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“Legalization is going to happen,” Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson said at this year’s Cannabis World Congress and Business Exposition. According to event organizers, the cannabis industry will usher in “the next American economic boom.” The weed business is big business, expected to be worth over $35 billion by 2020. New York City recently decriminalized marijuana, meaning persons found with 25 grams or less can no longer be arrested. New York State allowed 20 medical marijuana dispensaries to open this year. But compared to states like California, which has over 1,000 dispensaries, and Colorado, gaining a reputation for its “edibles,” New York has been slow to jump on the cannabis train. Considering the progressive reputation of the state, it's surprising. “This is the great frontier from an investment standpoint,” Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, said.

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At the Cannabis Expo held in Manhattan, over 2,000 attendees got to learn about goods like hemp-infused dog treats to calm anxious pups, edible bags for packaging, and lighting systems for indoor cultivation. The potential for products made from marijuana seem endless. Besides the opportunity for happy unions of producers and consumers of cannabis goods, the policy implications for a legalization of marijuana are stunning. “It’s a triple benefit,” says Lauren Rudick, an attorney who represents both investors and small-business entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry. “You’re helping to remedy these injustices that happened with respect to the prosecution of minorities,” she says of the U.S.'s war on drugs and the mass incarceration of black and brown men that resulted. Those in dire need of medical marijuana see their lives positively impacted as well. “You’re providing medication to adults and children who are in desperate need.” And finally, economically Rudick says, “It’s also a really great business and people are making some money.”

As a female, Rudick is a minority in the burgeoning cannabis business industry.

"The first thing I thought was, Is there a place for women? And if there is, where do we fit?” says Gia Morón, an Afro-Latina from New York City.
Morón, 46, is a member of Women Grow, an organization founded in 2014 whose mission is to ensure women have a seat at the cannabis industry table. She goes to monthly meetings attended by about 50-100 entrepreneurs and 70 percent of them are women. “Although it’s a women’s organization, I wanted to make sure there was diversity within that diversity,” Morón says. “I wanted to make sure women of all races are not only heard but have opportunities to leave a footprint in the industry.”

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Women Grow’s last meeting was about inclusion and diversity. “We’re very diversity-focused, not just in terms of gender, but race and sexual orientation,” Melissa Meyer, the organization’s New York chapter chair, says. Everybody is invited to join Women Grow. “We saw the cannabis industry as a blank slate opportunity to set a cultural agenda that is not dominated by men. That’s really what Women Grow stands for: Making cannabis the first multibillion-dollar industry not completely dominated by men.”

For women like Morón, seeing marijuana through a new lens will be critical. “Part of this is getting past the stigma, being open-minded and saying, ‘You can be a part of this,’” she says. “Especially for people of color, that’s the initial hesitation. I thought, ‘Oh, my God, people are going to judge me.’ But why?” Women Grow’s next monthly meeting will focus on medical marijuana.

Keva Galdamez, 36, is a nurse practitioner in Queens. She went to the cannabis expo to learn more about how medical marijuana can help her patients. “I’ve been reading about it, how it can benefit the patients I see.” Some of Galdamez’s patients have cancer and others are in hospice care. They suffer from pain and nausea. Marijuana can help make life more bearable. “Every day they’re coming up with different diagnoses that it can be help.” Nelson Cuevas, who works at Pharma Cannis’s Bronx marijuana dispensary, told Galdamez that her patients need a medical marijuana identification and recommendation, which functions as a prescription. Pharma Cannis’s Bronx dispensary sells two-ounce vials of marijuana for $40 to qualified individuals, like those with HIV, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and epilepsy.

“Marijuana products directly compete with legal prescription drugs that statistically kill 100,000 people a year,” Johnson says. “There has not been one documented death due to marijuana. That is amazing. That should be a choice.”

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Health products derived from marijuana can even help children with learning challenges. Andy Kadison and Shira Adler are cofounders of Beyond the Spectrum, which sells aromatherapy products. Smile is a product “designed for kids who cannot focus” and “who are really struggling in school,” Kadison says. Parents can spray Smile, which contains essential oils as well as CBD, a byproduct of the marijuana plant, around their child’s head and shoulders for a calming effect. Beyond the Spectrum’s line of sprays, which includes Center, for people with PTSD, uses CBD’s ability to help people deal with anxiety and depression.

“One of the things we want people to know is that they can make a choice in how they’re dealing in their lives,” Kadison says. “They don’t have to just take Western medicine: painkillers, opiates, or tranquilizers. They can do things a little more holistically and reap the benefits. This is the evolution of where medicine is going.”

Johnson predicts that President Barack Obama will unschedule marijuana as a narcotic upon leaving office. That move will open the door to nationwide legalization and acceptance of marijuana as a cash crop whose full range of health benefits are yet to be known. For those interested in marijuana’s income potential, now is the time to get involved. “Get your feet wet," says Meyer. "Start to learn about the industry.”     

“I don’t want to say, five to 10 years from now, ‘I wish I had,’” says Morón. “It’s worth it to just find out.”