“Whatever skill set you have, come on in, we’re ready for you!” Filmmaker Windy Borman’s cheery call-to-arms is the first impression most audiences get at a screening of her documentary, Mary Janes: The Women of Weed. The already widely-acclaimed movie, a Best Documentary winner at the Artemis Film Festival and hailed by Dope Magazine as “the most important cannabis film of our time,” features interviews with over 40 women leading the American cannabis industry in diverse sectors. Cannabis, they explain, has more female leadership than any kind of business in the US – 36% as opposed to 23% in other industries (though that figure has dropped over the past year) – and that this strong presence is why it’s thriving.
Mary Janes portrays women in action: scientists, farmers, artists, policymakers, chefs and CEOs. No matter which field you work in, there’s a place for you in this revolutionary movement. Just ask interviewees Wanda James, the first African American woman to own a dispensary in Colorado; or attorney Shaleen Title, co-founder of THC Staffing Group (and now Commissioner of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission); or multi-award-winning rock star Melissa Etheridge. Across the board, everyone agrees that cannabis is a vital medicinal tool and that women are finding ways to make it work for them away from outmoded stereotypes. Etheridge, who used the plant religiously when undergoing cancer treatment, states, “You understand that your health is your responsibility. You understand that your life is your responsibility… If you’re going through cancer treatments and you’re not using cannabis, you’re really going through a lot of pain that you don’t have to.”
Additionally, director Borman captures her personal journey from cautious, self-proclaimed “product of the DARE generation” to eloquent, impassioned cannabis advocate. She narrates straight to camera as the observations and testimonies change her mind about the much-stigmatized plant. We watching are allowed into her vulnerable space, as she confesses her family’s history with substance abuse, her initial mixed fears and curiosity about cannabis, and her wide-eyed epiphanies each step of the way. For example, there’s no greater gut punch/celebration than two-thirds through the film, when after traveling around the country collecting information Borman concludes, “This is starting to feel like a government conspiracy to keep us addicted to prescription drugs while incarcerating people for choosing a plant over Big Pharma.”
It’s a metamorphosis I know all too well, having gone through the same growing pains working on Honeysuckle’s CANNABIS issue. Borman and I share the experience of being non-consumers trying to document the “wild world of weed” and like her, I found the combination of female role models, scientific and statistical evidence, and personal stories revelatory. You don’t have to be a patient or a partaker to learn the truth about cannabis – and as Windy says, “Once you know, you can’t un-know it.”
She’s invented the term “Puffragette” to symbolize her transformation (a pun on “suffragette”): “A Puffragette is a woman or man who’s working toward gender parity, sustainability and social justice in the cannabis movement.”
This sentiment aligns perfectly with Honeysuckle’s commitment to spirituality, sustainability, and social issues (gender parity is naturally in there too, as we’re a women-owned company); and embracing my Puffragette identity I trotted off to enjoy Mary Janes’ New York premiere with Women Grow. The national network of businesswomen in cannabis hosts signature events in prominent cities across the US (its Executive Director Jane West is also in the film), but its NYC meet-ups, led by Tanya Osborne, have been a particularly illuminating mix of education, empowerment, and fun.
Women Grow cultivated the perfect environment for viewing Borman’s masterful film. In room filled with female cannapreneurs, reactions to what unfolded onscreen were frequent and emphatically vocal. Wild cheers and applause resounded at the “government conspiracy” line; shouts of “That’s a great idea – I want that!” could be heard when designer Jeanine Moss showed off her odor-controlled, compartmentalized AnnaBis bags; and knowing murmurs echoed when Madeline Martinez of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and Drayah Sallis, founder of Our Cannabis Culture, discussed the high incarceration rates for people of color. Near the documentary’s end, when Borman tries cannabis for the first time, supportive roars of “Get it, girl!” rang throughout the room. (And yes, all the products she samples on camera are from women-owned companies.)
Being part of that crowd was profoundly moving. I found myself in tears at some sequences of the film, laughing loudly at others. Even without owning a cannabis business, I sympathized with Sallis’s statements in a live post-screening discussion: “Advocacy and entrepreneurship – you can’t do one without the other. When you don’t get your license [because of government prohibition], who’s mad? You are. So you go back to advocacy.”
