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Female-led cannabis companies receive ‘fraction of capital’ of male counterparts: Wana Brands CEO

·3 min read

Although the cannabis industry has become more widely accepted throughout the U.S., the number of companies led by women has not kept up.

According to the chief executive of Wana Brands, a female-led edibles company, a major part of this has to do with who gets the most funding: When women in the industry raise capital, their valuations can be 30% to 40% less than similar male-led companies, she said.

"They get a fraction of the capital in that case," Nancy Whiteman, CEO of Wana Brands, told Yahoo Finance at the Benzinga Cannabis Capital Conference (video above). "It's a little disheartening. You have this brand new industry. You'd think that it really has the opportunity to set a new path but unfortunately at this point, it looks very much like a traditional industry."

The percentage of female cannabis executives fell from 36.8% in 2019 to 22.1% in 2021. (Chart: MJBiz)
The percentage of female cannabis executives fell from 36.8% in 2019 to 22.1% in 2021. (Chart: MJBiz)

Across the U.S., 19.9% of cannabis businesses are owned by women, according to a report by MJ Biz Daily, and just 8% of all cannabis CEOs are women.

The MJ Biz report also found that 36.8% of executive positions in the cannabis industry were held by women in 2019. That number dropped to 22.1% in 2021. (The national average of women executives across all industries in 2020 was 29.8%.)

"Lack of access to capital remains a key challenge for women looking to start a plant-touching business, regardless of the market," the report stated. "The amount of money needed to start a plant-touching cannabis business can easily surpass six figures, and the networks of investors that can provide that amount of money — such as high-net-worth individuals and venture capital firms — can be hard for women to tap into. If they do find an investor, the women-owned businesses often receive less funding and fewer resources — such as mentorship and strategic guidance — than their male counterparts."

Additionally, according to the MJ Biz report, less than 5% of executive positions at cannabis-focused investment firms are held by women, which likely plays a role in why they're less likely to obtain funding.

A woman with a cannabis-themed face mask celebrates the 50th anniversary of 420 and the legalization of marijuana in New York on April 20, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images)
A woman with a cannabis-themed face mask celebrates the 50th anniversary of 420 and the legalization of marijuana in New York on April 20, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images)

"What has ended up happening is that as states have adopted more limited license models, it's become much more expensive to get in the game," Whiteman said. "And so, it favors the people who've traditionally had access to capital, which are men — white men."

A report by the Arcview Group laid out three pathways to achieving gender equity in the cannabis space: sponsored equity ownership (i.e. a larger company sponsoring a smaller company owned by a disenfranchised group without the same access to capital); employee equity ownership (which includes employee stock ownership plans, worker-owned cooperatives, and employee ownership trusts); and non-accredited equity ownership (companies using crowdfunding to issue securities).

Ethan is a writer for Yahoo Finance.

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