In all honesty, the concept of 4/20 as a holiday has always made me roll my eyes. To me, it has always felt emblematic of a so-called "stoner culture" that feels both male-centric and, quite frankly, totally antiquated—the idea that those who enjoy cannabis spend their days taking bong hits and playing video games. This day has always seemed to commemorate that stereotype, which I have always kind of resented as a whole. Not only does it perpetuate the deep stigmas that have been associated with cannabis for decades, but it also does a huge disservice to those who have found relief from medical and mental conditions thanks to responsible cannabis use.
But this year feels different, and that's probably because the industry has transformed virtually overnight. As a California resident, it has been fascinating to watch this fledgling market suddenly unfold in the wake of legalization. New and innovative brands are opening their doors, and many of them are looking to redefine what it means to be a cannabis user—tired stigmas be damned. They're setting out to offer countless options for the discerning consumer who wants to know that their CBD lotion will work and contains quality-sourced ingredients but also wants the packaging to be sleek enough for their Instagram feed. Above all else, these brands want to educate the masses about the exciting science behind cannabis and clear up countless persistent myths. And it's not at all shocking that many of these brands are being led by women.
A study conducted in 2015 found that 36% of executive positions in the cannabis industry were held by women compared to a 22% average across all other industries. Just over the past few months, I've learned about dozens of new cannabis-centric beauty, wellness, and lifestyle products that feature branding that rivals some of my most covetable cosmetic products. It's clear that women are dominating the conversation in this market, which makes it all the more refreshing that women are leading that same conversation behind the scenes.
But pioneering a new industry still presents its own challenges. To learn more about what it's like to transcend old clichés and create an inclusive brand in such a rapidly evolving field, we spoke to the women behind four of the buzziest new cannabis brands on the market.
Mission statement: Miss Grass is an online publication and lifestyle shop geared toward women. Founders Kate Miller and Anna Duckworth sought to build a platform that opened up the conversation around cannabis—you'll find everything from the latest research on how CBD can benefit your health to must-try recipes and the coolest accessories worth buying.
On building a brand for women, by women: After experiencing the benefits of cannabis firsthand while attending college in Los Angeles, Miller also knew there was much progress to be made. "I became a true believer in what it can do for people, which was only reinforced by working at a downtown dispensary my junior year," she says. "I saw firsthand how much it helped medical patients, and I was so inspired by the fact that it was changing people's lives."
But there was still much progress to be made. "I realized the void in the market for products and services that were designed for female consumers and the lack of educational resources that were available," she says. "Everything we sold had giant weed leaves on it, and the culture within the industry and how cannabis was portrayed in pop culture leaned heavily into that 'stoner bro' image. I'd leave the dispensary and go home to the house I lived in with eight of my best girlfriends where we were integrating cannabis so differently into our lives. It was then that I bought missgrass.com—not realizing that 10 years later, after a career in entertainment, it would become what it is today: a brand that authentically represents the modern woman and the myriad of ways cannabis enhances her life."
On being pioneers in a fledgling industry: "It really is such an exciting time," says Duckworth. "It's complicated and mysterious, but that's what keeps it interesting." She notes that this brave new world also makes for a fairly even playing field: "The saving grace is that we're all in this together. It doesn't matter how big or powerful a brand is—everyone's coming up against the same questions."
The market also strikes an interesting dynamic between voraciousness and taboo and curiosity and persistent stigma. "We know that people have an appetite for cannabis education right now," says Duckworth. "We know that they're devouring lifestyle and wellness content too. So at Miss Grass, we spend a lot of time thinking through how to reconcile those two things to shift the way people perceive the plant. It's a plant, not a villain. It's helped a lot of people tackle a lot of different conditions. And there's a love story between people and the plant that goes back thousands of years. Just how we get people back to thinking of cannabis in those terms is the problem we're busy trying to solve."
On flipping the stigma: "High-functioning people integrate cannabis into their lives in thoughtful ways—people who juggle full lives, busy careers, families, and rigorous self-care regimes," says Duckworth. "This notion that consumers do little besides loaf on a couch taking bong hits is just so antiquated."
She adds that thanks to its misguided classification as a Schedule 1 drug, many people might have misconceptions about the "dangers" of cannabis. "Cannabis is safe, and there has never been a death linked to cannabis consumption," she says. "Cannabis research shows that our bodies respond so positively to it because the plant produces these things called cannabinoids, which, when introduced to the body, behave in an identical way to compounds our body produces on its very own called endocannabinoids. In fact, the body has an entire system known as the endocannabinoid system and its sole function is to regulate homeostasis." These are some of the facts that Miss Grass is working to bring to the masses.
