Business group Women Grow brings female marijuana activists together

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Sonoma County “is the medical cannabis center of the world right now,” Mara Gordon of Bodega Bay told a group of nearly 50 people, mostly women, gathered in Santa Rosa on Thursday to share tips on how to succeed in California’s medical marijuana industry.

Gordon moved her business specializing in cannabis-infused oils and other products to the west county after learning that a medical marijuana dispensary owner, Robert Jacobs who heads Peace in Medicine, had been the mayor of Sebastopol.

She spoke at the inaugural meeting of a Sonoma County chapter of Women Grow, a for-profit networking company started in Colorado that now holds meetings in 35 cities.

“This wouldn’t have happened even three years ago,” said George Van Patten of Sonoma, of the business-style meeting. Van Patten, who began secretly growing marijuana plants 32 years ago, wrote “The Cannabis Encyclopedia,” and his work has been called the bible of marijuana cultivation. Until 2010, he was only known publicly by his moniker Jorge Cervantes.

The meeting was held at second-floor offices overlooking Fourth Street in downtown Santa Rosa of design firm ZDCA Design & Development. Zack Darling, CEO and creative director of ZDCA Design & Development, said his 6-year-old agency has a core group of clients who are involved in cannabis.

“I was raised by hippie growers in Mendocino County on a goddess retreat,” Darling said during his welcome speech to the group. “So I’m very comfortable around powerful women.”

During a networking exercise at the event, small groups introduced themselves to one another and described their business area or interest.

A hypnotherapist said she was interested to integrate cannabis as medicine into her practice. A 50-year-old Santa Rosa truck driver said she attended the meeting because she was considering starting a marijuana garden on her half-acre property.

A 33-year-old Santa Rosa woman said she has been “a worker bee” in the industry since 2002, doing everything from garden management to trimming bud and was looking for opportunities to grow in the field.

“I feel blessed, but I am looking more now for ways to advance,” she said.

None of the women wished to be identified by name because they said there are still stigmas and questions about legality in California, where marijuana has been legal to use as medicine since 1996 yet remains illegal in certain quantities and for non-medical purposes.

Sticking to the law — and knowing how to work around and with it — were inevitable topics brought up during the two-hour event.

Gordon said that she “follows the spirit and letter of the law” and told the group it is possible to run a legal business despite the complexities that come when marijuana is banned by federal laws, yet is legal for medical purposes in California.

“Be rigorously legal,” Gordon told the group, adding that they are treading new ground. “We are outlaws. I wake up every day and I’m a criminal and I’m proud of it.”

Many people in attendance cheered.

In 1999, Gordon contracted bacterial spinal meningitis that forced her to use a wheelchair for mobility. She said marijuana helped her reduce the number of medications she had to ingest and aided the recovery as she regained her ability to walk. A “process engineer” and self-described “data nerd,” Gordon said started studying how to create more precise measurements for cannabis-infused oils. She founded Aunt Zelda’s, an infused-products company focused on people with serious health ailments such as cancer.

People in the audience included longtime cannabis cultivators, patients and people who asked the speakers how to grow from the small-batch infused products made at home to commercial kitchens. Questions touched on how to find the best investment networks for women and how to position a business for the changing landscape in California’s marijuana regulations.

Santa Rosa attorney Ben Adams was among a handful of men at the meeting. Adams said he wants to move away criminal defense, which he’s done for nearly 20 years, and build a practice helping businesses comply with regulations.

“Every single person in this room is a potential client,” Adams said.

Adams said he held anti-marijuana views until age 38 when he tried it on the advice of a friend to help ease severe pain caused by spinal stenosis that at times prevented him from sleeping.

Lauren S. Clardy, president of Santa Rosa-based consulting firm Nutrimarketing, which specializes in products infused with ingredients like Vitamin D and pomegranate, said she wants to expand the business to include cannabis.

“The convergence is happening,” Clardy said. “I’m getting calls.”

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or julie.johnson@press​democrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to add context to a quote from Mara Gordon.

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