Lisa Snyder is feminist, cannabis activist, a digital strategist and the Co-Founder of Tokeativity, The Global Feminist Community for Active Cannabis Culture. She has worked on the web since the mid 90’s and has created and organized feminist events since 2005.
Samantha Montanaro is a thought leader in the global cannabis industry specifically guiding and bringing the community together in this emerging space. Samantha is the Co-Founder of Tokeativity, she opened one of the first cannabis consumption spaces, Prism House, after legalization in Oregon and has been a pioneer in advocating for the creation of social consumption regulations.
Amplify #9 brings you an amazing interview with two women bringing female empowerment and representation to the cannabis industry, inspiring us to work towards the same goal within the psychedelic space. Let’s check this out!
This interview was conducted and transcribed by Jessika Lagarde and condensed for clarity.
WOOP: You are the founders of Tokeativity, the global feminist community for active cannabis culture. Tell us the “backstory” on what brought you to the cannabis industry and why you decided to start this project? (Please share how cannabis has helped you personally, if relevant)
Samantha: My cannabis backstory, was definitely "love at first toke" at the age of 15 but it wasn't until I was 30 years old and I was dealing with a lot of back and neck issues that cannabis became medicine for me. I have scoliosis, was diagnosed with osteoarthritis when I was 19 so when I moved to Oregon and got access to medical cannabis products - specifically SAF (the topicals) - my life totally changed. I was able to not take muscle relaxers anymore. I was actually able to start working out because my pain level was low enough.
I've been able to just embrace a healthier lifestyle thanks to cannabis. For the most part now, I live a pretty pain-free, active lifestyle and it's just a total game-changer for me personally.
Lisa: I first tried it when I was 14, but I wouldn't say I was a cannabis user until college. And then my parents, both of them passed away from two different cancers, five years apart. And when my mom was in hospice, in Pennsylvania, I thought to myself that it might be helpful if she got access to cannabis. But I tried, I talked to dozens of people and they kind of brushed it off and they didn't try to get her access. I was just trying to help her have a different end of life experience and was not taken seriously.
Additionally, I had been producing feminist events in New York City and cultivating lesbian communities and gatherings. My wife and I moved to Portland, Oregon in 2013 and cannabis was legalized recreationally here. I then came up with the idea of Tokeativity by inviting friends over for New Year's Day, and making vision boards together.
I grabbed the domain name and the social media and I kind of sat on it for a while. Didn't know what to do with it. But in October 2015 when it really became recreational legal, I started seeking out how I could combine these efforts of cannabis and feminism into this new world. That's where I met Samantha who had already been producing cannabis events. It was really exciting to me that somebody had been working in this space already and we've launched Tokeativity on January 15th, 2017.
WOOP: How does Tokeativity support and empower women in the cannabis field?
Samantha: Tokeativity empowers not only women who work in cannabis, but women who are interested in cannabis by supporting this sense that you're not alone. I think many cannabis users, regardless of gender, feel alone in prohibition. Prohibition makes people afraid of being open about what they're doing or what helps them or who they really are.
Tokeativity really works to create spaces for cannabis normalization. It gives women permission to tell their truth, loud and proud, and to not be afraid anymore. Even if you're in a prohibition state, we need to apply pressure for changes in the law and for cultural changes so that people can be free with the plants.
Lisa: To add to that, we reinforce that idea by hosting events. Pre-COVID we did in-person stuff, but everything is virtual now and it's absolutely amazing. Now we not just connect locally, but with women across the country and the globe. It's the first opportunity we've really actually had besides being able to talk to each other through our platform and social media. We can actually see each other and meet each other and then support each other's work from afar.
Samantha: Tokeativity is meeting thousands of women that have had a very similar story of being a mom, hiding their cannabis use, and then going through this empowerment period being loud and proud about it. Empowerment is the ability to stand tall in your boots and feel really good about it. And when you meet so many other women that are experiencing similar things, you all of a sudden don't feel alone anymore.
You feel more confident and comfortable because you're not alone. You're a part of a group that’s been experiencing these same things...who wants to see the end of prohibition, who wants to see no shame in cannabis use. So that's really powerful. Tokeativity does a good job of really connecting people for whatever they're looking for within the range of what we're doing, within our mission.
WOOP: The cannabis industry appears to be more women-friendly, with more women represented in the industry, as well as occupying leadership roles in companies. In your opinion, what is the current state of diversity within the cannabis industry?
Samantha: Like every other industry, we have a long way to go. It's encouraging to see numbers that look better than a lot of other industries. But it's still very complicated, especially when we're talking about people of color. The war on drugs has disproportionately affected people of color. Now we have the legal market happening, but still see thousands of people sitting in prison for nonviolent cannabis crimes while a white dude over here is investing $40 million into a cannabis operation.
So there's really a long way to go. But I think that there is a revolutionary time right now where a movement of equality is happening in general. There are people who are sick and tired of systemic racism and systemic racism plays into cannabis, it plays into everything.
