Increasingly more women are becoming involved in owning, running, and working in the marijuana industry in Southern Colorado.

Recent headlines pointed questions to political candidates and statistics point out the obvious: women earn less per hour than their male counterparts. The misfit to that generally accepted notion, however, may be the marijuana industry.

In nearly all sectors of the marijuana industry women are dominating, gaining speed and have no intention of slowing down. Thirty-six percent of executive-level positions are held by women in the marijuana industry, according to Marijuana Business Daily. That number is higher than the average across general industries in the U.S. Twenty-two percent of executive-level positions in other job sectors are held by women, according to Pew Research.

Women fill 38 percent of recreational store and dispensary positions and 63 percent of high-level positions at testing labs.

Behind the numbers is a deeper story of female empowerment. The numbers point out the obvious, women are filling jobs in every area of the industry, but a deeper story of female empowerment is being told through their attempts to collectively break the glass ceiling.

Marijuana organizations dedicated to women in the industry have been popping up all over. One of the latest is the October launch of a Pueblo chapter of Women Grow.

Women Grow is a for-profit organization focused on educating, empowering and connecting women throughout the nation about marijuana and its growing industry. The one-year-old organization was founded in Denver and has chapters in 36 cities throughout the United States, three of which are in Colorado.

Lisa LeFevre is the founding chairwoman for the Southern Colorado chapter and has used her marketing and educational background and love for learning to start the most successful launch in the organization’s history.

“My biggest charge was to come in and get (Women Grow) up and running and find some good volunteers to come in and help me,” LeFevre said. “Our first event we had 53 people attend, at the public library in the Infozone…If you put that into a ratio to the population we are the most successful launch in the country.”

“I just really think (the marijuana industry) is just a bunch of strong women and they just don’t take ‘no’ for answer and they are really driven. They’re all entrepreneurs.” – Melanie Osterman, President at Grasshopper Staffing

LeFevre was raised in Berkley, Michigan, and has more than 21 years of consulting experience in business and healthcare and moved to Pueblo to continue learning about the marijuana industry. She eventually became the chairwoman of Women Grow in Pueblo.

Her interest in the marijuana industry ignited after a Thanksgiving dinner she hosted two years ago that her daughter’s friend and family attended.

“The father had cancer and he had like a .07 percent chance of living and he was down to 85 pounds from a 200 pound man… I saw this man decline.They lived in Cincinnati and they had to go underground for cannabis and he survived. The cannabis healed him,” LeFevre said. “And here’s me I was raised with ‘say no to drugs’ and ‘be responsible’ and (his story) totally spoke to me and I said ‘wow there’s something to this’ and that’s what started my quest.”

Her journey brought her to Colorado and she inevitably wound up in Pueblo in July. A driving factor for LeFevre to be a part of Women Grow was their mission to inspire, connect, educate and empower women in the business world of the marijuana industry.

“Women have rolled their sleeves up and there are so many important things that the role of women will play in the cannabis industry to productively and professionally champion the image of the cannabis,” LeFevre said.

The role that women play in healthcare, purchasing power and wellness are some of the reasons LeFevre said that women are dominating the marijuana industry.

“We did this statistical overview for Women Grow and continue to share it. If you look at wellness and healthcare it says 80 percent of women make the purchase decisions, women account for 93 percent of the (over the counter) pharmaceutical purchases and one in four women is dispensed medication for mental health compared to just 15 percent of men,” LeFevre said.

“Women are taking ownership for our own health, saying ‘no, we want another choice and we want another alternative.’ So the bottom line is what I’m excited about is for more women coming (into the industry) so we are going to get better products.”

Melanie Osterman is the president and recruiting and staffing manager at Grasshopper Staffing which is an agency that focuses finding women jobs in the cannabis industry. She said she believes that women play a pivotal role in the industry.

“I just really think (the marijuana industry) is just a bunch of strong women and they just don’t take ‘no’ for answer and they are really driven. They’re all entrepreneurs,” Osterman said. “They’re all being very successful, so they’re willing to share this success with everybody else. It’s pretty exciting.”

Osterman added that the professional aspect is what defines women in the industry. In the industry women try to be taken seriously as much as possible and dress and prepare for that part.

“I think (women in the industry) are all very highly professional women. The (Denver Women Grow meeting) looked more like a bankers,” Osterman said.

Grasshopper Staffing connects with Women Grow to promote networking and connections to the marijuana industry.

“We have lots of contacts with the grows (in Colorado), dispensaries and the owners so we keep a database. We’ve shared it with Lisa (LeFevre) so that we can reach out to everybody so that they can find out about (Grasshopper Staffing) and how it runs and the contacts they can make, networking and the support that is in the industry because a lot of women just don’t realize this is out here,” Osterman said.

Grasshopper Staffing was one of the sponsors at Southern Colorado’s first Women Grow event and LeFevre tried to capitalize on the professional and business aspects of the organization with a speed networking activity, speakers from the industry and requesting feedback. She was able to land Co-founder Jane West to speak at the event to connect the personal experience she has to the business hopefuls at the event.

“This is a complex business between the banking systems, the federal laws, the state laws, operating, handling money is a big challenge, and security. It is not for the weak hearted,” LeFevre said.

The mission of Women Grow is what drives LeFevre and her choices of what to include in her chapter.

“I want to serve this region to succeed and feel empowered. It’s not about me it’s about you, what do you want to learn, see and do, and I will stay true to the empowering, educating and connecting people to succeed in the cannabis industry  and that’s why I ask what do you want to know and learn,” LeFevre said.

Tying in with the goals of Women Grow is Grasshopper Staffing and their hands on approach to getting women and men involved in the industry. The agency also does payroll and workman’s compensation and emphasizes equal pay for equal work.

“I do a brief two day training class, hands on at a commercial grow. We start here (at Grasshopper Staffing) and we do an informational where we go over plant anatomy and we go over the history, and things that you might encounter like pests or mold or mildew. These are for people with no experience,” Communications Manager at Grasshopper Staffing, Talia Zanotelli, said. “From what I understand our competitors up north do a training course but the last I heard it wasn’t hands on but that might have changed.”

With the momentum that women have in the industry, the three women believe there is a bright future ahead of them.

“I think this industry has the potential to be (one of) the first woman-dominated industries in the United States,” Zanotelli said.

Both Women Grow and Grasshopper Staffing emphasize their focus on projecting women into the cannabis industry but both encourage and invite men into their organizations.

“I’m creating a board (for the chapter) and one of the criteria is 25 percent can be male. And to me I won’t turn down the right person for the right job. So yes, this is women oriented but I’m inclusive,” LeFevre said.

Though Women Grow is a for-profit organization, LeFevre said that the Southern Colorado chapter operates at the lowest cost for members. Members can attend events for as low as 20 dollars.

“I’m not here to make profitable personally, but I do want to be able to bring in speakers and banners and branding. So it costs to operate,” she said. “We look for sponsorships, so the grasshoppers sponsored our first event, we have a hospitality sponsor and then we had a meeting sponsor and a sustaining sponsor so that gives us money each month because the fees are pretty low.”

The chapter will be holding meetings the first Thursday of every month and LeFevre said the key to their success will be active participation from those involved.

“I liken the industry to the pioneers coming West because these women (in the marijuana industry) are all pioneers and those women coming over in those covered wagons were tough women and I think we are the same way,” Osterman said.