We’re living in an exciting, turbulent time where freedoms of all kinds are at stake. Windy Borman has crafted a gorgeous movie encapsulating the best of future possibilities and the present threats. As publicist Kimbirly Orr notes, “It is important that we take action in our lives, and be vigilant about supporting the people who are leading and pioneering this industry at a very early stage.”
I was honored to spend some time with Borman for further enlightenment, and help proclaim: You too can be a Puffragette!
JAIME LUBIN: The films you’ve made have been very diverse. What inspires you from one project to another?
WINDY BORMAN: Well, all my films have similar core values. I did the film The Eyes of Thailand, about elephants stepping on landmines, and an elephant hospital building prosthetics to help them walk again. I also produced a film about dyslexia [The Big Picture], and now I’ve done a film about cannabis. So on the surface people go, “You’re really hopping around a lot!” (Laughs) But at the end of the day, they’re all coming down to gender parity, social justice, sustainability, and they all have themes of education and empowerment to them. Ultimately as a journalist, as a storyteller, as a filmmaker, I’ve learned that when I have a question and as I learn more, it leads to more questions. “Ooh, there’s something there! I should listen to this.” Because if I have these questions, I think that other people will have these questions. And you just kind of go on this journey and see where it leads you.
I was lucky enough that I moved to Colorado at a time when women were having success in the industry, and I was able to hear about that and I was able to do this documentary film. And I didn’t have to be a cannabis expert to get intrigued by this idea. My hope is that when people see the film, one of the calls to action that they feel is that they’re more comfortable asking questions or having the conversation about cannabis, whether it’s their own use or their conversation with a friend or family member, but I hope they feel comfortable bringing it up. There’s a lot of communities where they don’t even bring up the word.
What’s surprised you the most about the cannabis community?
I would say the best surprise that I’ve seen is just the perseverance. To be an entrepreneur you have to be scrappy. (Laughs) You have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and go back at it again. It’s very challenging to open any kind of business. When you also are dealing with an industry that is fraught with stigma and federal regulations that may clash with state regulations and things are constantly changing, you just have to have even more fortitude to be able to deal with all those changes and stick it out. And I think the reason why people have that perseverance is not because of the financial return that they could see, it’s really because they believe in the healing power of the plant. Whether that’s medicinally or “we can heal the racist roots of the drug war” and “we can heal the environment.” So there’s so much good that can come out of this industry, and it’s challenging, and that’s why the entrepreneurs in this space are like, “Nope! I need to get back up and do it again.” (Laughs) “And if the laws don’t work for me, let’s change the laws, because I know that I’m doing good work.”
In this film you’re spotlighting so many women who are leaders in STEM areas, and other fields where we as a culture aren’t used to seeing female representation.
That’s something we took really seriously as we were deciding who would be in the film. Representation matters. Geena Davis says, “If we can see it, we can be it.” And I really believe that. So my responsibility as a filmmaker was to represent a broad cross-section of women who are leaders in this industry. That came down to everything from ages, ethnicities, geographical distribution, body type, to what industries they were in. So we ended up breaking the film down into five different segments of the cannabis industry, and we interviewed the women who were experts in that area. It was really powerful and I’ve even heard from audience members who were like, “I just saw 40 women who were experts in their field talk about it.” They’re not the wife, they’re not the mom, they’re not the hot girlfriend.
In a film culture where we’re used to women being allocated to these types of roles, the majority of the time we’re not even speaking. 30% of speaking roles in films belong to women. So we’re not even used to hearing women, let alone seeing them as leaders. We really flipped that script and said, “Nope, this film is about women.” And one token man. (Laughs) We let him talk about organic farming, but otherwise it’s all women!
I love that your definition of “Puffragette” encompasses men and women together. It’s important to let the men know that they can be allies in women’s empowerment.