We believe that cannabis is an integral part in this all changing. This is part of why we're doing the work that we're doing. We want to see more women being fierce and getting out there and starting businesses. Or asking for a raise, or getting into leadership positions, and putting themselves out there because the opportunities are there.
As this industry carries on, we're going to see more investment from white folks because white folks have the money. It's really just imperative that we're setting up as many programs and really just creating awareness around this so that people are paying attention.
If you're not even paying attention to representation happening, you can't expect diversity to be happening. The current state is better than other industries, but still has a long way to go. We can do way better. We can make sure that we're prioritizing diverse companies, diversity within our own spaces, and then within the different subsets of the industry.
Lisa: I think that there's an awakening there for companies who have a desire to be more inclusive and everyone needs to continue to keep that pressure on. From a company perspective, how do you accomplish that? We have to look outside of boxes and we have to look at who we're trying to serve. Companies need to look to who they're trying to serve and make sure that the internal company matches. And if it doesn’t, you need to put energy into making it so.
WOOP: It was reported that women are the fastest-growing market in the cannabis industry. Why and how do they use cannabis, and how has that impacted the industry?
Samantha: Women are the fastest-growing market in the cannabis space because women are the wellness providers of their family. Women hold down the household for it and they're seeking balance there and it just so happens that cannabinoids work to create homeostasis in our bodies.
Women tend to be community-focused, as mothers, as community builders. It's becoming culturally more normal for women to consume cannabis and different options for consumption are available. It's not just about getting high, it's about getting healthy and enjoying your life. Women are feeling more comfortable with cannabis and they have many options, within products and strength, to make choices that suit them best.
WOOP: Who are some of the women who have made major contributions? (what have they done, and can include links to their work?)
Lisa: There are so many women that we know of and so many women that we don't under the surface. The first women that came to mind were Madeline Martinez and Wanda James. Wanda James is the first black woman to own a dispensary in the country and it's out of Denver. Her brother was also incarcerated for cannabis, so it's really a full circle for her family to come around and really participate in the cannabis industry in a completely different way. And Madeline Martinez is a woman here out of Oregon who has helped to spearhead the consumption movement.
Samantha: There are so many female pioneers and I think something really exciting that's happened in the last five, seven years, since Colorado legalized, has been the ways that women have been climbing to the top. Women like Emily Paxhia and Tahira Rehmatullah are pioneers in the women's Venture Capital space in cannabis.
Shout out to Jazmin Hupp and Jane West who started Women Grow, the first women's cannabis group, that started post-legalization. There's decades and decades of women pioneers that have gotten us to this place. And then in the regulated market, there have been the industry folks who have come to the surface.
WOOP: Why is it important for more women and minorities to be involved in this space?
Lisa: If we want more women and people of color to bring cannabis into their life or get involved in the cannabis industry, we need to make space for them. People want to buy things where they're represented. There's an energetic conversation happening between those who are creating the things and those who are buying the things.
And, if we as a cannabis community continue on the way it has been with just like white dudes running everything, we are not going to get very far. Everybody who has been suppressed is tired of it. They're tired of not being heard, seen, represented. And those individuals need support and they need other people to help them find their way into this space, to make room for them and to encourage them because that's also what was not happening before.
Additionally for women business owners, it can be challenging to get your ideas heard and to raise money for your company. Like 2% of women owned companies are funded. There needs to be more women getting involved in cannabis. Women have great ideas that are totally fundable and would make everyone a LOT of money. Same for black and brown business owners. The % is even less.
Samantha: Even lately, something like less than 10% of women-owned companies make more than a hundred thousand dollars a year. That's an all industries. And why is that? Well, when they don't have access to capital to begin with to fund their operations, the opportunity to scale is never an option.
We're globally a patriarchal society. This is where we're at in humanity right now. It's not always been that way. I think most people can agree these days that the patriarchal balance is a little off.
And as we are experiencing the great uprise of the feminine again, we're starting to see some balance restored. It's essential for women and for people of color to be involved in this. We need to tip the scales. There's opportunity there for everybody.
I also think it's really exciting when we think about the cannabis plant and when we consume cannabis, how it drums up the inner feminine that we have in all of us. We all have inner masculine and inner feminine qualities. And it's about finding balance within. And finding balance in the exterior space. That this is just all a part of this same balancing act.
Lisa: We, as women, need to take our power back and take our bodies back. And we do that through knowing and understanding our bodies and knowing, and understanding what we can use for healing ourselves. And then naturally, as healers, we share that information with others so that they can heal as well.
And that's the journey. The work that you're doing with WOOP, the work that we're doing with Tokeativity. We're trying to proactively work on healing ourselves and then share that wisdom with others and connect other women who are trying to do the same.
It’s an incredible time to get involved in plant medicine. The world is crying out for healing. We’re in the dawning of the age of Aquarius once again, starting a new 20 year cycle, along with ending a 200 year and an 800 year cycle. Change is here and she is ready for the healers to awaken!
WOOP: What’s one of the biggest issues you would fix in the cannabis industry?
Samantha: Funding and access to capital, access to standard modalities of support to run a business. There are so many barriers that make doing business so difficult and frankly it's discrimination. Cannabis businesses are just as legitimate as every other business in certain states.
