Women-owned, licensed cannabis retail stores share their unique approach to business and what it’s like to seek gender parity in an emerging industry.
From investors to store founders, the cannabis industry has long been a male-dominated space. This month, we’re highlighting eight women who own licensed stores and offer fresh perspectives on Ontario’s cannabis industry and the promise of a more diverse future.
Victoria Sharma and Alana DeCoste, Owners and Operators
Two Cats Cannabis Co.
Store owners Victoria Sharma and Alana DeCoste are among the strong female activists who emerged from Canada’s cannabis legalization movement and are now focused on introducing cannabis to new and inexperienced customers.
“The cannabis industry is welcoming and inclusive. The plant has brought people together from all walks of life to fight for legality. While there are statistically fewer female cannabis consumers, seeing more women represented helps destigmatize recreational cannabis. We want to educate those who are new to cannabis about the facts and scientific evidence behind the compounds in cannabis and how they can affect the consumer’s individual experience. If we invest in our cannabis education, we can make the process of choosing new products less intimidating for our new customers.”
Jennawae McLean, CEO and Co-Founder
Calyx + Trichomes
Jennawae McLean is a long-time cannabis activist who’s strived for gender and racial equity since entering the licensed retail space. Having advocated for legalization, she now serves on the board of NORML Canada, an organization that focuses on cannabis policy reform and public outreach.
“As an activist who fought prohibition with the hopes of one day selling cannabis legally, finally being here is a dream come true. I have carved out a spot in this industry for myself by being myself — a driven stoner with good networking and reasonable business skills. With few exceptions, I have generally felt supported and appreciated, and my voice and perspective have been amplified by both men and women.”
Danielle Braemer, CEO and Founder
Danielle Braemer is honoured to be part of a strong cohort of early female owners and operators in Ontario’s burgeoning cannabis industry. She is optimistic that the benefits of diversity in the workplace are becoming more apparent, and she is working with other women to lay a foundation for the future.
“Female representation in every industry is important. It may take decades of unlearning, readjusting, educating and empowering, but I am optimistic we are moving in the right direction. Being first to market in Caledonia and an early participant in the recreational cannabis retail game, it was incredibly important to me to create an experience. I felt responsible for defining what walking into a store to buy cannabis felt and looked like.”
Jessica Bonilla, Owner
The Niagara Herbalist
In 2019, Jessica Bonilla launched The Niagara Herbalist, the first Licensed Cannabis Retailer to open its doors in the region. Noting that women were under-represented at cannabis industry meetings, conferences and in leadership, she’s viewed her every move as both a business decision and a public effort to shift the cannabis world toward gender equity.
“As a woman, owning a cannabis retail store means I lead with empathy and care. I want to be proud of my imprint and the legacy I leave behind. I want my employees to feel happy and supported when they come to work. I want my community to see us as a place where they are treated with respect, dignity and honesty.”
Cara Rose-Brown, Franchise Partner
Cara Rose-Brown is excited to see what opportunities the legal cannabis industry will generate for women. An advocate for equity, Rose-Brown has made sure to staff her store with this in mind, as she believes everyone can be a cannabis genius.
“It’s important to have women represented in any industry, and of course, now in this new cannabis industry. This market is growing rapidly and changing continuously, creating amazing opportunities for everyone regardless of their gender. I am excited to see more and more women entering this industry and redefining it in their wake, and I can’t wait to see where they take it and what they make happen. It’s exciting times, for sure.”
Corin Comisky, Franchise Partner
Spiritleaf, South Guelph
Photo: Shown here with Steve Comisky, business partner
Being the first Licensed Retailer in Guelph, Corin Comisky is happy to contribute to this growing industry, and she believes female leaders can offer a lot in the cannabis space.
“Women have so much to offer in terms of education, experience and product knowledge. The industry is growing so quickly that there is so much opportunity for growth — and women need to be at the forefront of it. Women have had the opportunity to get involved in so many facets of this industry, especially in positions that can make a big impact on what the cannabis industry is — and, more importantly, what it aspires to be!”
Eleonora Plata, Owner and Operator
Eleonora Plata, the owner and operator of Ancaster Joint, knew people might underestimate her as a cannabis shop owner. Despite this, Plata has expanded to become the owner of three successful stores in Ancaster, Sarnia and Simcoe.
“Women in the business face many challenges, but it is even harder in the cannabis retail business, as there are still stereotypes and stigma attached to it. But being independent and family-owned has allowed us to be very creative and have freedom in how we run the business. Each store reflects the city it is in. From the artwork to the people we hire, we want the community to feel like they’re at home when they come into the store. Charity work is also a way we support the local community. Several times a year, my stores partner with a local charity to collect food, clothing and cash donations, and we match all cash donations for each event.”