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Women in Extraction: Showcasing the Women of Cannabis

Here at Root Sciences, we are excited about the opportunities available for women in our industry. Across the board, leading females are stepping into executive roles, bringing new profound ventures to life, and enhancing corporate America. We are delighted to say that the cannabis industry is no different. From female-led grow-ops to woman-owned dispensaries and cannabis extraction companies, women are making their marks in the cannabis space. In fact, women account for over a third of the executives in the cannabis business.

Influential Women in the Cannabis Industry

You don’t have to go far to find noteworthy women making a difference in cannabis. These women stand as examples for others and have plenty of advice to offer about being a female in what could be expected to be a male-dominated space. Consider women like Jessica Billingsley—a veteran in the cannabis industry who developed seed-to-sale software and revolutionary cannabis compliance systems. Her advice:

“Be tenacious. Every day I am reminded, there is no straight path to success. In technology and the cannabis industry, it is important to focus on impactful innovation and solving problems better than anyone else.”

Check out Dr. Chanda Macias, the biomedical research scientist who became the first black female to own a multi-state cannabis operation. On breaking into the cannabis industry:

“I’ve learned to be persistent and not accept NO as a final answer. Building a business in an unregulated federally illegal marketplace is not easy. I’ve learned to expect challenges. Those challenges have made me and my team stronger.”

Another important woman, Emily Skrobecki, happens to be the Manager of Process Engineering at SoRSE, as well as the founder of CannSTEM (STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math). Some of Skrobecki’s work has been geared toward connecting females in the cannabis space, but her research has been focused on important facets of science, such as improving cannabinoid bioavailability.

We Got the Chance to Talk to Leading Women in Cannabis

To really highlight just how much we appreciate the women who are working behind the scenes and even at the forefront of the cannabis industry, we took a few moments to interview five women in the extraction industry.

Lacey Fleming, Holistic Industries

Lacey Fleming is the Lab Manager at Holistic Industries, which is an emerging multi-state organic medical cannabis company. Holistic Industries was recently featured in Forbes, Yahoo Finance, and New Cannabis Ventures. Furthermore, the company is widely recognized for supporting empowered diversity in the workplace and leading by example in the cannabis industry.

We were thrilled to get the chance to talk to Lacey, her role in the industry, and how she made it into the career field.

What’s your background/role in the industry?

I started in the cannabis industry as a laboratory technician in 2018 at Holistic Industries. In 2020, I was promoted to laboratory manager where I now oversee a CO2 and Hydrocarbon based extraction program in Pennsylvania.

How did you get your start in the cannabis industry?

After tirelessly trying to break into the industry back home in Colorado, I had pretty much given up on my dreams of being an extraction tech since the market was already so saturated. I was almost ready to throw in the towel, but luckily I was contacted by the Chief Scientific Officer at Holistic Industries who was interested in my combined passion for cannabis and science and how my background as a toxicologist could contribute to Holistic’s innovative programs and research. Now I get to come to work every day and do what I love, in an industry that pushes me to never stop growing. Needless to say, I am forever grateful!

Do you have a coming out of the green closet story? (how you shared the news you were joining the industry to friends and family)

When Holistic offered me my dream job I was initially hesitant to tell my family, who is very traditional and old school. But I called up my folks and told them I’d been given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and that if I didn’t take it, I would regret it for the rest of my life. They were sad to have me relocate so far away from home but told me to go follow my dreams. Since then, my family and friends have been nothing but supportive. I can hear them cheering me on from the Rocky Mountains.

What’s the most rewarding thing that you find working in the cannabis industry?

I view cannabis as nourishment for my soul, and I’d say the same for my relationship with science. At Holistic, I get to bring the two together in a way that benefits our patients’ lives, which is infinitely more soul-enriching — I feel like I’m truly making a difference.

What words of advice would you give another woman thinking about joining a cannabis STEM field?

This industry isn’t for the faint of heart as it’s fast-paced, ever-changing, and always evolving. But if you’re passionate and ready to work hard, it can be an incredibly rewarding challenge. For women entering the cannabis field, take the time to mentor the ones coming in behind you. I’ve had the great opportunity to learn from some of the strongest women I’ve ever encountered in this industry and can’t wait to share what I’ve learned from them with others.

