Ashley Picillo and Lauren Devine’s book Breaking the Grass Ceiling: Women, Weed & Business is a snapshot of cannabis history told from the perspective of 21 women in the burgeoning pot industry.
The authors reveal often-untold truths from these female trailblazers about the difficulties of working in an unstable industry. With a few notable exceptions (Giadha Aguirre de Carcer of New Frontier Data, Arizona medical-cannabis researcher Dr. Sue Sisley), most of the women featured are players in Colorado’s cannabis business.
Manufacturing, testing and distribution are three important steps of the cannabis value chain, and one common thread among the stories is people applying the skills from their previous occupations to those job. Jaime Lewis, founder and CEO of Mountain Medicine, catapulted from her career as a classically trained chef to manufacturing marijuana-infused products in 2010. Meg Sanders, CEO of MiNDFUL, a Colorado dispensary chain, had previously managed compliance for a wealth-management firm. Genifer Murray used her background in microbiology to found one of Colorado’s first independent testing labs in 2011 and eventually Carbon Blue, a scientific lab consulting business.
The authors hop between important moments of their subjects’ lives, painting a broad picture of the road to greener pastures. Julie Dooley, president of Julie’s Natural Edibles, had to deal with a woman telling her children that “their mother sells drugs,” while Karin Lazarus, founder and CEO of Sweet Mary Jane, joined with her daughter to launch an edibles business.
Some chapters have a historical feel, such as SSDP executive director Betty Aldworth’s recollection of working on the campaign for Amendment 64, the 2012 initiative that legalized recreational cannabis in Colorado, at a time when soccer moms were the swing vote. Similarly, Wanda James, Colorado’s first African-American dispensary owner, brings readers back to reality when she recalls how she was inspired by her brother’s incarceration many years ago for possessing a quarter-pound of marijuana. Her story echoes the effects of decades of illicit operations on communities of color, a detail that otherwise goes unmentioned for most of the book.
For would-be entrepreneurs looking for opportunities in the cannabis industry, Breaking the Grass Ceiling offers personal insights on the ups and downs from leaders across a wide range of businesses. For future historians, it provides a roadmap of how an industry got started. And for those who’ve been in the business for a long time, it may sound very similar to your own journeys.
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