Potheads in pumps

How women are changing the marijuana marketplace

With the legalization of marijuana, a previously underrated (and underserved) market segment is coming to light: women. While references to smoking pot typically have been associated with the stereotype of a male stoner, a 2009 study published by Marie Claire magazine showed that some 8 million women—many of them educated, career-minded professionals—are regular marijuana users. And, with the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, businesses have a new opportunity to cater to them. Although they don’t keep records on recreational customers at the Medicine Man in Denver, Elan Nelson, head of business strategy and development for the retailer, estimates that about one-fourth of their market is women. “However, this is increasing,” she says. “We’ve even added a security guard to escort women to and from their cars, and our female customers have felt much more at ease with this level of service.” Women traditionally carry more weight in buying decisions overall; they buy more than half of all electronics, 62 percent of automobiles and were largely responsible for the organic food movement taking root in the U.S. What’s more, according to Maddy Dychtwald, author of “Influence: How Women’s Economic Power Will Transform Our World for the Better,” women play a huge role in influencing even those decisions that their better half ultimately makes. (And any man who doubts that has never gone shopping with their wife.) “People are starting to see that the stereotyped cannabis user isn’t the reality,” says Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, a trade association for cannabis retailers. “They aren’t the clichés we see on TV. A lot of women can consume cannabis products the same way they consume beer or wine for social use—but with no hangovers.” Pot in any form also lacks the foggy after-effects of sleeping pills and anti-anxiety drugs, which many women use to “take the edge off” at the end of the day. As it has become more accepted, West says there’s a growing popularity of gatherings like women’s book clubs, where cannabis products are handed out instead of uncorking a bottle of wine. Gaining appeal While the market has largely catered to men, legalization affords retailers the ability to create upscale, unique settings that are more appealing to female consumers, West says. A calm and well-lit environment provides a therapeutic, spa-like element that women find attractive. Advertising can focus on wellness and health benefits, which is definitely a hot button for women, and the options of consuming it in various ways, such as edibles, topicals and vapors, also appeals to the female segment. Medicine Man’s Nelson agrees, saying their female customers definitely prefer smoke-free alternatives. “Women tend to buy more edibles than men,” she says. “It could be because of health concerns, or maybe the difficulty of masking marijuana’s odor leads to concerns of being outed as the farcical pot-head. Regardless of gender, most people do not want to be labeled a pot-head.” That may be particularly true for moms and professionals, and West says that even though the stigma against women is changing, more work needs to be done. As part of that work, businesses can take female consumers seriously – and gain a huge hold on the market. “The culture hasn’t been very proactive in reaching out to women,” West notes. “Now, where it’s available legally, the stigma is changing, both for men and women. We just need to do a better job of showing how to fit cannabis into a lifestyle that’s attractive for women.”