Ganja Queens: Ladies Search Management in Arizona Hashish Scene


Sara Gullickson floated across the personal eating room with a heat smile, shaking fingers and chatting with dozens of enterprise capitalists, nightclub house owners, actual property magnates, and former politicians who traveled from throughout the USA to listen to her pitch her firm. Solely two ladies could possibly be counted among the many potential buyers gathered on that April night, and Gullickson, who at age 35 is the nation’s first girl CEO of a U.S. publicly traded cannabis firm, made certain to spark up conversations with every of them.

Her enterprise, Merchandise 9 Labs, sells medical cannabis merchandise to greater than 35 dispensaries within the Phoenix metropolitan space. As a part of a burgeoning nationwide trade, it stands as one in every of a number of corporations contributing to the medical marijuana market in Arizona — the place it might solely be a matter of time till leisure cannabis additionally turns into authorized, in response to a 2019 statewide survey of residents by polling firm OH Predictive Insights.

Gullickson wore a flowing black robe that swept the ground, and expertly labored the personal room at Blanco Tacos + Tequila in Biltmore Style Park. Her blond curls danced round her face as she laughed along with her company. Slyly, between glances at white title tags caught to blazers and button-downs, she would sometimes test her watch. The company world has no time to waste.

She stepped earlier than the group, and it was as if someone flicked a change. 9 years of trade expertise and a whole bunch of talking engagements had primed her for moments like this one. The hospitable hostess appeared to have been changed with a realistic govt armed with nuanced speaking factors on market technique and income projections.

Gullickson is on her strategy to cannabis-tycoon standing, working an organization presently valued at $300 million. She joined Merchandise 9 Labs Corp final yr after its founding in 2017 by Bryce Skalla, Mark Murro, and Andrew Poirier. She is the lone girl on her firm’s six-person administration staff, and the one one on its five-person govt board.

“I needed to claw my strategy to the highest,” she stated frankly one February morning, sipping a big iced espresso with a splash of cream. I had solely made her acquaintance moments earlier, sitting at a desk in La Grande Orange Grocery & Pizzeria within the upscale Arcadia neighborhood. The restaurant would function the backdrop for our occasional conferences, with patrons coming and going round us as we unraveled her life story.

Gullickson has had a difficult climb up the enterprise ladder, with out quite a lot of firm. And the gender hole in her line of labor is just widening. In 2015, ladies held 36 % of the senior positions within the cannabis trade. Two years later, that quantity dropped to 27 %, in response to Marijuana Enterprise Every day, a number one commerce publication. That was virtually the identical fee of ladies in govt roles in conventional enterprise sectors — 23 %, in response to Catalyst, a worldwide nonprofit that works to advance ladies into management positions.

Nonetheless, all through the USA, ladies are staking their claims within the marijuana trade and, within the course of, constructing a sisterhood throughout state traces. Feminine growers, producers, managers, and CEOs share a profound loyalty and have solid sturdy alliances — an effort at pushing the trade to return to its extra egalitarian roots.

As a feminine cannabis govt, Gullickson’s rise within the trade was plagued with obstacles. Her identification as each a girl and an govt usually spawns extra questions than solutions. How do ladies CEOs raise different ladies up if they have a tendency to think about males higher ready and rent them extra steadily? How do feminine leaders higher recruit ladies to affix their companies? If most girls within the trade really feel supported of their entrepreneurial endeavors by the boys surrounding them, then why ought to they work so arduous to alter something?

“We’re anticipated to be so many issues,” Gullickson stated. “We’re anticipated to be nurturing. We’re anticipated to be lovely. We’re anticipated to be sympathetic. We’re anticipated to be rational and good. Ladies had been alleged to be good, in the event you have a look at what their function was even 50, 60 years in the past. So, it’s not irregular that we challenge that perfectionism on ourselves.”

She doesn’t mince phrases in the case of society’s notion of gender: Sexism shouldn’t be used as a crutch and can’t preserve ladies from pursuing their goals.


Medical marijuana first was legalized in California with Proposition 215 in 1996, difficult the nation’s long-standing prohibition politics.

Now, 11 states and the District of Columbia have legalized leisure marijuana. Medical marijuana is allowed in 33 states, plus Guam, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. That, in fact, consists of Arizona, the place voters accepted a medical marijuana program in 2010. As of this yr, almost 200,000 sufferers take part in this system, served by about 130 dispensaries.

Being answerable for a rising marijuana enterprise in Arizona wasn’t in Gullickson’s plans as she grew up in Minnetonka, Minnesota, however she’s not stunned at how she gravitated towards the trade. She described herself as an inventive “bizarre” lady in her youthful days to whom a selected dream job by no means got here to thoughts as a result of, in her eyes, she didn’t match into any established niches. As a substitute, Gullickson aimed to create her personal actuality. Years later, she succeeded.

