How California female cannabis entrepreneurs are overcoming hurdles in fledgling legal industry
Female business owners face challenges starting and running cannabis operations, according to several such entrepreneurs who spoke at a recent industry conference in Santa Rosa.
“I’m sure everyone’s probably tired of the cliché of building the airplane while we’re flying it, but that’s literally what we’ve been doing for the last two years,” said Shannon Hattan, co-founder and CEO of Fiddler’s Greens and High Tide Distribution, on a panel at the Business Journal’s North Coast Cannabis Industry Conference on May 7.
in response to a question from Griffith about challenges she has faced.
Cheriene Griffith, vice president of production for Santa Rosa-based CannaCraft, moderated the final panel of the event, made up of female venture owners. A common concern among cannabis businesses is dealing with constantly evolving state cannabis regulations, but Hattan also said she faced personal challenges as well.
“The first is probably coming out of the cannabis closet,” Hattan said to a laughing audience. “I’m pretty sure when I left my job in 2016, if you took a survey of my family and coworkers, zero of them would have said I was starting a cannabis business.”
Despite the difficulties of remaining licensed and compliant with evolving state rules, Hattan said she thought the next couple of years would result in a clearer regulatory environment.
“I think that the shift is happening really fast right now. And Instead of us being the trailblazers fighting to stay compliant, fighting to get sensible regulation, we’re going to be fighting to keep up,” she said.
Alexa Rae Wall, co-owner of Moonflower Delivery and chairwoman of the Sonoma County Growers Alliance, agreed that state regulations are difficult to keep up with. But she also said local neighborhood opposition was an ongoing stumbling block for the industry in Sonoma County.
“Something that we’re seeing here in Sonoma that’s been pretty detrimental to the success of the industry is neighborhood opposition, and people who aren’t educated on what a permitted legal cannabis farm actually means,” Wall said.
She recalled multiple instances when those opposed to cannabis operations in the county voiced their opposition to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, claiming the farms damage the environment.
She noted the Save Our Sonoma Neighborhood group and other similar organizations statewide continue to organize against legal cannabis, painting it as a lightning rod for crime, as well as a threat to the health and safety of children.
Wall said many of the concerns are holdovers from the era of the illicit cannabis trade, “and those have since kind of traveled over into the regulated marketplace.”
Like any new business, cannabis enterprises need the right people and culture to operate, a challenge Rachel Hazlett, CEO of Lucky 420, said is an ongoing effort.
“What comes up for me is thinking about just building a really efficient, strong team,” Hazlett said when asked about challenges she and her company face. She said her company has struggled with conflict avoidance in terms of its internal culture.
“There’s kind of a stereotype of business leaders being very aggressive, and I found that whether it’s my generation or being a female-led company or the time that we’re in, I see a lot more conflict avoidance and mitigated communication,” Hazlett said. “If you just (leave conflicts) unaddressed, our team is less creative, or less efficient, or less productive.”