Pussy, Money & Weed: How Marketers Are Capitalizing on Pot's New Lady Demographic

As states have started to adopt varying degrees of marijuana legalization and the humble plant has gone mainstream, women have found themselves the sudden lynchpin of an industry that is rapidly growing (wink). Going on record as "stiletto stoners," Broad City-inspired slackers, or "marijuana moms," women are taking part in the new cannabis economy for both business and pleasure. Where historical tropes of dude stoners like Jeff Spicoli or Tommy Chong have enabled marijuana's reputation as "a guy thing," the recent clapback from women who have openly professed their love of pot is carving out space for stoner girls in the present. Every archetype of the female toker has been forced out of the marijuana closet and the banal secret is out: Women smoke weed.

Because of this, the rising phenomenon that is cannabusiness, including the industry's "ganjapreneurs" and other unfortunate portmanteaus, has brought on a surge of brands and small businesses to cater to weed's new lady demographic. While women in the industry are more than passive consumers, heading up cannabis businesses and shaping what the young industry will be, some brands in the marijuana space are focused on making a play for women's dollars, upping marijuana's sex appeal and marketing weed for women.

Take, for instance, Sexxpot, which exists simultaneously as a large-scale brand and as a branded strain of weed purported to be a particularly effective aphrodisiac. Both are the brainchild of Karyn Wagner, a savvy marijuana marketer in Humboldt County, California, who introduced the world to weed Tupperware parties. For the uninitiated, Humboldt is almost exclusively a growing town; a fifth of the county's population is involved in some form of marijuana growing. If Humboldt is the marijuana capital of the United States, then Wagner is its mayor, though she likes to refer to herself as the community's mother hen.

When Wagner arrived in Humboldt in 2010 she was tasked with raising the profile of the county's local growers in the face of large, corporate grow houses that sought to cash in on California's "green rush," as full legalization in the state seemed imminent at the time. "Everyone came to me with the idea of branding the weed they were growing since I had a marketing background," Wagner says. She created Tea House Collective, the first branded grower collective in Humboldt. Then, she launched First MC Processing, an all-grower-owned processing collective that handles weed from the farm to the dispensary, another first for Humboldt. In addition to those growing organizations, Wagner dreamed up the brands SuperCritical THC and Sexxpot to sell what her growers were bringing in. While the former is geared toward the "edgy" toker, the Sexxpot brand makes a bid for women, and so far, the brand's sole strain is its namesake. With a name like Sexxpot and the tagline The flowers she really wants, the strain does pique the interest of the marketers' Modern Woman, who would gleefully prefer an eighth to long-stemmed roses.

Would a Sexxpot by any other name smell as sweet? Originally, Sexxpot was not Sexxpot but Mr. Nice, so called after one of the biggest pot smugglers in British history, Howard Marks. Due to its high demand, the strain now exists under many monikers, each of which caters to a different market. Sexxpot is just one of them, packaged with feminine appeal, highlighting the reality that most branded cannabis is simply that: branded. "We knew that women wanted something a little bit different from what men wanted," Wagner says of Sexxpot's origins. "That's generally the case in our culture, not just in cannabis culture. Women tend to want something in cannabis that's a little less forceful, if you will, and the women that try [Sexxpot] say it's great for a night at home or sharing a conversation... The strain is a little bit more mellow and easier for women."

"It's insane to see weed that sells women their sexuality or treats them like toddlers. Weed is just weed."

By the end of this year, the emerging weed industry is projected to reach a value of $3.5 billion according to CNN, and selling to women is just one way to cash in. In the face of brands poised to be monoliths-like Marley Natural, which comes with the blessing and the caché of the Bob Marley estate as well as ample investment-something like Sexxpot is relatively small-scale. Nevertheless, women who enjoy smoking up are already wary of the proliferation of weed products "for her" and have little desire to see the trend get any bigger than it already is. A sex journalist I spoke to compares cannabis products that push hard for women's attention to the rhetoric of magazines likeCosmopolitan. "I like the idea of a weed girl culture because when I was growing up weed was always seen as so dude-centric... but the way these products are being sold with this Cosmo mag sheen is just creepy," she says. "Talk about a bad trip. Who wants to think about arousal or your diet," referring to Real Housewife Bethenny Frankel's proposed SkinnyGirl Weed, "when they're just trying to chill out?" With magazines like Elle instructing women on how to throw a "classy cannabis party" in a way that's uncomfortably similar to etiquette videos from the 1950s, she's got a point.

LA-based poet Mira Gonzalez, who formerly worked at a weed dispensary (and is, full-disclosure, a friend of mine), echoes these concerns. "I remember walking into a dispensary, and they had this one strain of weed dubbed, 'Pretty Princess,'" Gonzalez says over the phone, sounding like she's still offended to this day. Pretty Princess was printed in pink on the jar of weed's label, sporting a crown. "It's insane to see weed that sells women their sexuality or treats them like toddlers. Weed is just weed."