Following in her older sister’s footsteps, Gullickson determined to depart Minnesota and make Phoenix her house. Town was younger and hungry, like her. However she didn’t depart all of her roots behind — she nonetheless pronounces phrases like “room” and “tour” with a Midwestern lilt.

Gullickson completed her undergraduate diploma in communications at Arizona State College, then went on to acquire a grasp’s diploma in enterprise administration and advertising at Keller Graduate Faculty of Administration. With hire to pay and a reputation to make, she plunged headfirst into the quickly growing cannabis trade.

She’s pleased with her tutorial accomplishments, however Gullickson credit hands-on expertise as her best trainer. The primary classes started when she based her cannabis consulting agency, Dispensary Permits, in 2010. Now an asset of Merchandise 9 Labs, the corporate acquires medical marijuana enterprise licenses for clientele nationwide, and presents enterprise plans and dispensary coaching packages, amongst different companies.

Gullickson’s first enterprise journey to California resulted in zero gross sales and a number of other dinner date invites. She realized she had some changes to make if she needed to progress in her area as a younger girl.

She researched practices like enterprise seating preparations, and at all times made sure to assert her spot on the head of the desk. Her restricted data of cannabis stemmed from highschool experiences, so she absorbed all that she may on the topic. She studied enterprise fashions and browse up on entrepreneurial model. Apprehensive, however decided, she charged a designer go well with and heels to her bank card.

Again then, Gullickson seen the purchasers using her companies had been virtually at all times males. Immediately, the folks displaying as much as her firm’s job interviews are the identical demographic.

“I certain hope that a few of these ladies step up, as a result of we simply want extra of that feminine power within the trade and even in my very own firm,” she stated. “I’ve hope that the trade will begin to get again to the place it was as a result of, a few years in the past, the media was all about ladies within the trade.”

All through her 20s, she missed birthday events and gatherings with mates for enterprise journeys and challenge deadlines. However she doesn’t remorse investing in her personal success. She calls herself “the main girl of cannabis.”

There are different main girls, however Gullickson’s boast isn’t too far off. She was listed as one in every of this yr’s “Ladies to Watch” by Marijuana Enterprise Journal. Her profile was featured in Phoenix Enterprise Journal and Herb Journal. Arizona Foothills Journal dubbed her an “Arizona Trendsetter.” And he or she’s spoken at a number of large-scale conferences, like MJBizCon, Ladies Develop Management Summit, and Hashish World Congress and Enterprise Expo.


Lilach Mazor Power

Lilach Mazor Energy

Giving Tree Dispensary

Gullickson stole a glimpse at her iPhone and abruptly gathered her purse. “Oh, I’ve acquired to go,” she stated, signaling that our second assembly collectively had come to a halt. We had spent an hour discussing completely different facets of her life — her early years in enterprise, the importance of a wholesome way of life, her efforts to help and encourage different ladies. However she had an necessary appointment to maintain: her month-to-month date with Lilach Mazor Energy, the co-founder and managing director of Giving Tree Dispensary in north Phoenix.

“There’s a particular language that we converse,” she stated about Energy earlier in our dialog. “With Lilach, she’s been in quite a lot of the identical positions that I’ve been in, and she or he’s made quite a lot of the identical arduous selections.”

Energy, 40, isn’t solely a colleague and confidante of Gullickson’s, however can be one of many few ladies working on the identical skilled degree. She runs the one medical marijuana firm within the state that additionally qualifies as a majority woman-owned enterprise.

Energy welcomed me into her world on an early February morning. The foyer of the Giving Tree Dispensary has gleaming tile flooring and framed portraits of marijuana flowers. The constructing decor echoes her imaginative and prescient of what the trade ought to be, she stated: skilled, tasteful, glossy.

Darkish hair spilling down her shoulders, Energy exuded a palpable confidence in her area. She’s the embodiment of the traditional American dream. She stated she feels her future revolves round entrepreneurship. She immigrated to the USA 12 years in the past from Israel. There, she served as an Israeli Air Power sergeant and earned her bachelor’s diploma in enterprise administration at New England Faculty in Tel Aviv.

She opened her Phoenix-based dispensary in 2013 along with her companion, Dr. Gina Berman, who beforehand labored as an emergency room doctor, and established a second location in Mesa quickly after. They confronted hurdle after hurdle within the “irritating” cannabis trade, she stated: the lingering stigma of cannabis, battle with the group, lack of obtainable sources, and monetary burden. Energy tried to remain targeted on how they had been making an impression by offering holistic drugs to these in want. And it’s labored out very properly for the ladies, regardless that they in the end severed their enterprise relationship final yr, with Berman staying on the Mesa location and partnering with Arizona Pure Choices.