What type of extraction/distillation process is used to make your product?

Our laboratory at Holistic performs a range of extraction processes: Subcritical CO2 extraction, ethanol, and hydrocarbon extraction. We, of course, produce high potency distillate with Root Sciences’ VKL 7-50. I love it when people stop by the lab when we are distilling as their reactions are priceless! They think it’s the craziest looking machine.

Where do you see the cannabis industry evolving? What do you see on the horizon?

There are endless therapeutic uses for cannabis and all of the cannabinoids, and I think the future lies in furthering research and increasing clinical use. According to a news release from NORML, researchers worldwide published a record 3,500+ scientific papers on the subject of cannabis’ in 2020, and my own alma mater will launch a cannabinoid research center in the coming months. Personally, I can’t wait to see what science and cannabis can do together to benefit all.

Lulu Tsui, On The REVEL

Lulu Tsui is a seasoned Experience Designer with deep expertise in the cannabis industry. In addition, Lulu is the co-founder of On the Revel, which is dedicated to “opening hearts and minds to the opportunities in legal cannabis.” We were thrilled to learn about her experience with the UX and design side of the booming cannabis industry.

What’s your background in the industry?

In 2016, I moved back to Washington state to spend a year with Root Sciences, an established leader in cannabis/hemp machinery, installation, and build-outs for extraction, distillation, and post-processing technologies. With my background in UX, I quickly realized that there was a need to help standardize the operations and data for the largest growing sector of the cannabis space – oils, concentrates, and infused products so I designed a software prototype with the help of Root Sciences. In California, I designed an e-commerce order and delivery platform for Chill.

In New York, I am a co-founder and CXO of On the REVEL, a highly curated cannabis education platform highlighting the people and companies who are not only setting the gold standard for the industry, but also believe the cannabis industry can be inclusive, diverse, and provide opportunities for all.

How did you get your start in the industry?

I’m from Oregon originally, so I’ve always been involved in the plant medicine space. I got my start with the legal cannabis industry in Washington when the founders of Root Sciences/Suspended Brands asked me if I could help customize their seed-to-sale platform at the time. Unfortunately, it was so archaic and limited that there wasn’t anything that I could do. So the guys invited me to come to Washington to learn and explore the opportunities in their facilities. That’s when I started to go with them on machine installations and started to interview the scientists in the extraction/processing labs to learn about their processes and needs.

Do you have a “coming out of the green closet” story?

There wasn’t really a coming-out story. I grew up in Oregon, so my family and friends have always known that I was involved with plant medicine. When I told my parents that I was going to join the legal cannabis space, their words were, “Just be careful.”

What’s the most rewarding thing you find about working in the cannabis industry?

There are non-stop challenges that come up when running a cannabis business. You have to think outside the box. I believe that the creative technology solutions and products that are coming from the cannabis industry can be applied to existing industries.

What words of advice would you give another woman thinking of joining a cannabis STEM field?

Please do look at cannabis companies whose ethos aligns with yours. Explore your options and join the industry! Your skill set and point of view are so needed on the supply chain side of the house.

Where do you see the cannabis industry evolving?

More states will come online. I see that the acceptance of cannabis is growing not only with consumers but also with lawmakers. The economic impact from COVID will put pressure on states to legalize as cannabis tax revenues can be of immediate assistance in economic recovery.

I also see that other cannabinoids will get their time in the spotlight as science, technology, and research advances within the space.

Lo Friesen, Heylo Cannabis

Laurel (Lo) Friesen is the founder, CEO, and Chief Extractor of Heylo. After graduating from Northwestern University with a degree in Environmental Chemistry, Lo followed her dreams to work in a gastroenterology lab in Chicago, ultimately leading her to explore cannabis medicine. Lo continued her journey in the emerging industry and launched Heylo in 2017 with a mission to provide clean, great-tasting, and quality oil with production transparency. Lo strives to provide cannabis users with as much information as possible to enable active and engaged lifestyles with cannabis. Here’s what she had to say about her journey in the cannabis industry.

