Hiding in Plain Sight

by Kyrsten April, Member of the Sangha Collective

**For the sake of “push back” (no one person of gender thinks, acts or loves the same) I established an inclusive list of people actively contributing to the cannabis industry and their local community that I wanted to interview.  I interviewed 11 people from the greater Vancouver Area,  Vancouver Island Area and 3 from Toronto Ontario.
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After interviewing women of different ages, walks of life and in different sectors of the Cannabis Industry,  I found for each new and exciting opportunity these women were approached with, there was a often a predatory “red flag” associated.  This article is a truth telling of misogyny and abuse that females endure from employers and afficionados in what we call our cannabis “community”.

My experience started with a budtender position and quickly became managing a medicinally based dispensary, using its privilege to educate.  I believe that I thrived due to my love of research and compassionate nature.  I recalled the night I decided it was time to look for new employment.  I was working a 12 hour split shift and when I arrived to work, I was very surprised to see my boss, who had explained to me that earlier in the morning, we had been robbed.  Flashback to end of my shift, the patients were out of the store, the doors locked behind me and I was counting my till when I checked in with my body- and realized  I don’t feel safe here. Taking an internal inventory, that’s when I started looking for other jobs in production and extraction. 

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Working at a dispensary allowed me to help people and I have always perceived that is the greatest reward. It was also demanding, a people pleasing job and became taxing on my ability to establish and maintain boundaries.  I constantly had this unsettling feeling of “What Do You Want From Me?”.   Although we loved our positions in the industry the staff were frustrated constantly, feeling like our ideas and irritations weren’t heard and my budtenders felt undervalued and belittled by their own employer.  But what was most damaging to my newborn hopes to be an industry contributor was not the demeaning way my boss treated me, or the grief I experienced losing some truly beautiful patients, but taking money from those who are struggling with addiction and seeing young, trusting girls fall prey to exploitation ; Falsely believing that they are free when a man offers them money.

The first pattern to emerge while I was collecting data from the interviews was that out of 6 dispensaries the women worked at, 5 were owned by older men who chose to hire women as young as possible who were often timid, trusted without discernment and had no previous experience.  Those red flags I mentioned earlier went flying right up when i heard, in addition to these owners not expecting us to pay our taxes legally (most operations remained under the table at this time) the tactics that some of these dispensary owners used to keep employees submissive and silent.  These tactics include but are not limited to blackmail,  threats of harm and in one extreme case- a rape threat.

Completely aware of the power dynamics, these people conduct the same  “operations” over and over again, with little repercussion; becoming masterful manipulators.  Often in the public eye, they  are the types of business owners that are never around, have never made the schedule and honestly couldn’t work a fucking DAY in the shoes of its budtenders and managers.  They only arrive on site when they need something or want to sing their own praises.

More than six employees I spoke to about working at dispensaries, shared that female on female abuse was not uncommon. Those who were open about female on female abuse in the cannabis industry had bosses who would continuously test their loyalty;  asking employees to come into work and then turn them away when they arrive saying the job is no longer available.  Employees are expected to meet unfair expectations like having their schedule changed last moment without sufficient time to arrive to work, not being notified when there is an important board meeting or professional development day and of course, the good ole’ female classic- emotional warfare, in the sense of circulating hurtful rumours and willfully contributing to an employees dismissal.

With an owner that’s never around and a manager that abuses their power, 11 out of 14 of the cannabis industry workers I spoke to, eventually quit their jobs and started their own brands to invest in themselves.  Not just because they felt devalued by employers but because they were conditioned to view their co-workers as competition and constantly diminish their boundaries to be what these employers wanted them to be.  Sweet and beautiful submissive, objects that can be accessed and disposed of at any time.

Young people go into a budtender job thinking the culture of cannabis is accepting, they’re looking for a place to be themselves and they believe cannabis embraces that.  It truly hurt my heart to hear these stories because instead of receiving acceptance and opportunity they were subjected to putting up with unwanted sexual advances and aggressive, borderline violent commentary.   These predators are in the cannabis community and continue to hide in plain sight.  YouTube royalty and even internationally sponsored pot activists, these are the creepy uncles we’re keeping around because they make us money?! They’re also conditioning us to believe we need to exploit our sexuality to sell a gram of herb.  Conditioning us to exploit our bodies.

It’s time we redefined the standards these “ambassadors” have within our community.

Culture is never an excuse for violence.

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Kyrsten April is a ormer dispensary guru and trimmer turned freelance writer and full time activist,  Kyrsten April founded the NOT YOUR FAULT campaign to be a voice for those who have been silenced.  With sexualized assault support worker training, the NOT YOUR FAULT campaign refers support services to survivors who have been caught in the grips of human trafficking and sexual exploitation.  Advocating for plant medicine use regarding Post Traumatic Stress Injury as well as harm reduction and substance replacement, Kyrsten uses her extensive experience of clients’ custom needs and helps survivors navigate the harsh waters of the system. 

Anne-Marie Fischer