 "That was the simple peanut butter-and-chocolate moment where cannabis, as a 3,000-year-old aphrodisiac, helps enhance sexuality."

The cannabis oil Foria is another pot product branded specifically for the ladies. Not quite a lube, Foria is presented as a "sexual enhancement designed for women" that you can spritz on your clitoris or inside the vaginal canal without any psychoactive effects. The largest size retails for over $88 and is packaged in a bottle that would look at home on the shelves of Sephora or at any spa. Men as well as women also benefit from the effects of applying it rectally. Since Foria is just a pure blend of cannabis and coconut oil, anyone could ingest the stuff and feel its intended effects. But the company has decided to focus on Foria's uses for women, extolling the product as "the first marijuana infused personal lubricant designed for female pleasure." A prominently featured video of a woman having an orgasm amid crisp, white sheets drives home this message. Presumably, a "rectal weed spray for anal sex" is a harder sell than a sensual vulvic mist derived from the "female flower of the marijuana plant."

With all Foria's women-centric rhetoric, it might be surprising that the man behind the brand is... a man. Mathew Gerson entered the cannabusiness sphere after founding a contraceptive company that focused on bringing condoms to areas of the world with little access to them. When Gerson moved out to California, he combined his background in sexual health with the new world he was immersed in: marijuana. "Coming from the condom industry, when I heard about an oil-based cannabis I immediately thought of lube," says Gerson. At the same time, he happened to be reading a book called What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire--written by a man, by the way---that, to paraphrase, highlights the need for a female version of Viagra. From the book, Gerson latched onto the concept of hypoactive sexual desire disorder, which controversially regards a lack of sexual interest as a mental disorder. He started theorizing on the ways marijuana could inhibit any mental blocks that kept women from enjoying sex. "I knew that cannabis had helped a lot of people that I'd known enjoy sex more," Gerson says. "That was the simple peanut butter-and-chocolate moment where cannabis, as a 3,000-year-old aphrodisiac, helps enhance sexuality." He sums up Foria's inception as a mix of pop psychology, testimonials from friends, and the age-old tradition of humans getting stoned and banging.

"When I had a job at a dispensary, women would come up to me all the time and ask for recommendations on what to buy for cramps, and I honestly couldn't recommend anything that had worked for me."

While products like Foria and Sexxpot might be rooted in the gendered adage that sex sells, there's reason to believe that women are more sensitive to the aphrodisiac effects of cannabis than men. "There's a lot of evidence in pre-clinical trials [on animals] that corresponds with what happens in humans," Dr. Ziva Cooper, an assistant professor of clinical neurobiology at Columbia University, explains to this skeptic over the phone. "There seems to be a divergence between males and females. For males, marijuana seems to decrease the ability to perform-erectile dysfunction and decreased libido-where in females it produces a facilitatory effect. In the animal trials you see that the females are more willing to be approached."

For all this talk about women's need for sexed-up weed, the industry's response to other issues on the women's health front is pretty weak. In addition to her horrifying run-in with Pretty Princess, Gonzalez has experienced the disappointing downside of marijuana packaged as women's health when she was in search of a weed-based solution for menstrual cramps. "Once I bought this bottle of 'menstrual cramp pills' at my dispensary, but it wasn't an effective painkiller at all," Gonzalez says. "Realistically, the same extract [for the menstrual cramp pills] is probably just put in a different pill, in a different bottle and packaged as the cure for something else. They're all just made of a cannabis extract that's high in CBD."

Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the known cannabinoids in weed that has no psychoactive effects. (As opposed to tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which does have them.) CBD has been praised for its therapeutic effects, but as Dr. Cooper tells me, those reports stand on shaky ground. Most clinical studies on the effects of marijuana focus on THC, and little is known about its non-psychoactive counterpart. "You hear a lot about CBD, but there's very little data on its therapeutic effects," says Dr. Cooper. "It's so minimal, it's almost speculation. Obviously this is a big business right now, but any claim made by someone who is marketing a CBD-based product is like going into a health food store and getting a vitamin that says it will help you lose weight." Because of this and experiences like Gonzalez's, the FDA has started to crack down on CBD products, like therapeutic oils, due to false claims on the part of the manufacturers. In a lot of cases, products that claim to contain CBD actually don't.

There are various strains of weed that have been anecdotally reported to help with menstrual cramps, but as Gonzalez notes, it's still a struggle to find what's actually effective. "When I had a job at a dispensary, women would come up to me all the time and ask for recommendations on what to buy for cramps, and I honestly couldn't recommend anything that had worked for me," she says. The marketing frenzy around sexy pot, cannabis vagina sprays, and flashy pink branding may sway some female customers, but it turns out what all women really want from weed is something that works.

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