Even though it's nearly eight in the evening, there's still a good bit of Northern California sunshine around when the guests start to arrive. I'm visiting an Oakland suburb where a special kind of tupperware party is getting underway. Soon, the first guest—a middle-aged soccer mom with short black hair—walks through the door. "Red, white, or rosé?" asks the host, Amanda, warmly extending an empty glass. "White," replies the woman. "And do you want to see my med card?"
This is a gathering of female cannabis enthusiasts, organized by an advocacy group called Synchronicity. Founded two months ago by Amanda Conley and three others—Chelsey McKrill, Shabnam Malek, and Isamarie Perez—Synchronicity organizes get-togethers for like-minded marijuana fans—both recreational users and entrepreneurs within the industry. They meet up and talk freely about edibles, weed politics, and female-focused ganja topics—and get a little stoned while doing it. This early April meeting is Synchronicity's third such event.
The issue, as they see it, is that the $2.7 billion marijuana industry has long been a man's world. Both buyers and sellers are overwhelmingly male.
The gap is due to a number of factors: a society that stigmatizes female marijuana users, sometimes sketchy dispensary environments, and, perhaps most importantly, a lack of products that cater to women. Synchronicity is part of a larger movement within cannabis culture to mix some much-needed estrogen into the pot.
The tupperware party starts out well enough. New jazz plays softly in the background. On a table in a cozy, well-kept living room are some bowls filled with snacks: popcorn, frosted animal crackers, some bread and fig jam. I sit down on a couch and make sure the snacks are all non-medicated before munching. (I have work to do here, after all.)
Before introductions begin, Amanda makes an important announcement, "You're welcome to vape in here, but if you wanna light anything on fire, please go to the backyard," she says with a grin. The girl next to me goes ahead and takes a pull out of her vape. I remark that it looks like an unsheathed light saber. She sort of laughs.
After some initial chit-chat, the dozen-plus guests all sit down and begin introducing themselves. We're told to share our favorite cannabis product in our introduction, because this isn't an Oprah's Book Club meeting and no one cares about my favorite ice cream flavor.
One of the first to introduce herself is a middle-aged woman with blonde hair and a big pastel green blouse. Her favorite product is Foria, a weed-infused spray for women to spritz on their vaginas before sex. "It made my husband go numb down there!" she announces. The room erupts in the kind of excited cacophony I've long associated with my sisters' high school slumber parties.
Tonight's ganja gang is an electric group. The guests range from twenty-somethings to forty-somethings; a computer programmer, an attorney, and a former production assistant for Breaking Bad are among them.
While there has been a major dearth of estrogen in the weed space, things might be evolving. "We're starting to see the market change," says Krystal Kitehara, founder of Yummi Karma, an edibles brand that targets female consumers with products like balsamic vinaigrette, body lotion, and a "PMS relief" tincture, among others. With more and more companies starting to market to women, Kitehara thinks the industry is maturing.
Prem Vasudev, an administrator at Oaksterdam University, a school that trains students for careers in the marijuana business, agrees. "Most of our classes used to be male-dominated," he says, "but now they're 50-50."
Kitehara originally started Yummi Karma as a gender-neutral company. She got the idea to go after the female market after demoing her first few products at a club. "The women who would come in were a lot different than the men. Men see a free sample and they just pop it in their mouths, and don't ask questions. Women would sit there and be like, 'How strong is it?' 'How long is it gonna take for me to feel it?' 'How many can I have?' I started realizing that women look at it a little differently."
She was also inspired after attending a meeting for Women Grow, a national outfit that organizes conferences for female weed entrepreneurs. Founded in Denver in 2014, it is making waves in the marijuana movement. The founders of Synchronicity all met through it.
In the fight for cannabis legalization, women remain a major piece of the puzzle. "If we can get the soccer moms on board, we can do anything," says Chelsey McKrill, a founder of Synchronicity and employee of OpenVape, a company specializing in portable vaporizers.
But America still finds it hard to accept that women, especially soccer moms, might want to get high. "For some reason, that image still surprises people," says McKrill.
For the smarter entrepreneurs in America's growing cannabis industry, targeting women seems like a no-brainer. Auntie Dolores, a female-friendly edibles company, offers a menu of organic, low-fat, and gluten-free options. (Dolores means "pain" in Spanish. Auntie—or anti–Dolores is clever pun.) There's also a focus on savory options, a flavor lacking in an edibles industry obsessed with sweets.
"My intention in life is to get all sectors of society on a cannabinoid of some kind," says Julianna Carella, founder of Auntie Dolores, who is giving a presentation to the Tupperware party. Behind her is a table featuring several of her products: cheese crackers, pretzels, chili-lime peanuts, glazed pecans ("Great on salads!"), caramel corn, and dog treats ("They're non-psychoactive!").
She begins by praising the Tupperware party. "I wish this was happening five years ago, but everyone was still in the cannabis closet five years ago," she jokes. Her products, she says, are designed for both taste and health. "It's like Hippocrates said, 'Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food."
After the talk, a couple of Auntie Dolores employees hand out free samples. All of the guests take part gleefully. Soon enough, everyone's eyes are a few shades redder and people actually start laughing at my jokes.
Standing next to me is a tattooed, purple-haired producer of cannabis tinctures who is reminiscing to a group of guests about her dead cat. During introductions, she had forgotten to share her preferred edible. "And what's your favorite product?" a curious guest asks her.
She doesn't skip a beat: "My product."