaign, and currently sits on the Board of Regents for Colorado University-Boulder.
Lynette Shaw is a cannabis activist and entrepreneur who was the first person in the United States to own a medical cannabis dispensary. She founded the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, which has been in operation since 1997. It hasn’t been easy keeping the lights on — bowing to pressure from the US Department of justice, Shaw was forced to close the Alliance in 2011, but re-opened in 2017. Open seven days a week, the Alliance holds fast to its medical roots — but does do adult-use delivery in the area.
Dr. Sue Sisley
Dr. Sue Sisley is a physician and researcher who has been studying the medical benefits of cannabis for over a decade. Her introduction to cannabis came from the testimonies veterans gave to its efficacy for treating their PTSD. Interesting in putting their testimonies to the literal test, Sisley became the first researcher to gain NIDA approval to examine the potential beneficial effects of smoked cannabis for PTSD. With her mother, Sisley opened the medical marijuana dispensary White Mountain Health Center, where she serves as its medical director. She splits her time between that and the Scottsdale Research Institute, which studies whole plant medicines such as cannabis.
Cristina Sanchez is a Spanish biologist who has conducted research on the medical benefits of cannabis. After completing her post-doctorate work with renowned UC-Irvine cannabis neuroscientist Dr. Daniele Piomelli, Dr. Sanchez returned to Spain to research the anti-tumorous properties of cannabinoids on breast cancer glioblastomas. Since then, she has become a staunch advocate for cannabis as an aid in the fight against cancer. Significantly, she does not single out good or bad cannabinoids in her research. “In my opinion, there is no difference. There are good uses and bad uses,” she told the website cannabis.es. “When we talk about therapeutic application of cannabis, we talk about both molecules. We refer to THC, which has applications that are really promising; we talk about CBD, which has them as well.”
Alice O'Leary Randall
Alice O'Leary Randall got her start with cannabis activism in 1975, when her then-husband Robert Randall discovered that smoked cannabis could relieve his glaucoma. Later arrested for cultivating his own medicine, the Randalls wrangled from the Federal Government an allowance to smoke cannabis to treat his condition. Pausing her advocacy for the plant after her husband’s death in 2001, she returned in 2012 after spending time as a hospice nurse, and contributes to the magazines Cannabis Now and the blog for Mary’s Medicinals in Colorado. She has written three books, one with her husband Robert, with the most recent being Pain Free With CBD: Everything You Need to Know to Safely and Effectively Use Cannabidiol.