Erasing The Stain of Sexual Harassment in The Cannabis Industry


Sexual harassment is a widely discussed topic in today’s headlines, thrusting into the spotlight many practices that suggest women have been put into disadvantageous situations in many industries typically known or accepted as “boys clubs.” From #MeToo to Time’s Up, women are speaking out now more than ever before.

This includes women in the cannabis industry, once a male-dominated culture that is coming out of the shadows in the wake of increased legalization efforts around the world. As the industry steps into the light, unsavory practices that took place in the shade have begun to be revealed.

It is not uncommon for dispensaries to advertise on sites like Craigslist to fill positions for budtenders. Even today, in the wake of legalization in California, advertisements for female budtenders saturate the first page of the site’s “gigs” section. And nearly every advertisement notes that photos are required. There are few industries where it’s an industry standard to request photos for employment consideration — and those industries, like film and fashion, have come under intense scrutiny in the vast wake of recent sexual harassment claims.

A 2017 survey by New Frontier Data that explores gender and racial diversity suggests the cannabis industry is better poised than others to tackle issues like gender disparity and sexual harassment head-on, due in no small part to the higher-than-average ratio of women in leadership positions.

The survey results revealed 27 percent of respondents had witnessed sexual harassment within the cannabis industry. And nearly 18 percent had personally experienced harassment. When the information was filtered to reflect the opinions of only women in non-leadership positions, that number rose to about 49 percent, however.

“… results of the survey strongly suggest that the levels of women’s involvement and responsibility through roles of industry leadership demonstrably make a difference,” New Frontier Senior Managing Editor J.J. McCoy wrote in a blog post on the study.

Female leaders who take a stand against inappropriate business practices and behaviors can hold others accountable. In light of allegations against interim MassRoots CEO Scott Kveton, a group of women in the cannabis industry launched the hashtag campaign #notinmyindustry.

“We do not want this to become a mark on our industry, the way it has with other industries. Because what it does is it sends women a signal, that we don’t care about you,” Women Entrepreneurs in Cannabis founder Kyra Reed told Marijuana Business Daily. “This is what we want to put a stop to ASAP. You cannot get away with this in this industry. We are not going to stay silent.”

Kveton was accused of sexual harassment in a series of civil suits, which were resolved under undisclosed terms. Kveton never faced criminal harassment charges. He resigned from MassRoots two months after taking the position with 1.55 million shares of stock, $20,000 for his term and a $25,000 severance.

‘If you show me your tits I’ll give you a discount’

The changing tide is encouraging for women like “Cat,” a former collective employee who experienced harassment on the job. Cat’s name is being withheld to protect her identity. Her former employers are no longer in business.

Cat has been a medical marijuana patient since 2006 to treat symptoms of hydrocephalus, or fluid build-up in the brain, which causes cranial pressure and migraines. She had been prescribed opioids at an early age, but asked her doctor if she could try cannabis instead.

She was no stranger to objectification as a patient and explored many dispensaries before deciding to apply for a budtending job at a collective owned by a husband and wife team in the Los Angeles area.

“One dispensary took a liking to me and I felt safe because they were owned by a husband and wife,” she said. “I didn’t have to worry about things I’d heard about the dispensaries owned by men only willing to hire cute budtenders. I thought I was going to a place where I could avoid that.”

However, as soon as the woman left, the man began to come onto Cat.

“I was only 18 or 19 when I started working,” she said. “On a daily basis he’d ask if I’d be willing to take pictures for the collective.”

Thinking she’d be photographing product, Cat asked for clarification about the types of pictures she was being asked to take. She was told she’d be posing nude with cannabis.

“It made me so uncomfortable,” she said. “This wasn’t a big dispensary. He said ‘if you show me your tits, I’ll give you a discount on an ounce.’ I didn’t take him up on that offer. I was kind of horrified that he would ask me given that his wife was a co-owner.”

In addition to the uncomfortable interaction with her boss, Cat said it was common for co-workers to brush up against her behind the bar. With only a few feet of space, it was reasonable that some physical contact would occur, but she also noted it seemed to happen more frequently to her.

“I noticed the guys didn’t really bump into each other as much as they bumped into me,” she said.

Cat decided to try her luck with another dispensary and sent an email including her qualifications and a photo. The respondent additionally asked if Cat was “into nsa,” a phrase with which she was unfamiliar and needed to ask a friend to clarify. NSA refers to “no strings attached,” indicating he was looking for a sexual relationship.

“[sic]so this is not a job posting for bud tender?” she replied.

“[sic]it is but im looking for that type of arrangement… many hours locked up with a gal at a shop is tempting……weed and sex……its a good combo,” the respondent’s email read.

She left the industry about ten years ago, explored other career paths and is now taking community college courses toward a degree that will allow her to work with nonverbal children. She hopes to explore a career path in equine therapy and share cannabis’ healing properties in another way.

“Horseback riding and cannabis really changed my life in terms of getting me mobile and moving … and eliminating my pain,” she said. When asked if she would ever work at a collective again, Cat replied “I would like to rejoin a collective one day, if I find the right fit.”

What constitutes sexual harassment?

To set the record straight about what employers in the cannabis business should know when it comes to avoiding issues of sexual harassment in the workplace, Catharine Morisset and Alex Wheatley of Marijuana Venture posted “Protecting your business from sexual harassment claims.”

The pair explains that sexual harassment isn’t limited to unwanted touching or sexual advances, but also involves treating someone differently because of their gender. Period.

“For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general,” the post reads. “This would include both generalized statements like ‘women are bad at math’ or posting sexually explicit photos in the employee breakroom.”

As more and more local cannabis markets enter the mainstream employers will begin to see increased interest from those outside the cannabis industry. And with them, expectations of the workplace that are more in line with traditional practices. And if this study’s projections are correct, increasing female leadership in the industry can lead the way.


About Author

Since receiving her Journalism degree from California State University, Long Beach, in 2005, Lesley has traveled throughout the West Coast, South and Midwest to develop her multimedia content production skills at companies including the Long Beach Press Telegram, Suburban Life Media, the American Cancer Society, Illinois News Network and the Los Angeles Times.

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