Energy has constantly networked with ladies leaders to bounce concepts off of one another because the enterprise of cannabis has developed in recent times.

“It’s positively turning into extra of the brotherhood of wealthy white males,” Energy stated. “So, ladies have much less alternatives as a result of [the men are] hiring their buddies they usually’re selling their buddies. And elevating capital — as a result of this can be a very costly enterprise — is at all times more durable for ladies.”

Up to now, she and Gullickson have bonded over shared experiences in dealing with workers and company politics, all of the whereas balancing commitments to household and mates.

The pair depend on one another as listeners. However, much more so, they relate on the complexities of their management roles, providing a novel understanding when their identities as each ladies and executives conflict.

“I’m hiring quite a lot of greater positions now and it looks as if ladies are nonetheless afraid of this trade,” Energy stated. “Ladies usually are not the risk-takers.”

Scientific research apparently present that, basically, males are extra inclined to take dangers. Stress, for example, pushes males towards risk-taking and ladies away from it, in response to outcomes of a examine revealed in 2012 within the journal Present Instructions in Psychological Science.

The Area-Particular Danger-Taking Scale is the psychological customary historically used to measure the chance of taking part in dangerous behaviors like bungee leaping, whitewater rafting and unprotected intercourse. Nevertheless, some researchers are actually difficult its accuracy, suggesting that the sampled dangerous actions are biased towards masculine stereotypes.

Males are merely extra prone to reap the benefits of high-reward alternatives within the marijuana trade, Energy stated, including that she wish to rent extra ladies in her personal firm.

“I at all times assume that, as ladies, we now have a lot of obstacles basically,” Energy stated, “and I don’t assume it’s an excuse to not do issues. It’s difficult to be a girl. However, we’re additionally able to far more, so that you simply go for it.”


A cannabis nursery at Item 9 Lab's cultivation facility.

A cannabis nursery at Merchandise 9 Lab’s cultivation facility.

Zee Peralta

There isn’t any signage to let guests know they’ve arrived on the Merchandise 9 Labs’ rising facility, an unassuming warehouse tucked neatly into farm fields close to Casa Grande, about midway between Phoenix and Tucson. The one giveaway is the odor of marijuana that permeates the contemporary, rural air, refusing to be ignored. A welcome mat that reads “That is our completely satisfied place” brightens the temper of the dimly lit reception space.

On this heat Friday afternoon in April, a number of workers loved their lunches outdoors of the ability earlier than shuffling again into the constructing to renew their workdays. For 5 ladies in medical scrubs, that meant taking their seats at an extended plastic desk and donning black rubber gloves earlier than returning to the obligation of trimming cannabis buds. The ladies are all metropolis locals who had been employed by the corporate over the previous three months. A whiteboard on an adjoining wall publicizes the strains of a current harvest: “Alien Hearth Fruit,” “Orange Cookies,” “Lake of Hearth,” “Tres Leches.”

Gullickson, flanked by male executives, enters the workspace as the ladies snip and form the buds. A gold marijuana leaf allure with a small diamond inset dangled from a sequence round her neck, catching the fluorescent gentle inside the previous warehouse.

Subsequent to her was Chris Wolven, the 37-year-old chief working officer for Merchandise 9. He’s been with the corporate since January, however Gullickson stated he understands the inside workings of the ability, nicknamed the “farm,” higher than anybody. Casually dressed, he led the way in which by the labyrinth of indoor develop rooms.

Every one hosted numerous strains of flowering vegetation in several phases of maturity, with a single component in widespread — they’re all feminine.

A number of ft above, on a perch of their very own, a set of mom vegetation stretched their stems towards the ceiling.

“They’re the queens of the constructing,” Wolven stated.

“They’re on their pedestal up there,” Gullickson added.

What’s to not love in regards to the marijuana trade, from Gullickson’s viewpoint? It combines her love of world journey with the addictive rush of competitors in uncharted enterprise territory, all whereas offering customers with different therapeutic strategies. However for a lady, there’ll at all times be extra challenges.

As she defined the tight lighting schedule her facility follows to imitate photosynthesis for the crops, her fingers lingered on her pregnant abdomen.

On Might 16, Gullickson delivered her first little one, a boy named River. This brand-new journey for the manager and her companion is unnerving. But when any girl is able to take care of a new child whereas serving to to run a $300 million cannabis firm, it’s Gullickson.

Correction: Lilach Energy has not been beforehand affiliated with the advocacy group Ladies Develop.


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