Instagram Live Recap: Kyra Reed from Women Empowered in Cannabis
Photo: womenempoweredincannabis.com, Kyra Reed from Women Empowered in Cannabis
Women are playing an even larger role in cannabis than in many other industries and Kyra Reed knows firsthand the challenges they face. We sat down with Kyra Reed of Women Empowered in Cannabis to talk about how women are changing the industry and the crucial role they play in all of it. Here’s a recap of our Instagram Live Q&A with Kyra Reed from Women Empowered in Cannabis!
FreshStor: Can you tell us a little about yourself, Kyra Reed? Where you’re from, what were you doing before you got into the industry and how you found yourself in the cannabis space?
Kyra Reed: So, I’m born and raised in Northern California. My mom is a hippie. I was born in Point Reyes if you’re familiar with Northern California, it was a hippie world in the ‘60s. So, I grew up around it and it was not at all odd to me in any way. What I found odd was how other people reacted to it. What I noticed as a kid was I loved it when my mom got high because she was so much nicer. I would actually beg her when she was being too much of a bitch to go smoke some pot and relax. So I never really saw it through the eyes of stigma that a lot of people do.
And then I left California and moved to New York and kind of did the whole “I’m finding myself” for 10 or 15 years and ended up back in L.A. and I started a social media agency in 2006 so it was super, super early on. I was really compelled by how it was so different. Remember when blogging first hit the scene and all these music blogs would share each other’s posts and the blogs would have all their recommendations of their competition in it. And, I was just fascinated by how community-building was changing. It was really rocking this model of competition to the core and it was really exciting to me.
So I ended up meeting a guy named Nick Adler who’s family runs a club called the Roxy Theater on the Sunset Strip. They’d been having a tough time through the ‘90s and ‘00s. They were seen as a has-been in L.A. The street itself is falling apart, vacancies up and down. So when I met Nick, he was kind of at a loss. He had grown up in this neighborhood and he was watching it. He used to tell this story of the time he was at a stoplight and a guy started banging on his window with a sign that said “TOWER RECORDS GOING OUT OF BUSINESS.” It was just the beginning of the end. When I met him, I had this kind of idea that there’s this emergence of community and all of these tools and technology are being built around the idea of being able to bring people together who have the same things in common, and he loved it. So the two of us together ended up building an entire strategy that revitalized the Sunset Strip. We called it the Social Strip and we started playing with all of these really incredible ideas and opportunities that this social world was allowing us to try.
For instance, one of our favorite stories is that there was a time when there was something called Tweet Beeps, you get a notification when someone talked about you on Twitter. So, we’re at the club and Nick gets a Tweet Beep that someone was complaining about the drink, “watered down at the Roxy as usual.” So Nick gets her picture, he went and got a top-shelf double, walked it straight over to her and told her “I hope you enjoy this, you will never have a bad drink at the Roxy again. Thanks for coming in. Thanks for letting us know we can do better.”
Those actions really are what led me to build the community of Women in Cannabis that I’m doing now because I saw the power and watched it revitalize an entire strip. We got to the point where we were actually hosting, we were shutting down part of the Sunset Strip every year for the Sunset Strip Music Festival and when I met Nick, he said this is my dream and it’ll never happen. The fire department, the residents, nobody will allow this to happen. But, on our 35th anniversary, I want to shut the street down and have the Red Hot Chilli Peppers play. Well, that’s what happened. We had so many great shows and we did it for seven years in a row. And, when Obama put down in the TARP program, there was a lot of allotment for infrastructure. We got the entire Sunset Strip paved because we started bringing so much attention to what was going on there that we rose to priority level in the city of L.A. The power of community can change everything.
So I brought that into cannabis when I was transitioning in my business. I had moved out of music and entertainment and gotten more into tech and I was done with the discrimination and the sexism and all the money flowing to very few people at the top, burning people out left and right. So, when Nick and I had tried a couple of times – we had a few clients in a social media agency we were working with – but the feds kept shutting them down. So, when 64 was on the ballot, we knew it was going to pass and it was time to jump back in.