What’s your background/role in the industry?

I have a background in chemistry and medicine – I found my niche in the industry by way of CO2 extraction and producing products to help people get more out of life with cannabis.

How did you get your start in the cannabis industry?

I like to say that the cannabis industry found me in a number of ways. In school, I embraced cannabis for personal use to alleviate anxiety and as a fun, less damaging alternative to alcohol. While I was pursuing a career in medicine I immersed myself in the limited research papers that existed on cannabis for medicinal use. I was desperate to learn more, but at the time very few resources existed on cannabis chemistry and human experience. Meanwhile, the opioid epidemic was taking a great toll on my Midwestern community. Assigns of a potential career began appearing in so many parts of my life, my parents provided the last bit of encouragement I needed to make the leap.

While working in a world-renowned gastroenterology lab in Chicago I attended an industry conference and met the founder and CEO of Eden Labs, Fritz Chess, and AC Braddock. They have pioneered the methods of ethanol and CO2 extraction for botanicals for decades. They offered me my first big break with a lead role in the research and development of their Hi-Flo FX2 system. It was with Eden Labs that I learned the foundations of botanical extraction.

Do you have a “coming out of the green closet” story?

As I mentioned before, my parents nudged me in the direction of this industry. Sharing my plans with friends and even my partner’s family never felt scary and thankfully I’ve been met with nothing but support. But I know that I entered this industry when people were already aware of the legitimacy of the cannabis industry, so I’m aware of that privilege.

What’s the most rewarding thing you find about working in the cannabis industry?

Witnessing collaboration among people with similar values making positive change within this industry.

What words of advice would you give another woman thinking of joining a cannabis STEM field?

Join us! We’re at the tip of the iceberg, so start networking! You’ll be surprised by all of the opportunity that is out there just waiting to be seen.

What type of extraction/distillation process(es) do you use to make your product?

We [Heylo Cannabis] developed a novel method of supercritical CO2 extraction which we call RawX.

Where do you see the cannabis industry evolving? What do you see on the horizon?

I see cannabis as one of the first industries that truly is both medical and recreational. Our mission is to help anyone get more out of life with cannabis, and I envision every person in the world finding a cannabis product that improves their daily life.

Wendy Hull, Fairwinds

Wendy Hull is the CEO and Co-founder of Fairwinds Cannabis, located in Vancouver, Washington. Since its origins in 2014, Fairwinds has consistently pushed for higher standards in cannabis cultivation to provide a quality, effective, and safe product for its consumers. The company’s vision is to empower the health and wellness of society by integrating effective cannabis and herbal remedies into everyday life.

What’s your background/role in the industry?

Our mission has always been to focus on science, technology, and innovation.

Why did you enter the industry / How did you get your start?

I certainly did not come from the cannabis industry. I had a high-level position in the Federal Government for 26 years and always thought I would retire as a Federal employee. My husband is a mechanical and electrical engineer and designed top-secret military boats. When we decided to apply for our cannabis license, we both gave up very secure positions to start Fairwinds and it has been the best decision we have ever made.

We were driven to help people in a different way than we had ever experienced. We wanted to be a part of establishing the foundation in the cannabis industry … We knew with our backgrounds and drive that we could provide very high quality, consistent products to patients who rely on cannabis as medicine. As we were building out our facility, my husband James designed every aspect of our facility including all controlled environment automation

I have also been on a mission to change people’s negative perceptions of cannabis. It is still mind-boggling to me that people do not hesitate to take a prescription that may have five side effects, including heart attack and death, yet they refuse to consume a natural plant-based product because they cannot get past the stigmatism of cannabis. I love having these conversations with people and opening their minds to alternative medicine. I do believe that with legalization spreading throughout the states that it is significantly changing people’s perception of cannabis I am proud to be in this industry. I am proud to be providing medicine to those in need, and I’m proud of the technology we are developing that will help grow and support the industry

Do you have a “coming out of the green closet” story?

