Tammy Puyear has been around cannabis all her life, describing her parents as “heads from way back.”
When, as a toddler, she saw her father rolling a joint and asked what he was doing, he responded that he was making homemade cigarettes — and that’s the last time she saw her parents smoke.
But Puyear’s experience with cannabis didn’t end there. Plenty of other family members she hung around with were fans of the plant.
“At fourteen years old, my aunts and uncles taught me how to roll a joint even though I didn’t smoke,” she said. “I became their joint-roller bitch.”
That said, Puyear didn’t actually smoke weed until she was forty-two.
“It was never something I was told not to do — it just wasn’t my jam — but then I started learning all the things it is capable of and what it can do as medicine,” she said.
Even so, she was interested in the plant — particularly its prohibition. Over the years, she followed the progress of the industry, and by her mid-twenties when she was mapping out her life, she had her sights set on cannabis as a career and planned to leave corporate America to pursue it at age fifty.
But she didn’t make it to fifty before chucking her mainstream career to work in the cannabis industry.
“My healthcare career was destroying my mental health,” said Puyear.
When Missouri was in the process of launching its medical marijuana program, she started thinking about how she could get into the industry.
After Missouri voters legalized medical cannabis in 2018, she was drinking wine with friends and talking about all the people who were applying for the limited number of licenses available. They decided it was important that women weren’t excluded, and decided to form We Are JAINE — the last word in the organization’s name is an acronym for Join Achieve Ignite Network Empower.
“There are so many wordplays in cannabis,” Puyear said. “We didn’t want to lose the feminine part of the Jane concept, but we did want it to stand out so we went with JAINE.”
Two years after their initial discussions, the women had developed a logo and branding and We Are JAINE debuted in October 2021.
We Are JAINE’s goal is to empower women to start new businesses and land leadership roles in the industry. The nonprofit offers a directory of resources, hosts educational webinars and offers mentorship and networking opportunities.
The organization’s board includes women from across Missouri with expertise in nursing and alternative healing, academia, and business.
“We’ve brought together a really diverse group of women who all have similar goals and are actively engaged in how we have a place in an industry that’s dominated by men,” said Puyear, who is now forty-eight. “Membership is growing every day.”
They look for opportunities to educate people about cannabis, participating in mainstream events like Taste of St. Louis, Paint St. Louis and the Great Balloon Race.
We Are JAINE hosted its first in-person event this year in St. Louis. At the event — free for members and just $5 for non-members — brands set up tables to provide information about their products.
The organization’s members had educational stations throughout the venue. For example, Jamila Owens, a naturopathic doctor, manned a station where attendees could learn about terpenes.
Ensuring women have a place in the industry is more important now than ever with Missouri voters set to determine whether the state will legalize adult recreational marijuana on Nov. 8, Puyear said. With medical marijuana passing with more than 60% of the vote in 2018, Puyear said she expects voters also will approve marijuana for adult recreational use.
Since Missouri launched medical marijuana sales in October 2020, the state has become one of the fastest-growing legal cannabis markets in the US. Missouri cannabis brought in $185 million from the second quarter to the fourth quarter of 2021, according to BDSA, which estimates the full-year sales total broke the $200 million mark. The Missouri cannabis market is expected to bring in total sales of $940 million by 2026.
We Are JAINE works with established entrepreneurs and newcomers to advance their careers in all aspects of the industry, including medical marijuana cultivation, dispensaries, hemp production, patient advocacy, and activism.
But it’s challenging to help women shift from the traditional corporate roles they fought so hard to land to a male-dominated industry that’s still struggling with treating them like peers. It’s especially difficult for women to raise funds to start or expand their businesses, Puyear said.
“The industry is filled with capital from folks with backgrounds in tech and politics that are male dominated,” she said. “When people come to the table in the cannabis industry, I find that they’re either chasing the dollar or they have their own story about why cannabis and want to make that their passion or career.”
With We Are JAINE, she’s making sure there’s room at the table for people who, like herself, fall into the latter category—women with the passion to elevate Missouri’s cannabis industry.