When I jumped in, there was this incredible women’s movement that was emerging and it was so exciting to me to see that, unlike other industries where women have had to fit themselves into the model that was already there, here we had the opportunity to be side-by-side with the men and make sure that it was just and equitable for all of it. I’ve been a part of an emerging industry – social media – and a lot of the technical stuff has been in my lifetime and been in my career, but it was still male-built and male-structured. Cannabis busts everything to bits because women have been so integral in the creation of the industry. There’s so much need and there’s so much room for women in the industry. There’s a place for us, we weren’t shut out.
When I got here, I realized that a lot of women are really drawn to the industry because it’s changed their lives – they’re deeply, deeply passionate about it. It saved their children, healed their mother, so they want to jump in feet-first and make this medicine available everywhere. But, they didn’t really have a lot of business acumen and so there was all this opportunity but a very, very high bar. It’s hard enough to start a business, but when you’re starting a business in cannabis, you now have to take all of the traditional challenges and add on top of it 10x because of regulation. Since I’ve been in the industry, we’ve had three or four extinction events. What industry does that? And then this regulation changes because we’ve made a different decision and then we hold back on telling you what it’s going to be until two weeks before it goes into place. We have a lot of trauma still even from the whole packaging debacle a couple of years ago. So, it’s challenging but I believe that women have a great opportunity to take part in this because, like I said before, we’re really integral, but there’s also this rush to the opportunity that women are taking. I mean, I know men are taking it too, but I’ve never really seen so many women want to pivot in their business or their industry. So many different ways for women to get involved.
When I launched, I had a background in community and I saw the opportunity there was to be able to provide women with a community. Women need a space like the country club. It’s a place that no matter what you do, where you’re from, your contribution to the industry or your experience is, there’s a place for you. There’s a sisterhood for you. We believe in sharing resources. We believe in lifting each other up. We believe in keeping the wealth amongst us and sharing our resources to help each other. The reality of this industry – of all industry – funding for women across the board is about 3% – we get the scraps.
For People of Color, it barely registers how little they get. So we’ve got a lot of work to do to create equity. In cannabis, it’s even lower. It’s shameful how few women are equal in the industry. Jennifer Wetzel did a women in cannabis study and she found that of her respondents, 48% of them considered themselves founders and owners, yet we’re at less than 3% funded. The problem for women and People of Color are finding themselves with now is that they’re a target for predators. I had a person from Michigan call me, enraged that she wanted the license. She put the money and the effort into it, but her investor said that they were the person who put the money into it so the ladies could move aside and they’d take over with contractors. Now, they’re dealing with contractors who are talking down to them and patting them on the head when nobody would be there if it wasn’t for them.
These inequities just continue down the chain and when you’re in a situation with little social equity, you’re vulnerable to that. All these situations made me realize that we have to do something. And finding the money isn’t the answer, but what we can do is create a community where we can take these bricks out of the wall for each other. So, if I’ve got accounting services and you need help with that, let’s do a trade. Or, I’ll be a part of a podcast and help you get through these things that you may need to borrow that 50,000 for. But, if we all give you a hand, you’ll get through that and make it to the next step. So, we really, really need each other in this industry. And we need our male allies, but we as women, need to find ways to come together to support each other. We will create experiences that benefit the men in this industry.
When I was going for a dispensary license in Santa Monica, all the men I spoke with said, “that’s the dispensary I want to go in.” Because you know all the products will be awesome, the music will be soothing, the environment will be top quality, the help that you get will be amazing. So we need to work with each other and we need to be able to lift each other up, otherwise, we are going to slip. We are already slipping. When I started Women in Cannabis, our executives – we had 33% of executives in cannabis were women. We slipped to 27%. So that’s not good. That is really the drive of Women Empowered in Cannabis.
FreshStor: That seems like the perfect transition to what Women Empowered in Cannabis is. It seems like this concept is revolutionary, but it shouldn’t be. It should be a no-brainer.
