This February, more than 1,000 women and 65 experts in the cannabis industry gathered in the brisk and progressive city of Denver for the 2016 Women Grow Leadership Summit. The highly organized, inspirational event spanned three days and featured networking opportunities, workshops and a bevy of short talks on research, best practices and cutting-edge concepts.
The Women Grow organization is relatively new; according to their website, the for-profit entity was founded in Denver in 2014 in order to connect, educate, inspire and empower diverse leaders in all segments of the cannabis industry. Their annual leadership summit is a chance for newcomers and established business leaders to grow their networks and to deepen their involvement in the nation’s fastest growing professional market.
The Emerald Magazine is a woman-owned cannabis business, and I was fortunate enough to attend the leadership summit with Owner/Publisher, Christina de Giovanni. A number of other Emerald Triangle-based female cannabis entrepreneurs were in attendance: all of us joining cannabis enthusiasts, academics, medical industry professionals and activists from the entire gender spectrum and from all over the country to learn techniques that contribute to success and well-being in this industry. Bonafide rockstar and cannabis activist Melissa Etheridge was there too!
The first day of the event was networking-oriented, more for Women Grow leaders and chapter chairs. The second day featured a series of 10-minute “Lightning Talks” at the majestic Ellie Caulkins Opera House in downtown Denver. All summit attendees gathered together to take in talks that covered everything from building brands and company culture, to financial and leadership strategies. In addition, topics included cannabis history, the student drug reform movement, medicating pets, and even, the endocannabinoid system.
The opera house was filled with a rapt audience throughout the entire day, which featured more than of 30 presentations. Eager and enthusiastic attendees cheered readily, gave standing ovations and participated in yoga stretch breaks. Experts shared a rainbow of ultra-inspiring material including strategies for success and for maintaining tenacity when trying to educate the public about the positive aspects of cannabis. Many of us truly are forging uncertain and unique paths in the burgeoning cannabis industry; this was a chance to draw on the wisdom of those already experiencing great success.
The buoyant musician and ten-year cannabis advocate Melissa Etheridge gave a high energy, inspirational lighting talk. She shared her personal history with cannabis — her first encounter with the herb and the first time she actually smoked it. She talked about the positive role cannabis played in her breast cancer journey and her realization that this healing herb should not be illegal. She told us about how she started to publicly advocate for legalization of medicinal marijuana. Etheridge drew a parallel between the cannabis movement and the LGBT movement. “We’re changing the paradigm,” she said while on the opera house stage with the red and white Women Grow backdrop… “Cannabis is the thing that’s going to push the whole conversation about health.” And with this paradigm shift comes entrepreneurial opportunity. It is time for women to balance the male and female within and to simultaneously balance wellness with capitalism and business. Etheridge reminded us that a network like Women Grow is important because laws change constantly. It was an honest and motivating speech by someone that has brought positive cannabis awareness to a lot of folks out there in the world.
Pediatric advocate, Moriah Barnhart, delivered another powerful lighting talk about the heartbreaking story of her daughter’s journey with brain cancer and Barnhart’s crusade to medicate her with cannabis. Her daughter had a brain tumor and she got the whole treatment — hardcore surgery, dozens of drugs; it was torture for her toddler. When Barnhart started to ask about medicinal cannabis at the federal hospital in Tennessee where her daughter was being treated, the doctors would not even acknowledge her inquiries — medical cannabis was not an option. But the pain her daughter had to go through was unbearable for all involved. Barnhart had enough. She got cannabis shipped in. Within a day of medical cannabis treatment, her daughter was able to sleep through the night for the first time since her cancer journey started. She even woke up hungry and thirsty…an overwhelmingly profound improvement at that dire time. After one month of continued improvement, the family relocated to Colorado for access to legal medicinal cannabis.
Barnhart’s photos and heart-wrenching story brought tears to every set of eyes in the audience and is undeniable proof that people truly need safe access to clean cannabis — it saves lives. We must be empowered and we must question authority. Barnhart became a powerful and committed advocate, and she founded CannaMoms in 2014 to support families that need access to medical cannabis for their suffering children and to raise awareness about the need for access. This need is not isolated to kids.
Day three of the Women Grow Leadership Summit was held at the Curtis Hotel in downtown Denver. Snow covered the ground outside and Denver’s skyscrapers gleamed in the winter light. But winter was nowhere to be found in the hotel’s conference rooms where attendees participated in a series of “Break Out” sessions — 24 in-depth workshops on topics including funding, licensing and trademarking, education, cannabis genetics and dispensary management. Just to give you a few examples, workshop titles included “Advanced Interstate Licensing for Cannabis Brands,” “Medicating and Educating the Baby Boomer,” “Inclusion is an Active Verb: Partnering with Diverse Communities,” and “Corporate Social Responsibility for Cannabis Brands.”
It was a full day with talks ranging from the practical, to the emotional, to the technical, to the inspirational. Every person there had inspirational stories and business acumen to share; attendees had ample opportunities to network and make connections throughout the day.
The leadership summit was manifest professionalism in the cannabis industry, set against the progressive and urban backdrop of Denver, where recreational and medicinal cannabis are easily accessible. Legalizing and enabling safe access to cannabis creates opportunity; and there is an organized network of women stepping up to the plate.
You can find more information on Women Grow at womengrow.com.