Working for the federal government was tricky to “come out” about starting a cannabis company, since cannabis is still federally illegal and considering my leadership role in the Agency of overseeing such areas as Security and Emergency Management, etc., When I notified the Agency that I would be leaving to start a cannabis company, I was specifically asked not to discuss my career move with employees…. Essentially, they wanted me to remain silent about my business. I will say that since 2015 I have noticed a huge shift in the perception of cannabis to non-consumers. In 2014-15, there were some companies we wanted to source services or materials from who simply would not do business with a cannabis company and that is no longer the case.

What’s the most rewarding thing you find about working in the cannabis industry?

Helping others. When we started working in the cannabis industry, our mission was to make very clean, consistent products and since people are using our products as medicine we knew we could improve the quality of life for some people…. We just had no idea it would be to this extent. Being a part of this industry has been more rewarding than we could have imagined.

What words of advice would you give another woman thinking of joining a cannabis STEM field?

I would say that STEM is the foundation of our industry. As this industry continues to evolve, the foundation of plant science, technology, laboratory formulations all begin with STEM. There are many STEM programs available through the school and we would encourage anyone who has a passion for these fields to join a STEM program. Many of our employees are scientists and engineers.

What type of extraction/distillation process(es) do you use to make your product?

Fairwinds extracts the cannabis oil and processes the oil in-house using multiple extraction technologies and methods. These include advanced closed-loop hydrocarbon broad-spectrum extraction with medical food-grade solvents (no butane), cryogenic winterization, and a cold cannabis juice extraction of the full plant. Distillation technologies separate the cannabis terpenes from the oil and add to products to optimize the effect and further enhance the performance. Every lot of cannabis oil produced is tested to confirm it is absent of any residual solvents, pesticides, metals, and mycotoxins. Fairwinds takes its levels above the industry requirements to ensure maximum quality, consistency, and patient safety.

Katie Stem, Peak Extracts

Katie Stem, Founder and CEO of Peak Extracts, brings a unique edge to the cannabis industry. When Katie and Kate started the company in 2014, Katie had already been a medical patient for over a decade, experimenting with single-strain cannabis to control symptoms of Crohn’s disease. Peak Extracts was one of the first edible processors licensed in Oregon. Additionally, Katie is also a Chinese herbalist and possesses invaluable knowledge for developing remedies for those who need pain relief but are worried about psychoactive effects. We were thrilled to interview Katie and learn about her journey from patient to developing treatments.

What’s your background/role in the industry?

After becoming a Medical patient in 2005, I experimented with extraction, edibles and topicals making for 9 years before we started Peak Extracts. We served the medical market until 2016, when we were the first adult-use edibles maker licensed in Oregon. Since buying our first piece of C02 extraction equipment in 2014, my partner Kate Black and I have been the proud owners of the only Women-run cannabis extraction and processing company in Oregon.

Why did you enter the industry / How did you get your start?

I spent ten years in research prior to shifting gears, my primary focus was physiology, pharmacology and neurology. I moved to Portland in 2004 to work at OHSU on MS research, delving into natural products and pharmaceuticals for the treatment of auto-immune disorders. In 2010 I finished a degree in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal medicine, which intersected nicely with my interest in Cannabis, physiology, and natural product research. Kate and I started the business in 2014 in our converted garage, and we are proudly family-owned and self-funded.

Cannabis transformed my life after I became ill with Crohn’s disease when I was a teenager. After many years of getting sicker and sicker using western drugs, I was able to gain control of my disease and live a much happier and more productive life after realizing that strain-specific edibles could drastically reduce my symptoms. The passion I developed experimenting and comparing notes with the medical cannabis community in the 2010s drove me to share this benefit with others. Our focus on custom edibles, a predictable experience and helping others carries on with every business decision we make, to this day.

Do you have a “coming out of the green closet” story?

Luckily, my parents had plenty of time to see what transformative influence cannabis was on my health and functionality. They live in Washington, so they also had a chance to see how Cannabis legalization was more of a whisper than a bang-up there. By the time we were ready to begin operations, they were excited. And everyone else had to endure me as a 20-something shouting from the rooftops–I think it came as a surprise to no one that I started a cannabis business.