Kyra Reed: 100%. Now, thanks to Clubhouse, I sit in on a lot of conversations that I wouldn’t normally participate in. Especially with legacy growers and I’m really fascinated at how they are 100% dependent on community, especially when you’re talking about up in the Emerald Triangle because they’re so isolated geographically. But, that really is the heartbeat of this industry because the plant is communal. By that same token, I’ve become really close friends with a woman who is a legacy grower in Humbolt and she’s really taught me. She was in a terrible accident and she should not be walking, but she is because of cannabis. So because she’s up there, she has access to a lot of great strains and has jars that she keeps on her shelf. She goes through and smells which one she’s going to choose each day and whichever terpene really resonates with her, that’s her medicine for the day. That’s how grounded she is. She’s really taught me that when you embrace the Mother, you embrace cannabis. I know I sound borderline culty, but I find this to be so true.
You treat her with respect and use her as a guide, she doesn’t discriminate who she heals. It doesn’t matter what your background is, the color of your skin, how much money you have, how deep your pain is. She there to provide relief to you. Period. Unconditionally. If we embrace her and use her, and let her use us as a vehicle to bring her back to the world, then we will be rewarded. But, there’s also a lot of suffering that goes on in this industry. It’s part of the price we have to pay, but the Mother will reward you.
FreshStor: Do you think with the cannabis industry being a little more progressive industry that women face the same challenges?
Kyra Reed: Just like I was saying about starting a business. You have all of the business stuff, but with cannabis on top of it. I think the same is true for women to succeed in this industry and on the one hand, we are healers and nurturers so we’re inclined to do the work, but it is challenging because a lot of women come into the industry and don’t realize how hard it’s going to be. It’s cutthroat in a very different way. We are still competing with an illegal market. And we’re still working with people who have come from one side of the market to the other and so there are adjustments to how you go from being a renegade in your business to now fitting into this corporate model. It can be a lot of friction. I’ve had some very intense experiences with people who are not quite ready to leave the illegal market.
So it’s all very geographic – if you’re in Oklahoma or New Mexico, you don’t have the pre-legal industry that we had in California or New York. It’s going to be very different. That’s also another interesting thing that I’m finding – especially on Clubhouse – on the West Coast, we’re legacy now. We know what’s happened. We understand this industry. East Coast is coming up and they want to define themselves as their own space and so I’ve heard some really interesting conversations between East Coast and West Coast. Sometimes it’s harmonious, but it’s like a child wanting to not be told what to do by their parents.
The international audience is so down. They are so hungry to learn from us. The thing that women have an advantage of that they don’t have in other industries is that from day one, we’ve acknowledged there’s a movement. Women overseas constantly tell me “We’re watching what you ladies are doing. We know there’s an opportunity for us. We know there’s a movement here. But we’re not sure how to do it.” And we as women have very few seats at the table in other industries.
Women don’t help each other into those seats. When you network in cannabis, it doesn’t matter if you’re a grower and I’m in marketing, or you’re a nurse and I’m an extraction technician. Put us in a room together, we will talk all day. There is so much information sharing from all parts of the supply chain that it gives everyone in this industry value. If you need a budtender, you’re not going to instantly dismiss. You’re going to want to know, “what are you seeing on the front lines of retail right now?” Right? So everybody brings value to this industry no matter what they do. Including women, including People of Color.
It’s creating a space for us that doesn’t exist in other industries because of that. So we’re building a table that we can all fit at. We’re conscious of this. We’re in an era where we talk about these things. We don’t shy away from them. We constantly bring this into. I mean, look, you’re having me on and I’m talking about women. So you know that this is a topic that needs to be covered. This is what’s happening in our industry. This is not the case in other industries. Two tech guys are not going to have a woman who has a women’s community on their show. It’s just not going to happen.
FreshStor: We work with a lot of women in the industry. We’re a very small company, but it would be remiss of anybody – especially in the cannabis industry – to think that everybody can’t benefit each other. That is one of the beautiful things about the cannabis industry. We can all talk to each other and learn from each other because we’re in the fledgling stage of the industry in the grand scheme of things where we are making the table. There should be a seat for every single type of person at that table.
