Here’s What We Learned at the Illinois Women in Cannabis Conference 2022
Illinois Women in Cannabis (IWC) comprises professional and entrepreneurial women within the state of Illinois who are interested or actively involved in the local cannabis industry. Opportunities for women range within the sector from women of diverse backgrounds and interests — including but not limited to marketing, advertising, law, patient care, finance, growing throughout the state.
The power of the IWC community is to actively connect, educate, and support Illinois women of all ages and backgrounds to maximize growth in opportunities in the Illinois cannabis industry as it continues to develop and take shape. This industry is new, and the glass ceiling doesn’t exist — you just have to show up, speak up, and be involved.
What’s New With IWC So Far in 2022?
To start, Amor Montes de Oca is the first Executive Director of Illinois Women in Cannabis – beloved by the lovely canna-professionals in the state. Formerly, she served as Director of Strategic Initiatives for 2112, Chicago’s first incubator for creative entrepreneurs. Currently, Amor sees endless options to create more economic opportunities, drive innovation, and encourage entrepreneurial initiatives within Illinois’s regulated cannabis industry.
At the March 12th, 2022 event, the Keynote Speaker was Dorri C. McWhorter — President and CEO, YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago, and recently joined as a board member of Green Thumb Industries (GTI). McWhorter believes in creating opportunities today to evolve and shape the industry for tomorrow.
She is inspired by the likes of Ruby Spice and Katherine O’Leary – women throughout history using their voices to create substantial change. Before concluding her opening address for the conference, she encouraged the group to think about how we can be a catalyst right here, right now in the industry.
Panel: The Art of Advocacy: Community Organizations at the Forefront of Improving Cannabis Policy
Peter Contos (Deputy Director, Cannabis Equity Illinois Coalition) took part in this panel discussion and shared his insights on the current state of cannabis policy and how the community can collaborate to create substantial importance to the state’s policies and regulations.
Contos encourages Illinois cannabis users to know their rights. He spoke on how state cops target Black and Brown people for cannabis convictions. The state needs to pass new laws to allow consumers to actually be cannabis patients. It tends to go unknown by some in the state – for example — that while cannabis is legal, if you rent your residence, your landlord can subject you to being evicted from your home due to no consumption laws protecting these rights.
You can also be charged with smoking in a public place such as your car or a park — this has sparked a conversation within the state on the importance of consumption lounges and how they can provide a place to enjoy cannabis without fear of catching a conviction.
Illinois purposely did not allow consumption rights because they believed that it could be a “step too far.”
Kiana Hughes is the Executive Director of Chicago NORML. Hughes is a woman in cannabis with over 15 years of experience in adult learning to develop quality instructional materials for the cannabis industry. She is well-experienced in advocacy, community outreach, and education about the cannabis plant and industry. She expressed with the audience the current issues surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion within the state.
Hughes expressed how capitalism and competition are genuine within the cannabis industry. This plays a significant influence in how the cannabis market operates within the state and keeps the community questioning how major corporations could care about the local community and nothing more than corporate greed. Hughes shared that companies need to do better for representation for Black and Brown people within the state. This change is essential for building a robust local community supporting one another in the cannabis business.
Panel: Navigating Corporate Philanthropy and Community Engagement in the Cannabis Industry
Jai Kensey is the Director of Social Impact at GTI. The panel moderator directed a question towards Kensey as a representative of the Green Thumb Industry. Her response: “Be authentic. Do what you say you are going to do.”
Kensey expressed the importance of developing long-term relationships within the community. She states that GTI is working to connect with similar organizations to help build and create an impact that will make a difference. Kensey shares that GTI wants to help the community succeed. GTI has the Good Green grant program that assists those getting out of prison for licenses and establishes long-term relationships with the license grantees.
Panel: Navigating the Murky Waters of Marketing & Branding in the Cannabis Space
Photo: Institute for Human Studies
Jeni Cohen is the founder of Flame Princess Confections – artisan treats made from scratch in small batches, using the best ingredients, are Latina-owned and operated in the heart of Chicago. She is passionate about cannabis-infused recipes! From the moment that you meet Cohen, you are meeting someone who is unapologetically themself. Coming from a corporate background in the food & drink industry, she looks at life as exciting as the risks we choose to take to be happy and prosperous. Cohen shared with the audience: “Be seen. Be heard. Show up.” Some of the best advice you can hear in the cannabis industry.
What change do you want to see in your cannabis customer experience? Laura Hand is the CEO and Founder of Laura Loo Experience (LLXD) – a customer experience and mindset training for cannabis companies. LLXD helps cannabis brands to execute their vision by creating a beautiful brand strategy for every touchpoint of the customer journey to provide customers with the experiences they want and deserve.
Hand is passionate about her business and the services she can provide to the cannabis community throughout the country. She is also passionate about helping women in cannabis and those aspiring to be, make connections within the industry to develop long-lasting relationships. She encouraged the audience to recognize their worth and what they can bring into the industry. We need skills of all ranges to grow and succeed together as an Illinois community.
Shaniece Fullove (MPA, Assistant Brand Manager, Dogwalkers at Green Thumb Industries) began in the industry at 24 years old with her master’s degree in Public Administration and Health Services Management. She previously worked in a hospital and started to get to know a medical physician who shared with Fullove that they were a part-time cannabis doctor. This experience introduced Fullove to the industry, and she began her journey into dispensary work.
She soon built up her reputation and work experience combined with her advanced education to gain the position she holds now as Assistant Brand Manager of Dogwalkers Pre-Rolls. Shaniece is a beautiful example of what work, education, and dedication can lead you to within the cannabis field.
What to Look Forward To This Year Into 2023
There are just a handful of the fantastic speakers who attended the event and spoke out on their current knowledge of the industry and what we can expect from the future. So much of what will come in the future will depend on how the community can come together to demand the change that we deserve here in Illinois.
There must be more conversations around consumption rights in the state and how to protect yourself as a cannabis consumer. The cannabis industry is a booming market for the state. Professionals should use this influence accordingly to create substantial changes within the state from local collaborations, environmental cleanups and regulations, and dispensing of funds to programs and organizations that come together and develop improvements for cannabis equity in Illinois.
Happy Women’s History Month!