Katie Pringle knew long before she got into the cannabis industry herself that its culture did not cater particularly well to women.
But as she prepared to conduct focus groups last year ahead of launching her own female-focused cannabis company, even she was surprised by how poorly women were served in the market.
She went to a head shop — a store that sells pipes, bongs and other paraphernalia related to marijuana use — and asked the clerk for their “most beautiful” smell-free jar, something the 34-year-old communications and marketing professional wouldn’t mind displaying in her home.
“He brought me a Budweiser stash can,” she said, laughing. That is, a storage container intentionally made to look like a beer can. “There wasn’t much out there that was really catered towards women, or even men who were interested in more elegant things.”
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Pringle, who last year co-founded Canndora, which sells cannabis accessories “for elevated women,” discussed this and other issues as part of a women’s panel discussion at HempFest Toronto’s Cannabis Expo on Sunday afternoon inside the Queen Elizabeth Building at Exhibition Place.
Another panelist, Sabrina Ramkellawan, president of the Clinical Research Association of Canada, spoke about the male bias present in much clinical research, including around cannabis. Ramkellawan, who specializes in cannabinoid research, said women absorb cannabis differently than men.
“Our bodies are different, our metabolisms are different, our muscle mass is different,” she said.
Women also have higher rates of some of the conditions commonly treated by cannabis, such as migraine headaches, anxiety and various sleep disorders, Ramkellawan said.
“Women aren’t just looking for something that is packaged small and pink with a bow on it. We’re really looking for products that can help us.”
Recreational cannabis becomes legal in Canada on Oct. 17 for those 19 and older.
Initially, the only legal outlet in Ontario will be the government-run Ontario Cannabis Store’s website. Pot sales at private retail outlets are scheduled to begin next April. Ontarians will also be able to legally grow up to four plants per household, but the sale of edibles and cannabis concentrates, such as CBD oil, will not be legal until Oct. 17 of next year.
As the approaching legalization has led to the mainstreaming of cannabis, the industry, particularly at the executive level, started to look as male-dominated as other corporate sectors, Pringle said. But she doesn’t think women are being pushed out.
“I think the pie is really big,” she said, adding women are in the best position to know what other women want from a consumer perspective. “Women are looking for brands they trust, they’re looking for brands with good reputations that represent who they are and have similar values to who they are.”
Legalization is also aiding the destigmatization of cannabis use, particularly among women, Pringle said. Her company isn’t the only one filling the gap in the cannabis marketplace for women with discerning tastes. Hemlock Rose, an online store with a feminine esthetic, sells “a thoughtfully curated selection of design-focused smokeware to complement an elevated lifestyle.”
In Vancouver, meanwhile, a social club called The Green Hat Society describes itself as “an unofficial sisterhood for women over 50 who enjoy cannabis.”
Pringle said in addition to offering women cannabis accessories better suited to them, her company also aims to provide a sense of community. Their website, for example, includes blogs on letting go of “Mom guilt” around cannabis use, cannabis-related recipes and answers to questions about cannabis legislation.
“Women are looking for community and opportunity to have that dialogue.”