Kyra Reed: Absolutely. Elderly. Disabled. Veterans. And one thing we do have to address is the number of people who are in prison right now for marijuana crimes. If we don’t deal with that as an industry, we’re going to be building on top of trauma and chaos that we never dealt with. And it will come back to haunt us. My husband is now in the industry. He comes from a background of commercial and industrial agriculture. He was president of a nursery that managed six million feet of greenhouse space, so he understands. He’s now with a group that he was with, in agriculture, that does clones in Salinas. It’s been really interesting because I’ve been in the industry longer than him and he’s bringing a lot of his agriculture knowledge. There’s a lot of it that doesn’t exist in cannabis. No cannabis grower’s managed six million square feet of space in multiple climates. But, they are finding that there are little things that they’re not expecting that catch them and trip them up and make them really have to go, “we didn’t know that.”
We need those legacy growers, we need people who have been in this industry for a long time to work with people coming from the outside. I don’t know many growers that could manage something that large drill down into the Mother and you’re going to get knowledge from them that you’d never get from somebody who is from agriculture for 20 years. We’ve got to embrace and take care of our legacy and the trauma that this industry has left in its wake. We need to make sure that we bring all of these people back to the table because that is part of diversity. Women are a little bit at the intersection and People of Color need a lot of community. I recently had a conversation with someone in the industry and she said, “What we’ve fallen into with social equity is a predatory circumstance with social equity recipients. It needs to be amnesty. We need to be able to look at how is this community affected? And how do they need help?” Social equity people should not be paying fees. Why do they get the fees that force them to go to people that act predatory? How do we change the system as we’re growing it to make it available to all people?
FreshStor: You’re putting a huge amount of people out when you’re putting in regulations – especially People of Color – like needing half a million to a million dollars to get your business started.
Kyra Reed: Absolutely. But the same thing is true for women. We can build and build and build, and make something, but ultimately, we’re knocking on the white man’s door to please validate that my business is worth your money and that I’m good enough to be able to do this. And I don’t want to be in that position myself, yet if I don’t, will it stop me from growing my business that will serve so many other women? It’s tough and then you take somebody who’s been in prison for being a cannabis grower or distributor, you then put them that not just the color of their skin, but they’ve got a federal crime on their record.
So, we can’t just move forward thinking that the social equity piece is handled. No, it’s not because it’s still not helping women. We need a program for our legacy growers in the Emerald Triangle. We need to really think. I love the way you two are thinking because if we come together and say I’m standing up for women, and I’m going to stand with these guys because we’re all standing for all of us that want a big ass table with a lot of people contributing their experience and expertise. And we don’t need to worry about if they have a fucking degree or if they’ve ever been put in jail for dealing cannabis.
FreshStor: Imagine the rage sitting in prison reading the newspaper about somebody being celebrated for this deal with this company in Canada when you’re in prison for the same thing.
Kyra Reed: You cannot get more systemic racism than that. Here white men are making billions of dollars while you sit in jail for doing the exact same thing.
FreshStor: Caron Cooper runs our web team and she raved about an event you guys were putting on. She couldn’t stop saying good things about it. Can you tell us about the events that you used to do and will do in the future?
Kyra Reed: So I think what Caron was talking about Lady Jane Society. We did our first Lady Jane Society in October of 2019. We live in the Central Valley and my partners in Lady Jane have a venue called Bella Forest which is this insanely beautiful venue carved out of a fig grove along a river. We produced a weekend event for women working in cannabis. We brought some amazing speakers to come and talk about life as a woman on the supply chain. We had a grower. A distributor. A woman who runs a testing lab, all the way down the supply chain. And it was a really magical weekend. The reason she probably enjoyed it so much was because we put in a lot of really beautiful touches. It was sit-down dinners with plates and dinnerware and glassware. We had a beautiful smoking lounge, we had incredible vendors there. It was really just a magical experience. You have to see the pictures to really understand that we transformed the space. It was a really great event.
