I recently had the opportunity to speak with Aliza Sherman, author, speaker, web pioneer and CEO and co-founder of Ellementa, a cannabis resource network for and by women. Ellementa brands itself as a “wellness community,” and hosts gatherings across the country, where, according to Sherman, “the primary activity is conversation.”
Women come to these gatherings with vastly different experiences; some have been consuming cannabis since the ‘70s, while others are curious but don’t know where to start on their cannabis journey. The age of participants at an Ellementa gathering ranges from women in their twenties to sixties, and their experience level can vary from “I dab every day” to “2.5mg of THC is too much for me.” The gatherings, Sherman posits, are “welcoming, safe, warm, inviting—above all, it’s a female space.”
I ask if women are ever afraid to ask questions, or speak up—after all, there’s the pervasive idea that “good girls don’t smoke pot,” and marijuana is just for men. “Very rarely do I see women hesitate to open up once another woman does,” Sherman responds. “We don’t feel the stigma here.”
A Woman-Only Space
Ellementa gatherings are strictly for women. “The dynamic in a room changes when a man is present . . . when they enter any space, really,” Sherman notes. The presenters are women, products are sourced from female-led companies and attendees are women. Men are allowed to pop in and introduce themselves on occasion, but are then (politely) asked to leave. Ellementa had a recent gathering in NYC, for example, where they saw products from The Alchemist’s Kitchen, a company headed by a man. He wanted to meet the Ellementa group and did so, but was asked to leave after introductions were over.
Female-only spaces often draw criticism—less than we apply to male-dominated spheres, in fact—and Aliza’s sentiments about dynamics and power shifts in a mixed-gender arena are a refreshing change of pace from cannabis workshops I’ve attended, where attendees are evenly split along gender lines, yet the Q&A sections are consistently dominated by men.
Ellementa fields comparisons to Women Grow, a networking and educational organization for women in the cannabis industry, but Sherman says the two companies are complementary, not competitive. Her philosophy is that women are stronger together, learning and sharing with one another. This idea, she believes, will help us change the assumption that cannabis isn’t for women. “The plant is female!” Sherman laughs, noting the absurdity of women’s erasure in an industry stemming from the trimmings and extracts of a female plant.
Cannabis as Self-Care
Women come to these gatherings to talk about serious issues: PTSD, anxiety, chronic pain, menopause, sleepless nights that affect their everyday life. I ask Aliza about self-care, the pressure to “do it all” as a woman, and how cannabis can fit into a woman’s health regimen.
She says Ellementa slated January 2018 as their cannabis and self-care month, “emphasizing the need for women to pay attention to themselves first” rather than face burnout. Cannabis aids sleep and reduces anxiety, and if you don’t have a good night’s sleep, Aliza argues, other health problems will inevitably arise. “All these little issues we’re battling at every age,” she asserts, “they dissipate with cannabis use.”
But cannabis isn’t just for medicinal purposes; women use cannabis for relaxation, self-care, joy and simply unwinding after a long day. Women are largely underrepresented in the cannabis space, however, particularly when it comes to marketing, despite studies that show cannabis consumption is nearly equal among men and women.
Aliza noticed this lack of stories about women in the industry, so she started Her Canna Life, a site dedicated to showcasing women and their cannabis journeys.
Parallels Between Cannabis and the Early Days of the Internet
Lack of representation is also why she started Cybergrrl, Inc., the “first woman-owned Internet company” and Webgrrls International, “the first global Internet networking organization for women.” She wanted to give women a space to come together and learn from one another, a blatantly absent resource in the early Wild West days of the Internet.
In the early ‘90s, Sherman explains, only about 10 percent of Internet users were female, and, as a result, “Women were not being addressed”—there was simply no content for women. “Why should they get online?” Sherman remarks, if they had no content relevant to their interests?
This was before big companies had their hand in websites, and there were many hiccups surrounding legality—similar to, you guessed it, the cannabis industry. “We have this complex and confusing issue,” Sherman notes, regarding legalization, zoning and regulations; she also argues the cannabis industry is reminiscent of early Internet culture because of its male-dominated nature and lack of female representation.
Sustaining a Career Through the Decades
May wrapped up DOPE Magazine’s Sustainability month, and I asked Aliza how she’s ensured career success over the years. She’s had her hand in multiple successful businesses since the ‘90s, and, she says wryly, was “once touted as the female pioneer of the Internet.” Publications at the time asked who her role models were, to which she answered, “Martha Stewart, for her uncanny ability to brand herself, and Madonna, for her uncanny ability to reinvent herself.”
Her advice to women, in and out of the cannabis industry? You must “have no fear to make a total change.” She notes that previous generations saw school and career paths as a straight line: you’d go to school for one thing, and get a job related to that specific field. But Aliza argues that your career isn’t a straight line—you need to bounce around: “Being passionate and interested in what you’re doing makes beautiful work.”
She does admit, however, that running multiple successful startups can be exhausting. She praises her two partners at Ellementa, Melissa Pierce (co-founder and COO, as well as a documentarian and previous COO and CMO of Everpurse) and Ashley Kingsley (co-founder and CMO, who also founded Daily Deals for Moms). “We take turns having our meltdown moments,” she laughs, saying she couldn’t do it all without them. “We have to remind each other, ‘Get offline, go get some sleep.’”
As for the future of Ellementa, Sherman hopes it will be “the first brand women think of in every stage of their cannabis journey . . . This is not just a cannabis journey, it’s a wellness journey.”