PTA Presidents and Soccer Moms are the New Faces of the Cannabis Industry
By Wendy Shapley
I was really worried about what I should wear to the Women Grow meeting.
In case it’s not obvious, Women Grow is a networking group for women–many of them mothers–interested in participating in and educating people about the cannabis business, which is estimated to be worth more than $500 million by 2020 here in Oregon, where marijuana was legalized in July.
I was invited to the meeting by a very articulate and wholesome-looking friend with two young kids. We had shared stories about anxious, autistic, ADD and epileptic children who benefit from medical marijuana, and whose parents vow that no other medication works for their children.
If I came to the meeting, my friend promised, I’d meet all sorts of interesting, talented and amazing women who are helping these kids and also educating people about the wonders of marijuana. And, she told me, these women are planning on making a living in the cannabis industry–which reaped more than $11 million during the first week of legal recreational sales in October.
I was curious. How were my friend and the other moms planning on entering the legal marijuana market to help support their families? Who were these amazing and talented women?
However, having been raised in a marijuana-is-evil household, I was nervous after I agreed to attend the meeting. What would my kids, my sports-parent friends and my clean-cut social media followers think of me—a non-cannabis user–attending such a meeting about an herb that’s illegal at the federal level and in most states?
And my grandmother! I was sure she was frowning and shaking a finger at me from her grave.
And then there’s was the problem of attire. What does one wear to a women-in-marijuana meeting, anyway?
After much agonizing, I chose my favorite blue sleeveless top and black jeans, surely this would brand me as a wholesome, youth-sports-loving/mother of three.
When I stepped into the door of a Portland restaurant packed with women, I realized I may have under-dressed. All around me were power moms attired in sleeveless dresses, silk skirts and tops, and business suits, all primed to claim their right to benefit from the fastest-growing industry in the US.
They definitely didn’t meet the stereotype of laid-back pot smokers. These ladies were serious about making Oregon a leader in bringing marijuana to the mainstream—and profiting from that effort. They included lawyers, accountants, pot growers, marijuana-test lab owners, and branding experts.
They included Mary Lou Burton, an event planner in Portland with four children who described herself as a “marijuana cheerleader.” Her son struggled with ADD for years—until he obtained a medical marijuana card that helped him focus and lead a productive life, she told the crowd of about 200 people. Traditional medications for ADD made her son depressed, she said.
Her goal, she said, is to spread the word about such cannabis success stories.
“People will listen to me because I’m a mother of four and a professional. I don’t look like a stoner,” she said.
But the biggest marijuana cheerleader among them was the co-chair of Women Grow, Leah Maurer, an articulate mother of three and soccer parent who serves as co-president of her children’s PTA. She was also founder of Moms for Yes on Measure 91, the legislation that legalized recreational marijuana in Oregon.
Within minutes of listening to Maurer speak, I felt like a coward for my jitters about making an appearance at a women-in-marijuana meeting. Maurer was bold, focused and passionate while I wallowed in my worries and childhood anti-marijuana brainwashing.
“As a mom, my top priority is the safety of my kids, and it’s safer for my kids when marijuana is taken off the criminal market and only sold to adults 21 and older,” she told me.
Maurer has helped achieve the goal of getting weed off the streets and legalizing it, a move that’s expected to reap tax dollars that will improve schools, public safety, libraries and parks for Oregon families.
However, now she’s concerned about how kids will react. Every day, more and more marijuana-leaf signs advertising cannabis dispensaries crop up along roadsides in Oregon. So do shops that sell marijuana-related products. Kids and teens, of course, can’t miss them.
“At some point you have to talk to kids about sex and weapons,” Maurer said. “Now that marijuana is legal here you have to talk to kids about it so they know what’s going on. People who are shying away from it need to think twice about how they are parenting.”
At the meeting, I learned about surprising ways to educate parents and bring them out of the “cannabis closet.”
Moms need to speak openly about marijuana at parent gatherings–even at PTA meetings, said Liz Kaufman, campaign director for New Approach, the campaign behind the legalization legislation.
She urged the meeting attendees to take advantage of their clean appearances and civic involvement to convince marijuana naysayers that they–and the pot industry–are positive influences on society.
In short, she said that moms in marijuana should join their PTAs and introduce themselves as cannabis industry members.
“My kid goes to school and I’m in the cannabis business,” she instructed “Help it go mainstream. We need to win people over.”
Clearly, that’s just what organizations like Women Grow and Parents for Pot are doing. Women Grow’s Portland chapter in now the fastest-growing Women Grow chapter in the US, with packed monthly meetings that feature pro-cannabis congressmen, female industry members who are mothers, and even well-known cannabis authors.
The loudest cheerleaders among the mothers in marijuana are those who see their kids thrive in ways they never could without medical marijuana. And because of the benefits these kids see, I’m happy to join them.
Says Cham MacKenzie, administrator of the TJ’s Kids program (which grows medical marijuana for kids), “We have some great success stories that I tell to anyone who will listen, for as long as I can get them to hold still. We have a few parents in our program who choose to stay private, but most are shouting from the rooftops!”
As I left that first meeting inspired by the boldness and bravery of these women leading the marijuana revolution, much of my earlier ambivalence was quashed.
I understood why women want marijuana to go mainstream—and why mothers are the best people to make that happen.
Wendy Shapley is an award-winning freelance writer in Portland, Ore. who is using a pen name because some of her family members–raised in marijuana-is-evil households–insisted on it.