We were so excited to do it again last year, and of course, COVID. What we’re doing this year, we’re hosting an invite-only – 65 women so we can be safe – it’s all RV, you come and stay on the property in an RV. We have a big pool and a hot tub and a giant pasture right next to the venue so what we want to create is a transition getting back into that. So we’re not having speakers, this is all about women coming and spending time together. It’ll be outdoors, hopefully, everybody will be vaccinated, but it’ll be pretty warm and really safe. We’ll river float and smoke and hang out in the pool and relax. Self-care. You’ll be able to hang out and get a massage or a facial or manicure. Then we’re going to do a ceremony on Friday night to look back over the last year and let go. Make space for what’s coming. Then, Saturday evening we’re going to have another ceremony where we think about what we want for the new normal and how we’re going to bring our mind, body, and spirit into the new realm of reality. Which will be a weird hybrid experience.
We’ve been impacted with PTSD in ways we don’t even know and our memories are changing. So I feel like it’s really important for us to acknowledge this for ourselves and for our community that we’ve just been through a lot. Even though most of us maintained status as frontline workers and continued to go to work – thank God, it has been a blessing for cannabis – we need to feel coming back together and so that’s what that’s going to be about.
We also have House of Jane which is our collaboration with Tokativity we usually do around MJ Biz, Women Wednesday gatherings. In 2019, we got an actual house and had three days of activities going on for women.
FreshStor: Are you doing that in Vegas?
Kyra Reed: We are. We’re coming back. So we’re excited about that. We pivoted to online events throughout the last year with COVID and those went really, really well. They were great community builders. I’m really excited to bring that back. And, Women Empowered in Cannabis is hosting July 21st a virtual event about leadership. So we’re going to do a leadership summit every year and this year our theme is power. So we’re going to talk about what is power? How do you get power? How do you keep power? How do you protect power? What do you do with power when you get it? And why the f— are we losing power in the industry?
So we need to as women need to have these difficult conversations. I have some incredible guests that are lined up to be speakers that some of the top women in the industry who have bootstrapped their way to the top have had to experience what it’s like to sit down with investors, what it’s like to have 50-60 people they’re responsible for, how to talk to their board and all of these things are all about power. So we need to understand how we get more women really comfortable with and using their power properly so as we move forward we’re making space for the rest of us and it doesn’t just become what it’s become in other industries.
FreshStor: We’ve touched a little on this – especially talking about the dispensary you’re going to open in Santa Monica – but the attention to detail that we see women pay. We’ve seen a lot of women entering into the cannabis space and making it exponentially better. What do you think is leading the charge? I definitely accredit it to groups like yours and putting the information out there to help educate – that you can pivot your business into the cannabis industry and crush it.
Kyra Reed: You can. I mean, you gotta have a stomach of steel. It was funny, I did an interview with a PR company that was new to the industry and I said that and they said “we’ve been in PR and technology.” And I said, “no, that’s child’s play.” When I say you have to have a steel stomach, you have to have a steel stomach. In a lot of ways, women are already prepared for that. They’re arbitrators of relationships in their lives and that’s constant up and down. Things changing. Things backfiring. We’re pretty good at managing that.
When I got into the industry, women grow and led by women like Jasmine, Cristie Lunsford, and Jane West who were the ones that got out the bullhorn and said this is happening here. And Vice picked up on it. So it was effective. They did a really good job of getting the word out. And even though they aren’t necessarily in every market anymore, that started something that continued to reverberate. So the fact that the opportunity is here is very known. People write articles about it. It’s talked about a lot. But, despite that, we’re still losing ground.
- There are a lot of positions in cannabis that were traditionally held by women. I watched that job go up online over and over again, but because the environments are so hostile to women, they can’t keep anybody in that position.
- Another thing that pushes women out is how hard it is to get the money you need to get going in this industry.
- And third, there is such an intense grow culture that women might not want to be a part of because of the culture and what is talked about and what they do. That’s what tends to be at these big companies in the executive suite unless you’ve really got an enlightened leader who makes a point to say that this environment needs to be safe to everybody, not just a club.
- The next way that we’re losing it. This is really heartbreaking for me. I have several women in this community who are brand reps. And I’m hearing that where there was once a great interest in getting women and POC products on the shelves when she went in to say “Hey, I’ve got a new woman product,” they don’t care. Because I have to put effort into selling it, I have to make space on the shelf, nobody asks for it, nobody cares. It’s kind of along the same thing that when I was in marketing and social trying to get clients in the industry, I ran up against all the time. I don’t care that my logo looks like clip art. I don’t care that my billboards don’t make sense because I’m making money. So, who cares?
