As Women’s History Month draws to a close, we’d be remiss in not recognizing some of the cannabis industry’s stars. The women who are shaping the cannabis space come from all backgrounds. They are marketing experts, software gurus, doctors, lawyers, and advocates for social justice. Below are ten women whom we’re glad to have at the helm of our evolving industry.
Co-founder and CEO
Nancy Whiteman loves to cook. That’s what inspired her to build her cannabis business around edible products rather than flower. Whiteman, dubbed the “Martha Stewart of Edibles” by Entrepreneur Magazine, has used years of marketing savvy to propel Wana Brands to become an industry giant.
Before getting into the cannabis industry in 2010, Whiteman owned a marketing and consulting firm that specialized in the media, technology and tourism sectors.
A Chicago native who grew up in White Planes, New York, Whiteman is a member of the Colorado Cannabis Manufacturers Association, National Cannabis Industry Association, Cannabis Trade Federation and Marijuana Policy Project.
Chairman and CEO
Jessica Billingsley leads Akerna, the first cannabis software company to be listed on a major US stock exchange. She co-founded MJ Freeway in 2010 and served as president and later CEO until the company was acquired by MTech in 2015, when the combined companies became Akerna.
Billingsley has received numerous accolades, including being named one of Fortune’s most promising female entrepreneurs in 2015. Before MJ Freeway, Billingsley was founder and CEO of Zoco, a technology services company with clients across the country.
Dr. Chanda Macias
CEO of Ilera Holistic Healthcare
Chairwoman of Women Grow
Dr. Chanda Macias is a biomedical researcher, entrepreneur, and inspiration to thousands of people in the cannabis industry. Macias heads Ilera Holistic Healthcare, one of two medical marijuana license holders in the state of Louisiana. In 2018, Ilera contracted with historically Black Southern University in to cultivate and develop products for Louisiana patients. But Macias’s involvement in the industry goes much deeper–she connects and educates women entrepreneurs through her outreach platform as the CEO and chairwoman of Women Grow, which focuses on women’s leadership in the cannabis industry.
Rosie Mattio is a master at connecting people in the cannabis industry. Her top-ranked New York City-based firm Mattio Communications launched in 2004 and now serves more than 40 cannabis clients, including Candescent, Papa & Barkley, LifeLink, Greenlane and Curaleaf. The firm’s clients can take advantage of an array of services, including content, SEO, event planning, and influencer marketing.
Mattio, who received a degree in public relations and image management from Boston University, previously worked at Alison Brod Public Relations and Rubenstein Associates, where she promoted clients in the technology and food & beverage industries.
“I believe in the plant’s medicinal benefits and wanted to help companies in this new and upcoming space propel their messages and products forward — and be part of building the industry right,” Mattio states on her company’s website.
Last Prisoner Project
Sarah Gersten has spent her career at the crossroads between cannabis legalization and criminal justice reform. As executive director of the Last Prisoner Project, Gersten is on a mission to release people who are incarcerated as a result of US drug laws.
It’s a role she was well prepared for. After working as an attorney for a congressional agency where she focused on legislative policy, Gersten went on to co-found a cannabis-centric law firm where she took on expungement and record-sealing cases on a pro bono basis.
“Having to face the injustice of so many individuals whose lives have been devastated by prohibition while others are making immense profits is really challenging,” Gersten told Variety last year. “Legalization has spurred a huge surge in states enacting criminal justice reform measures.”
Vice President of Government Relations
Bridget Hennessey’s extensive experience in government relations has prepared her well for her role as vice president of government relations for Weedmaps, where she works to ensure that minorities are represented in the fledgling industry.
“It’s important to constantly remind ourselves that we have a unique opportunity to build the industry the right way,” Hennessey wrote in an article on the Weedmaps website. “And the ‘right way’ includes making sure that women — particularly women of color — are broadly represented in both traditional and nontraditional roles in the cannabis business ecosystem.”
Before joining Weedmaps in 2017, she spent nearly a decade as a transit advocate working with national organizations such as the Center for Transportation Excellence to advocate for increased investment in transportation and progressive transit policies.
Vice President of Marketing
According to the Pioneer Intelligence heat index, Curaleaf is currently ranked the third hottest cannabis company in the nation, while their Select brand is ranked as #1. As VP of marketing for Curaleaf and global overseer of Select, Jenn Wong is in a power position.
“Seeing how useful cannabis can be for certain people creates a larger sense of responsibility in our mission to normalize usage,” Wong told Asian Americans for Cannabis Education last year. “It makes me feel good knowing our products actively make people’s lives better.”
Wong is a marketing veteran who has worked at agencies as well as with leading brands in the United States and abroad. Before joining Curaleaf, she led the advertising business worldwide for Airbnb at TBWA\Chiat\Day where she launched many of the brand’s impactful campaigns. Other brands she’s worked with include Beats By Dre, Old Navy, Nike and Converse.
Peter Tosh Foundation
The youngest child of the revolutionary musician and activist Peter Tosh, Niambe McIntosh is continuing the fight her father began decades ago to legalize cannabis. She’s committed to promoting a health and wellness lifestyle while advocating for freedom, justice and equity.
“We must carry on that push for justice… speak out where we see injustice taking place,” McIntosh told the Jamaica Observer last year. “It’s what my father would want. He was able to advocate through his music. As an educator, I have a voice and a platform, so I use it to speak up and work towards that change we so desperately seek. It’s in my DNA.”
In addition to her role as executive director of the Peter Tosh Foundation, McIntosh is head of the Peter Tosh Estate and Brand; managing member of Tosh Holdings LLC; and president of PT Capital LLC. She was a featured speaker at last year’s MJ Unpacked California.
McIntosh was born in Kingston Jamaica and raised in Boston, where she spent nearly a decade teaching mathematics and special education to high school students. She earned a degree in engineering from the Wentworth Institution of Technology.
Christine De La Rosa
Co-founder and CEO
The People's Dispensary
Christine De La Rosa discovered the benefits of cannabis as an alternative medicine when she was battling lupus in 2015. The experience inspired her to open Benefit Health Collective in 2016 to help people gain access to cannabis.
Since then, De La Rosa co-founded The People’s Dispensary, where she now serves as CEO and continues her mission to challenge past stereotypes and ideas about cannabis use and transform communities historically harmed by the criminalization of the plant.
De La Rosa is an advisory board member of Access + Innovation Project and Cannabis Doing Good. She also is a member of the Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Committee for the National Cannabis Industry Association.
Dr. Jessica Knox
Co-founder and CEO
The American Cannabinoid Clinics
As co-founder of three distinct cannabis-related organizations, Dr. Jessica Knox wears a lot of hats. Knox, a board-certified preventive medicine physician, created The American Cannabinoid Clinics in 2014 to deliver medicine to patients seeking healing through legal access to providers who are knowledgeable in cannabinoid therapeutics and medicine. She formed Pivital Edu in 2019 to provide comprehensive training services in cannabinoid medicine.
There’s also The Doctors Knox, a family of physicians whose expertise includes integrative cannabinology, functional endocannabinology, and cannabinoid medicine.
After she completed her residency in preventive medicine, Knox studied the endocannabinoid system and cannabis medicine.
“My vision for my professional cannabis endeavors is to fully flip the medical paradigm to one where lifestyle interventions, natural medicines like cannabis and other botanicals, and mind-body therapies become our first line of treatments instead of our last,” Knox told Her Canna Life.