What’s the most rewarding thing you find about working in the cannabis industry?

Helping people, absolutely. We get emails daily from our customers–whether its something as mundane as being able to open a pickle jar, to a veteran who’s able to have a blanket on his legs for the first time in 25 years because of terrible neuropathic pain, we get constant reinforcement that we’re helping people and improving their daily lives. It’s an amazing job to have.

What words of advice would you give another woman thinking of joining a cannabis STEM field?

Try to find mentors in the industry, people can be a bit secretive and in general, people tend to mentor others who look like them. But there are enthusiastic women in the industry who would love to see younger people enter into the field and succeed.

What type of extraction/distillation process(es) do you use to make your product?

We use CO2 extraction because of environmental impact, primarily. We’re constantly refining parameters to maximize yield, terpene retention and minor cannabinoid ratios, so it’s been a good method for us. We’ve toyed around with several other methods but it’s still by far our favorite.

Where do you see the cannabis industry evolving? What do you see on the horizon?

All trends point to cannabis becoming more mainstream, legalized in more states and with a broader demographic of consumers. While this is a great thing, generally, the only thing I worry about as a small business is being gobbled up when deregulation allows for major CPG outfits to begin manufacturing on an enormous scale.

Joy Hollingsworth, Hollingsworth Cannabis & Hemp Company

Joy Hollingsworth is the Operating Officer at Hollingsworth Cannabis & Hemp Company. Located in Washington State, the family-owned and operated farm provides high-quality, unique hemp goods and takes pride in sustainable practices that leave a low carbon footprint. We were grateful to speak with Joy and learn about her experience in the cannabis and hemp industry.

What’s your background/role in the industry?

My family started the Hollingsworth Cannabis & Hemp Company back in 2013. My role revolves around anything that has to do with operations. From compliance to posting on social media, I wear many hats.

Why did you enter the industry / How did you get your start?

I was introduced to the plant by my mother. She has severe scoliosis and uses the plan to help manage her pain, My uncle who is paralyzed from the neck down and 100-year old grandmother both use the plant to help with their quality of life. Our desire to participate within the industry came from the opportunity to share with other people how helpful the plant has been to our family.

Do you have a “coming out of the green closet” story?

We made a farm video of our family and friends working in the greenhouses. It was a super cheesy video that had an English woman’s voice, black family in the middle of the forest growing cannabis. It was GREAT.

What’s the most rewarding thing you find about working in the cannabis industry?

The opportunity to work with the people I love the most and build a business together is picture-perfect.

What words of advice would you give another woman thinking of joining a cannabis STEM field?

The industry is in its infancy stages. There are a lot of opportunities within the field of STEM. Cannabis has been around for hundreds of years. But this is the first time we’ve seen it go mainstream and get all of the attention. Take advantage of the opportunity and find your lane.

What type of extraction/distillation processes do you use to make your product?

We do CO2 and distillate extraction process for a nice clean finish.

Where do you see the cannabis industry evolving? What do you see on the horizon?

My great hope is that more people who look like me are able to participate in the industry. I also hope that we can utilize the tax dollars generated from this plant to invest them back into the communities that were most harmed by the war on drugs.

Lauren Hitt, Root Sciences

Last but not least, we interviewed Lauren Hitt, Marketing Director at Root Sciences. For the last two years, Lauren has spearheaded the company’s growth and brand recognition in the commercial cannabis field. Here’s some background on Lauren’s journey and her take on the ever-evolving cannabis extraction industry.

What’s your background/role in the industry?

I’ve been fully submerged in the B2B cannabis industry for just over 2 years, since joining the Root Sciences team as the Marketing Director back in January of 2019. I direct all of our marketing efforts including web, social, event, paid advertising, content, print, cross-promotional, etc. Truthfully, I spend my days doing whatever it takes to drive Root Sciences’ growth & brand recognition in the most rapidly expanding industry that I’ve ever had the privilege of working in.

Why did you enter the industry / How did you get your start?

