By Ricardo Baca, The Denver Post
As more than 1,400 cannabis industry professionals flooded the Ellie Caulkins Opera House on Thursday, a majority of the attendees shared one unifying quality: They were women.
That’s business as usual at the Women Grow Leadership Summit, the second-year Colorado event that is part TED Talk, part networking mixers and part reunion for women and equality-minded men working toward the legalization and commercialization of marijuana.
Other entertainers speak out
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“I know that we will create a cannabis industry that we all want be a part of,” Amy Dannemiller, the Women Grow co-founder who goes by the 420-friendly name Jane West, said Thursday as she finished her talk titled “Cannabis Cured My Imposter Syndrome.”
Rock star Melissa Etheridge was the keynote speaker Thursday afternoon.
“Can you believe you’re in a room this big, with this many other women doing what you’re doing?” Etheridge asked. “This looks like one of my concerts!”
In her speech, Melissa Etheridge talked about her early introduction to recreational pot by her first girlfriend during high school in Leavenworth, Kansas. She also referenced her late introduction to medical cannabis, via friend and songwriter David Crosby, who is also the father of her children. After Etheridge was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, Crosby told her emphatically: “You must get some cannabis.”
Inspired by her successful nontraditional treatment, Etheridge says now is the time for women to claim ownership of this important brand-new industry.
“It’s time now for us to … run that business with that knowledge of the wellness and the health and the other energy, the yin and yang of capitalism, of business,” Etheridge told the audience. “We will show that it can work. We can create our own corporations.”
Etheridge recently released a pot-infused wine tincture in California dispensaries. She’s also working on a line of THC- and CBD-infused wellness products, she told The Post in a telephone interview a few hours before the keynote.
“(Women in cannabis is) a part of a huge paradigm shift in how we look at health and how we look at taking care of ourselves,” Etheridge said. “Cannabis is a lot like the LGBT movement or the marriage-equality movement, how it pushes to the forefront and raises everything up around it.”
Ashley Rheingold took in the opera house’s bustling lobby before Etheridge’s speech.
“This is legitimizing everything that we’ve been working on,” said Rheingold, a managing member at Headquarters Cannabis Co. in Lyons and an early member of Women Grow, which was organized in 2014. “It’s a measure of how far this movement has come.”
Dope Magazine’s Emmett Nelson said he felt inspired by the event. “You look to any traditional business industry, and it’s all male-oriented, it’s all the good ol’ boys club.”
Women Grow is “doing something about it,” he said. “They’re recognizing that the opportunity for anyone to get involved is open now, and there’s no reason women shouldn’t be afforded that opportunity.”
Laura Bianchi, a marijuana attorney who co-chairs Women Grow’s Phoenix chapter, said the young organization’s quick growth signals that women are emerging as leaders in the nascent industry.
“This organization has not been around for very long,” Bianchi said. “So this shows when women come together on something, we can take over an industry. Hopefully it will be the first billion-dollar industry that women are actually leading.
“I am certainly not anti-men; I love men,” she said. “But I want to sit at the same table as them. And it’s very unbalanced right now.”
The Women Grow Leadership Summit continues Friday with panels on funding, branding and trademarking at the Curtis Hotel.