It’s the idea that equality doesn’t have to lead to oppression. In this male-dominated hierarchy we’re operating under, we have decided that there’s one white guy at the top who decides what happens to the rest of us. So it seems like for us to be equal, I have to have less of something. I have to give up part of my pie if they’re going to have more. And I always say, “We’re thinking about this wrong.” There’s not one big pie that we’re all fighting over. We can all have our own pie! And it can be any flavor you want! And you can have whatever ingredients you want. You can have multi layers. You can do whatever you want. But there’s enough for everyone, so we don’t have to operate in this idea of scarcity. We can operate from this idea of abundance.
You’ve made the point that women are ideally suited for leadership positions across industries because women want to find solutions that will better their lives.
People notice this for marketing. If a guy likes a product, he’ll use it until it completely dies, right? But he may only tell a couple of people about it. (Laughs) If a woman buys a product that she likes, she’s telling everybody. And she’s gifting it to everybody that she knows if it can fit into their lifestyle. So women, yes, bring that healing aspect to it. Yes, we’re bringing innovation to cannabis. Women are also supporting each other. So if they find a product that’s created by another woman and it fits into their lifestyle, they are finding a way to have a business connection or at least a support-mentorship connection.
Many of your interviewees also talk about cannabis being a female plant, and you’ve said that it’s a nice synthesis of the Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine.
I’ve heard from female cultivators who say the plant grows better with women than it grows with men! There’s this dialogue and this energy exchange – it just grows better with us. I’m sure there’s a scientific study that we’d need to prove that, but the fact that we’re seeing it in their crop yields is interesting anecdotal evidence.
And then I’ve also heard from men at trade shows who flat-out told me, “Women are going to be the ones to save this industry. Without them, we would have a different type of product that we would be pitching here.”
You identify your company DVA Productions as “transmedia.” What does that mean and how does it relate to the way Mary Janes was produced?
So social media is a two-way street. That’s you follow me on Twitter, I’ll follow you on Twitter, and occasionally we tweet back and forth. Transmedia takes that idea and turns it into a beehive of connectivity. I think of our film as the axle of a wheel and we figure out what are all the other spokes. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, our website, merchandise, the film sales, all these other things – how do these platforms work together to turn the wheel? Because that relates to our call to action and makes it bigger than just a film. It’s fundraising, it’s marketing, it’s distribution. Community engagement, not just a transactional relationship. Hopefully we have our audience on multiple platforms so that no matter where they are, they are able to interact and engage with us.
It’s given us a great opportunity to show some behind the scenes stuff or share little video clips so the audience can get to know the Puffragettes and our film leading up to the screening. We’re just giving away little micro clips, but it’s really great to let people have that familiarity with the story before they even go to a screening. They’re able to see, “Oh, this woman’s based where I’m based. I can do it in my state.” Or, “This person’s also a scientist.” Or, “This person really enjoys baking. I enjoy baking. Maybe there’s a way that I can get into the industry.” It just takes that importance of representation another step further.
What do you see as being the short-term future of cannabis as an industry in this country?
I think a lot of it is going to depend on who we have in the White House and Congress. But in the short term, I think it would be wonderful if we were to – even if we weren’t ready to legalize cannabis across the country, if we could at least decriminalize it so we’d stop locking people up for it, that would be a step in the right direction. But ultimately my goal is that we’d have industry parity. 50/50 between men and women, and between races – 50% representation of people of color.
And what can we as individual Puffragettes do to advocate for and help achieve that?
I think a lot of it comes down to the way our laws are written, so making sure we have our equity laws in place, making sure that women and people of color are trained to write business plans, open businesses, pitch investors, follow regulations. That’s really going to help level the playing field, by just allowing us to have access to the huge amount of money that’s coming into the industry.
Another thing is mentorship. We can’t be comfortable with this idea of “Oh, we have one diverse face in the boardroom. That’s good enough.” We really need to have that woman or that person of color to mentor someone just like them, and we need other people to come join them. Because once we have parity in the boardroom, that’s when we all have parity in the industry.
MARY JANES: THE WOMEN OF WEED is screening around the country now. To find information on a screening near you, or to book a screening, visit maryjanesfilm.com.
For other information on Windy Borman’s work, visit dvaproductions.com.