After relocating from Dallas to Seattle back in 2017, I was lucky to have made a smart, new friend who offered to proofread my resume. I was brand new to the job market in Seattle, so I appreciated a seasoned eye. This friend happened to be deep-rooted in the cannabis industry, and little did I know at the time, but his company would be looking for a marketing director with my skill set just a few years later. And the rest is history.

Do you have a “coming out of the green closet” story?

Born and raised in the heart of the bible belt, I was not surprised when I received a less than enthusiastic response from my family upon announcing that I was leaving a straight-laced director role to join the up-and-coming commercial cannabis industry. At the time, most thought I was making a huge mistake. Keep in mind, this was late-2018, and the perception of THC in the Southern US has changed light-years since. Although I knew they were coming from a place of love and genuine concern, my gut kept telling me this role would be the opportunity of a lifetime, and to pass it up would be an injustice to myself. I saw enormous potential in the developing industry, particularly after learning of the cutting-edge technology driving the advancement of cannabis concentrates. Today, I can proudly say that listening to my gut was one of the very best decisions I’ve made over the course of my professional career.

What’s the most rewarding thing you find about working in the cannabis industry?

One of the things I love about working in this industry is simply helping businesses and people thrive, and I do this by bringing Root Sciences’ cutting-edge technology to light. My job isn’t overly complicated, as the machines have the ability to speak for themselves, based on years of real data and a very large stack of customer success stories.

What words of advice would you give another woman thinking of joining a cannabis STEM field?

At the end of the day, knowing I’m marketing legitimate and effective products to the world is extremely important to me for numerous reasons, but integrity is at the top of the list. From an ethical standpoint, I made a promise to myself many years ago to only stand behind products or services that provide real benefit to the people. I refuse to utilize my skill set for promoting those ONLY seeking to turn a profit. (The film Social Dilemma on Netflix describes what happens when marketers take a different stance.)

My advice to future marketers, especially those entering the cannabis industry, is this: Before you agree to join any company, interview them as much as they interview you. With the industry being so “green” and still in its infancy, some companies are not so honest with their claims. For example, in my area of work, some manufacturers twist throughput and yield numbers in an attempt to try and bait industry newcomers into buying their equipment. Just because you can run a distillation machine at max speed doesn’t’ mean you should, and if you do, it’s likely to not last very long, not to mention you’ll likely get a poor result in your end product.

This said, read articles, watch videos, and research online forums. Do your due diligence. Most importantly, do good to the world and the world will do good to you.

What type of extraction/distillation processes do you use to make your product?

Root Sciences is the global leader in the distribution of equipment and support services for processing facilities in the cannabis and hemp industries, representing premium extraction, distillation, and other post-processing technologies. However, we are also in the unique position of being much more than just equipment distributors. Backed by years of hands-on experience in both growing and processing, our knowledge base as a team of practitioners and process engineers is unmatched in the hemp and cannabis industries. Our machines are available to suit a range of operations, from small-scale labs focusing on the recreational THC market, all the way up to large hemp processing facilities focusing on industrial-scale CBD production, and everything in between.

Where do you see the cannabis industry evolving? What do you see on the horizon?

On a personal level, when visiting my hometown in Texas, I’ve found it extremely rewarding to watch overall perceptions change from my friends and family members, especially when talking about cannabis and its many beneficial applications. Just 10 short years ago, even mentioning the word “marijuana” was considered taboo where I grew up. It was only something my college roommates and I explored privately, always behind closed doors. Yet today, I find myself discussing how CBD has changed my cousin’s life… openly… in the middle of a Chili’s on a Sunday afternoon… after church. In summary, I see how much overall acceptance has changed in just a few short years, so I’m beyond excited to see what the next 2-5 years will bring once we further expand our footprint in the Southern United States… and beyond.

A Final Word from Root Sciences

As cannabis is an up-and-coming industry with burgeoning career opportunities, the timing is perfect for women to entertain careers and leadership roles in the industry. Many companies have taken the initiative to fill prized leadership and executive positions from a pool of talented females. And, many women are taking their incredible skills to the cannabis industry because their current professions don’t offer the same advancement opportunities. With so many powerful females making their marks in cannabis, the future of this industry is bound to be promising.