But the kinds of things that women want from their Authorized Cannabis Stores can sometimes be unique, especially if they’re a newer consumer. This is why the perspectives of women in key positions in the industry are more important than ever. Meet four female leaders addressing gaps in the industry and making sure that their stores are extra welcoming for the women in their communities.
Chanel Isaias, Manager
When Chanel Isaias’s family opened Bodega, the first Black-owned legal dispensary in Toronto, they gave her free range to build the kind of store she’d want to shop at. So, Isaias has stocked the shelves with products that she personally uses, and stacked her staff with friendly women to make female customers feel more at home. “When I went into other dispensaries, I rarely saw people that looked like me,” she says. “In the cannabis industry there’s always a lack of women — especially Black women — in all the roles.” That’s why Isaias makes a point of hiring women of colour, a move that has helped turn her store into a buzzy neighbourhood hub full of loyal locals “We have a lot of minority women who will come from far away who tell us ‘I come here because it’s you girls and I want to support you.’” But more importantly for Isaias, a predominantly female staff always means that there is at least one woman on the floor, so female customers always have the option of discussing their needs with another woman.
“There’s just a relatability that women have with each other,” she says. “You can talk in a safer environment.”
Catherine Gulliver, Director of Operations
Ridgeburn Cannabis Shop, Ottawa
Catherine Gulliver knew that if she wanted to turn her store into “your friendly neighbourhood bud,” she had to make sure that women were interested in shopping there. To that end, she created a shop that goes big on spa-like vibes with lots of natural wood, luscious plants and chic green, grey and neutral tones. “Women always tell us they love our space,” she says, “They say ‘I love the smell, I love the look and I love your budtenders because they always give me the best feedback.’”
The peppermint and eucalyptus-infused essential oil that the staff pipe into Ridgeburn’s air every day has become so popular that they’ve had to start selling it. While Gulliver says this general female-forward atmosphere is important for attracting customers — especially ones who are newer to cannabis — it’s the knowledgeable and easygoing budtenders that keep them coming back. “We’re basically empowering customers with information so they can make a good decision for themselves,” she says, “We always want customers to feel like they’re coming into a judgement-free zone and to know that we’re open to suggestions for new products that they’d like to see.”
Pam Hemachandra, Owner
As a South Asian woman, Pam Hemachandra is breaking through two barriers with the Scarborough store she opened in April 2021. Since then, she’s made it part of her mission, both as a Retailer and a member of the Retail Cannabis Council of Ontario, to raise more women up in the industry. That’s not just because it’s the right thing to do — it’s also good business. “There’s a big difference between how men and women consume cannabis in everything from the products they’re looking for to the aesthetics they like in a store,” she says. “And right now, we have an opportunity for women to be involved in shaping this industry from the ground up.”
Hemachandra says she wasn’t a huge cannabis consumer before she got into the business, so she draws from her own experiences of feeling alienated when she went into dispensaries that still felt like they were aimed at a male legacy consumer. “For me it’s important that there are products and customer service that are friendly to women and new customers so it’s not a scary thing to come into the store.” That means Herbiculture goes big on vapes, edibles and other categories like bath bombs and face creams that are popular with the store’s female clientele. It also means that hiring women and BIPOC staff is a priority, not a nice-to-have. “I come from a culture that stigmatizes cannabis,” says Hemachandra, “so, it was really important for me to create a space that’s welcoming and redefines what cannabis culture is.”
Tiffany Longarini, Co-Owner
Grand Cannabis, Niagara Region
Tiffany Longarini knows that women are a minority in the cannabis industry, which is why she takes encouraging other women seriously. “The onus is on women up at the top to make sure we have equality in the workplace,” she says. “It’s a male-dominated business, so it’s really important we provide those leadership opportunities to women.”
Longarini notes that the gap between the number of men and women in senior roles in the industry has shrunk since she opened her first location in 2020. But the industry still has a long way to go. For her, this isn’t only beneficial for women who want to work in cannabis, it’s also good for women who want to shop for it. “A lot of cannabis stores are just outfitted with young men and not everybody is comfortable talking with them,” she says. “So, from a customer service perspective I find having women not just in management but also working the counters creates a more welcoming atmosphere.”