Mission statement: Thanks to high-profile endorsements from the likes of Olivia Wilde and Mandy Moore, Lord Jones is already well on its way to being a household name in a market that otherwise still flies relatively under the radar. The brand offers a best-selling CBD body lotion ($45), CBD-infused gummies ($45), and CBD-infused chocolates ($30).
On how the brand came to be: Lord Jones's story technically began when co-founders Cindy Capobianco and Robert Rosenheck made the move from New York to California. "California has always been a hotbed of innovation, and we saw the opportunity to elevate the category by disrupting the stigma and pushing against stoner stereotypes—to rebrand cannabis for what it is—a health and wellness treasure trove," says Capobianco.
On empowering people through cannabis: "The cannabis industry is the most exciting field in the world today," says Capobianco. "It's about finding good people who are in it for the right reasons—female, male, or otherwise."
As for any residual stigmas, she's confident that they're already crumbling away. "They're fading faster than we imagined," she says. "We are entering an exciting moment. We've reached a tipping point, and there's no turning back."
Mission statement: After learning about the incredible impact that hemp oil can have on our skin, co-founder Melissa Christensen set out to create a beauty brand starring this largely untapped ingredient. "It baffled me that cosmetic companies were not using this 'fountain of youth' ingredient," she says.
"When we started, we wanted Cannabliss Organic to be a lifestyle—from spa treatments to hemp bathrobes to hemp sheets and more—making hemp mainstream and focusing on luxury. Our goal is to truly open minds to how hemp can save the planet."
On creating something that women didn't know they needed: "When we first moved to Colorado as part of the cannabis industry, we met so many families relocating here from states that had not already legalized cannabis," says Christensen. "Mothers especially would do anything for their children suffering from epilepsy, ADHD, anxiety, cancer, pain relief, and inflammation. We knew our products could help with psoriasis, eczema, scleroderma, and acne as well. Things really took off once these women realized Cannabliss Organic products could also help with anti-aging and cell regeneration in addition to the medicinal benefits. It's a win-win!"
On looking forward: "We are inspired on a daily basis by all the other brands emerging in the space," says Christensen. "Aside from having products infused with full-spectrum hemp oil, we are also a female-owned company, and our mission is to give back to the planet. I feel that we have a real opportunity to educate people by having a product that is so mainstream that we can reach the masses and provide people with the amazing benefits of cannabis."
Mission statement: Co-founders Melanie McGraw and Aaron Burke launched Monk, a "Drinking Botanicals" brand, in 2014. By marrying the benefits of juicing, herbal medicine, and cannabis, Monk essentially functions as the ultimate botanical elixir—in a variety of mouth-watering flavors, no less. The company is a natural partner for forward-thinking mixologists and cocktail bars.
On the meaning of "Drinking Botanicals": "We chose the name for our premium elixir line because it is a reminder of who we are (botanically driven products) and what the experience is about," says McGraw. "Cannabis is a botanical, and so are rosemary, orange peel, lemon, grapefruit, cayenne, black pepper, turmeric, and so forth. Clean, plant-based foods are good for our bodies, and it's hugely important to us at Monk to create products that support healthful, integrated, and wholehearted living."
In fact, the Monk team focused on the medicinal aspect of their elixirs first before perfecting the flavors. "We were bringing together distinct botanicals to produce a targeted effect such as relaxation, anti-inflammation, supporting a healthy metabolism, and so forth," she says. "It was critical for us to have this foundation of health even without cannabis. Then, of course, the real fun began when we started playing with flavor profiles. But the goal was to achieve exceptional taste while not sacrificing health benefits."
On challenging the cannabis industry's male-centric, "stoner" DNA: "The product we've created is inherently devoid of stigma—no pot leaves, no pot culture, no male-dominated messaging or imagery," says McGraw, who notes that Monk is part of an industry-wide push for inclusivity. "Brands, messaging, and imagery that are steeped in pot culture speak to a very narrow demographic of consumers who are generally younger and generally male," she says. "As a consumer, and particularly as a woman, if I don't see myself reflected back, it's not a product I'm going to buy. I think women are directly helping to evolve the quality of cannabis-infused products, as well as the aesthetics of the industry."
The mass growth of the wellness industry as a whole has also helped fuel this change. "Women continue to be at the forefront of health and wellness, including the slow food movement, farm-to-table restaurants, the cottage foods industry, and so forth," adds McGraw. "The cannabis industry provides a space where a commitment to health and wellness intersects with creativity, product innovation, and boundless business opportunity."
And while Monk isn't necessarily a female-specific brand, this vision is nonetheless central to the brand's DNA. "Empowering women isn't something we think about consciously," says McGraw. "It's just who we are, how we move through the world, and the values our vision, behaviors, and decisions are based on."