I would love to get a campaign going where everyone in this industry walks in with a card and says, “I want women and People of Color products at this place, why don’t you have that?” and if we, as consumers, do this, we can change the scale. But if we don’t, we are losing and part of the reason we’re losing is that it takes more effort to make sure that people understand that this is from a minority group and that you should consider buying this.
FreshStor: It’s just scratching the surface of what could be considered equal.
Kyra Reed: Exactly. And yet, cannabis because we’re hyperlocal, your retail stores are hyperlocal in a community, and you can’t outsource that experience. So, we have the opportunity to really lift up our neighbors and lift up our communities if we approach it from that perspective. There are enough opportunities for product-making because products are local, ownership of licenses and ancillary businesses that are easier to get into. But if we don’t insist, demand every day that we build a different kind of industry, it will slip away from us. But if we can fill it with lots of people with lots of small businesses, it makes it harder to consolidate everybody.
FreshStor: Where can people find out more about the groups you’re involved in?
Kyra Reed: So, you can go to womenempoweredincannabis.com. We are on about five days away from our new website launch which is going to be a really incredible membership portal for women working in cannabis to build their tribe. My biggest issue – we have four Facebook groups – and we’ve got about 10,000 women in these groups. But, if Facebook decides to be a you-know-what and shut us down, then the whole thing is gone. And I’ve struggled with this the whole time I’ve been building this community. So, we are very fortunate that we found an application that’s going to allow us to recreate Facebook on our site. You can also find us on Facebook, LinkedIn, and on Clubhouse we’re WEIC! Every other Friday, we have investors come on to Funding Friday and women can ask questions.
FreshStor: It’s funny you talk about that because you know especially recently you have certain politicians that are up in arms about being censored on social media, where it’s like the cannabis industry has been censored on social media since we came to it.
Kyra Reed: I know. I had a conversation with somebody who was up in arms about that two years ago. And I said, “wait a minute, aren’t you a conservative? Don’t you believe that business has the right to do what they want to do and you signed a contract with them when you agreed to the Terms of Service? It’s their company and if they want to do that, then they have the right to do that. And, oh, by the way, welcome to my world.”
FreshStor: What advice would have for someone that’s trying to get into the cannabis industry?
Kyra Reed: In cannabis, your network is everything. And it isn’t necessarily that it’s the “who ya know” kind of thing, but you need to know a lot of people in this industry because there’s a major issue with trust and credibility. So, you need to become somebody that’s trustworthy. If you want to build a big network, you gotta give. I recommend volunteering with NORML, volunteer with WEIC, volunteer with the last prisoner project, volunteer with an organization that is doing something that you feel is important to the industry. There are so many different organizations that you can use to be of service even if you have another job and you just want to slowly explore. Volunteer. Then, you will be able to build a network and have more opportunities and you’ll be welcomed because you’ll be brought in by people who already have trust. And if you try to come in from the outside, you just look like an asshole.
FreshStor: And there’s plenty of those already. So we like to kind of wrap it up with this question. We’re always surprised at the answers and we get a lot of interesting answers. It’s kind of a fun question. But, if you could blaze up with any three people, who would they be and why?
- Number one would be feminist giant Mona Elswah, one of the radical voices for feminism I’ve ever met and she just blows my mind. I’d love to get high with her.
- I would love to get high with the president of the United States. I think that there is so much to talk about.
- And, I don’t know who that third one would be. I read that question when you sent me the questions and I’ve been really pondering it, and I don’t know who that third person is.
We loved sitting down with Kyra Reed and learning more about what women are doing in this industry. Make sure you check out Women Empowered in Cannabis to learn more about what they and Kyra Reed are doing in the industry and how they’re making it as strong as possible. And, make sure you follow along with the FreshStor blog and CVault on Instagram so you never miss a live Q&A like the one we did with Kyra Reed from Women Empowered in Cannabis!