The biggest issues we would fix in cannabis are systemic racism, systemic oppression, access to capital and modalities of being able to start your own business.
WOOP: Is there still a stigma around cannabis use for women?
Lisa: Yes. 24/7, 365. We in the United States, we have different states, in different places in their cannabis legalization journeys, and they all have different rules. The states really dictate what you can do as a person who consumes cannabis and therefore what you feel comfortable with even doing. And even when you feel comfortable doing it, you may not feel comfortable telling anybody you're doing it.
So that's where Tokeativity has really been an important part of normalization because we're getting together and we're talking about the things that we're doing and we're talking about the things that we're buying. And it's just a normal conversation. It's about sharing stories and sharing wisdom. We are very far from where we'd like to be.
Samantha: We want to see the total acceptance of women choosing what they want to consume for their bodies, and that not being a bad thing.
Lisa: Yeah, especially moms. Sam's a mom, we've got a lot of moms in our community. There's an additional pressure for moms to be perfect and the stigma is super real for moms, there's a lot of pressure on them. And there's a lot of women out there that are starting to speak more and more and more about being a mom and a cannabis consumer and that's a really beautiful, necessary thing.
WOOP: What advice or resources do you have for women who are interested in finding out more or getting involved, but live in places where it is still illegal?
Samantha: A great place to start is coming to our digital events. You can log in from anywhere in the world. You can be off or on-screen, so you can be as discreet as you would like, which is really helpful if you're in a prohibition state and you want to learn more and you want to start getting connected. Attending digital events right now is a really great way to start seeing what's going on in the industry.
I think some of the best advice I would give to another female entrepreneur who's entering this space is to just to put yourself out there. Social media is a great way to do that, you can connect with people so easily this way. We cannot believe the number of amazing people we've met literally through Instagram and Facebook. Social media has connected us with women all over the world and has propelled our business forward in a way that we could have never dreamed.
Also if you're a woman who's interested in getting into this space and you're not sure where you fit, just remember the cannabis industry has needs just like every other industry. Very practical needs such as accounting, business administration, finance, marketing, distribution, sales tracks, etc. If you have skills from another industry and you love cannabis, transfer those skills into the cannabis industry. Chances are you're needed.
We need more professional folks. We need people who have business backgrounds. A lot of people in cannabis have the love for the plant or the know-how to grow it, but they are lacking the business skills. A lot of women have business administration skills and those are really needed in the industry. So just tapping into what you love, what your skill sets are, and then putting yourself out there and just being open to what comes at you.
Another piece of advice that I would give to any female entrepreneur who is going to enter the cannabis industry as someone who's going to be touching the plants and holding a license is "buckle up". It is constantly changing, unlike any other industry because of the federal illegalization in combination with local municipalities, doing some sort of legalization or decriminalization, it makes for complicated legal landscapes.
Don't be afraid of that, but just go into it knowing that you're going to have to pivot way more than you ever thought. And the more personal work you can do on grounding to the things that really matter to you like: What is your why? Why are you doing this? If you want to have a strong “why” and you grounded into that, the waves of legalization will not turn your root system.
Lisa: Yes. I want to add here, don't get distracted by other people's opinions of what you're doing and their agendas. Don't let them distract you from yours. You just need to focus on what you're doing. And there's a lot of other people, especially as it becomes more competitive, and people don't know what to do with themselves.
Sometimes they'll try to throw barriers in your way, and there's already so many barriers. It's all you have to do is just focus on what you're good at and focus on you being you, your unique self, and it will help you persevere through difficulties.
WOOP: In your experience, what can be done by individuals, companies, and/or society to support greater gender parity moving forward?
Samantha: A few things that can be done by individuals, companies and our society to support greater gender parody is really first asking the question: “Is there representation? Are there different genders sitting at the table?”. That's like a really great place to start, right? Because men, women, trans folks, non-binary folks are all having completely different experiences and you can't just be guessing or filling in the blanks for them.
If there's no representation in your small business, forming an advisory board is a great way to get different voices as a part of your organization. Looking at the population that you want to serve and asking yourself: "Does my leadership represent or reflect that population that I am trying to serve?"
WOOP: Are you working on any other new or exciting projects?
Samantha: We're in a very exciting place of feeling grounded within the new reality of our business post-COVID and we are excited to be working on planning out 2021's digital events and membership offerings. We're working with amazing women from all over the world on some exciting things coming down the pipeline!
Lisa: We're partnering with an adult toy company called Maia Toys who has these fun vibrators that have weed leaves on them! They're supporting Tokeativity and also our partner, our nonprofit partner, The Last Prisoner Project. This project is trying to help the 40,000 people who are incarcerated for cannabis crimes. The vibrators are available on our website!
Tokeativity is The Global Feminist Community for Active Cannabis Culture. They are a global community of active cannabis consumers and business owners that believe in cannabis normalization, equity, and empowerment of modern consumption culture. They connect through creative, social, and political, intersectional feminist forward activities and marketing campaigns that work to create radical, positive change. Join their community here!