As one of the states that pioneered the medical marijuana industry, Delaware has also become a role model for women in the cannabis business. Nearly 37 percent of senior-level jobs at cannabis companies in the state are held by women, according to a Marijuana Business Daily survey, far higher than the national average of 21 percent for female executives in all U.S. businesses. With many new, fast-growing cannabis firms looking to bring in experienced people, the industry offers a budding opportunity for women working in other professions to make a change and advance their careers.
One such company is Delaware’s own First State Compassion, which helped pave the way for the state’s medical marijuana industry. FSC opened its first dispensary in Wilmington in 2015 and is currently narrowing the local gender gap by increasing female leadership opportunities at its headquarters and dispensary locations, expanding career pathways in human resources, sales, patient engagement and regulatory compliance.
With a second dispensary in Lewes and still growing, FSC has a sizable female workforce helping more than 10,000 patients monthly with cannabis treatment and education.
While women in FSC’s leadership positions come from a variety of industries, many have first-hand experience with the positive impacts of medical marijuana. For senior communications manager Lauren Foraker, cannabis treatment has been a lifesaver. A former vocalist and theater performer, she suffered a life-threatening neck injury at age 24 that resulted in excruciating pain, ongoing tremors and the need for assistance walking. After all other pain management treatments failed, she tried medical marijuana as a last resort.
“I came in to FSC as a patient and was given a small dose of a cannabis tincture under my tongue,” Foraker recalls. “In the 12 minutes it took to take full effect, it alleviated the pain that not one of the over-the-counter pain relievers or opioid medications had been able to address. My chronic nerve pain completely ceased and my tremors subsided. I was finally able to eat, sleep and walk unassisted, and I’m now able to sing again.”
Foraker believes her personal story helps patients understand the benefits of medical marijuana and lets them know she can relate to their pain. “Many people have no prior knowledge of how medical marijuana works,” she says. “I’m able to enlighten them as to what it does and how it can improve their quality of life.”
After joining the FSC staff, it was interaction with another patient that gave her new insight. “I was telling an elderly patient that I could relate to her chronic pain and could help her. The feeling I got afterward was [how] I knew I had found my new career.”
Morgan Hewes, FSC’s human resource generalist, shares a similar experience. While studying to become a nurse in 2014, she was diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease and a thyroid disorder. “My ailments were affecting my studies and I had to take a medical withdraw from nursing school,” she says. “I always wanted to become a nurse so I could take care of people, but I realized I needed to take care of myself first.”
She applied for a medical marijuana card in 2016, and has spent the last four years coming up with a regimen that makes it possible to live and function with chronic pain. Hewes no longer sees an endocrinologist for her thyroid condition, and was able to lose weight, feel more energized and once again focus on helping others get better.
“I’m now able to fulfill my passion for helping people heal, along with our incredible team of employees who motivate me to get up and go to work every day,” Hewes says.
The desire to help people also inspired Gina Davis, FSC’s Wilmington’s dispensary manager, to get involved in the industry. Davis started out in working in salons, where she “liked helping people feel good about themselves,” she says. She then learned about medical marijuana from a friend. “Being able to get involved in a new and growing industry that helps people is even more satisfying. So many patients are nervous when they first start working with us. Our patient orientation specialists, patient advisers, and patient engagement and education associates are able to set their minds at ease about the products that we carry, how to figure out the right dosage, which strains work best for their particular ailment, and help point them in the right direction with their treatment.”
Making sure the company is compliant with the myriad state and regulatory requirements has been a welcome challenge for FSC’s compliance and purchasing senior manager, Deborah Springer. A former executive in the financial services industry, Springer’s regulatory, control and operations background serve her well in her new role. “There’s a great management team here that cares about their patients and listens to patients’ needs and concerns,” she says. “This industry provides a great opportunity for women to expand their horizons as the business of cannabis continues to grow and change.”