Cannabis is Coming and Ladies are Leaders – Community Meeting Showcases Women in an Emerging Sector

The last week of Women’s History Month was filled with local events celebrating the past, but only one focused clearly on the future; “Sweet Flower Talks – Women in Cannabis” took place on March 28, 2019 at the corporate headquarters on Culver Boulevard.

The community turned out, filling the room and finding a lot to discuss, from the challenges of working in an industry so new to the benefits of creating a fresh footprint. The five women on the panel were all leaders in different aspects of the industry, from corporate law to sports medicine.

Yelena Katchko addressed the legal questions from the audience with aplomb. As a founding partner of Katchko, Vitiello & Karikomi, PC. she focuses her practice on corporate law, licensing, and regulatory compliance with a heavy focus on Southern California’s commercial cannabis industry. She offered that “When regulation was about to happen, people started asking questions about matters where there was really no legal precedent. So, being someone willing to take on these big unknowns turned into an advantage, for myself and my firm.”

Circe Wallace, founder of the company Hot Nife, joked about taking old school into the new world. “I’m a long time cannabis user, and coming from the sports world,”  – she was a pioneer of the women’s snowboarding movement in the 1990s – “I can tell you that cannabis has been a part of that scene, particularly in California, for a long time.” Hot Nife, founded in 2017, produces full-spectrum, small-batch extract vaporizer pens and top-shelf pre-rolls from an organic flower farm in the Emerald Triangle in Northern California.

Expertise can also have history to lean on.

Terri Gilles and Lauren Carpenter were both on double duty as panelists and hostesses; Gilles is chief operating officer with Sweet Flower, responsible for budgeting, design, construction and operations of all Sweet Flower retail destinations, and Carpenter is Chief Strategy Officer with Sweet Flower, where she creates and executes corporate strategic initiatives across both community and company wide platforms.

Gilles spoke about her background in the tech industry, a place not currently known for being welcoming or supportive of women, and moving into cannabis as a convert. “I had a pain issue, and nothing else helped. I was initially resistant, like my doctor recommended cannabis several times before I actually went and tried it. In ten minutes, I felt better than I had in months. So I’m one of those really, really enthusiastic people.”

Carpenter recently joined Sweet Flower from MedMen, another cannabis company with a corporate office in Culver City. At MedMen, she was Director of Government Affairs for Western States, and she offered that, before decriminalization, she never used cannabis. “I was that one kid that all the anti-drug campaigns worked on. I never touched it.” As an adult, she’s looking at all the aspects of cannabis. “Tonight we’re talking a lot about cannabis as medicine, and all those therapeutic benefits, but let’s not forget that it’s also just for fun.”

Before stepping into leadership positions at flagship companies in the cannabis industry, Carpenter spent nearly a decade in government and public affairs in Sacramento, working on issue advocacy, legislative and ballot measure campaigns.

Talking about the how California and local regulations fit in with the federal prohibitions, Erin Weber of Axiom Advisors, held forth on navigating the legal landscape. Axiom, one of California’s leading public affairs firms, has deep roots in shaping the laws and regulations governing California’s cannabis industry. Weber noted that the landscape was still shifting. “We had another new set of regulations come down just a few weeks ago, and it will take time for all that to be digested and implemented.”

All of the panelists agreed that cannabis was currently a good industry for women. Noting that back at the beginnings of the computer age, tech was also very female-friendly, and that changed as the work gained in both salary and status. Wallace offered that “It’s up to the companies – companies like Hot Nife and Sweet Flower – to stay conscious and stay positive about keeping the doors open to women in leadership. Women do business differently than men, and in a new business like cannabis, where the patterns have not been set, we really have a chance to make it what we want it to be, and what will work best for everyone.”

Judith Martin-Straw

Photo – Terri Gilles, Circe Wallace, Yelena Katchko, Erin Weber and Lauren Carpenter.

The Actors' Gang

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