Maha Haq said: “Starting with Cannaclub at UCLA, my aim is to make a positive social impact by empowering and providing opportunities to any student interested in the legal cannabis industry.”
Describe yourself and what you do.
I’m a Sociology & Mathematics student and co-founder of Cannaclub, the first cannabis student group at UCLA. I’ve worked as an international cannabis business consultant, researcher, and manager at several dispensaries.
I founded Cannaclub in an effort to combine my career interests with my academic studies. At Cannaclub, we collectively assemble to promote the ethical and empirical exploration of cannabis. Our mission is to crush the stigma surrounding cannabis through education. We host informational panels, fundraisers, networking events, and present academic cannabis classes (Cannabis 101, all recorded on our website) and throw cannabis job fairs with job matching.
When did you get started working with cannabis? What is your vision for your professional cannabis endeavors?
I have been working in the Los Angeles cannabis industry for over six years. I started as a budtender and wasn’t happy with how female staff members were often treated by employers. Most dispensaries only hired female budtenders and expected them to wear revealing clothing and behave certain ways. This culture was everywhere, and some locations were even more ridiculous than others. I was adamant on changing the sexist atmosphere in dispensaries and quickly worked up the management ladder.
My experiences since then have ranged from working in tech, startups, and business consulting firms in the cannabis industry. Each sector has provided me with unique lessons, but all too often I am still witnessing and experiencing inequality in the workplace.
My ultimate goal is to open my own cannabis-related business and join the growing number of female executives in this industry. Starting with Cannaclub at UCLA, my aim is to make a positive social impact by empowering and providing opportunities to any student interested in the legal cannabis industry.
What is your personal cannabis origin story?
When I was in high school I moved back and forth between California and Texas. Unfortunately this often caused me to get sick with upper-respiratory infections. I was recommended appetite-inducing prescriptions to help me maintain and gain weight when I was sick. I did not react well to these medications. A friend introduced me to cannabis, which I had obviously heard a lot about at that age. I didn’t really know what I was doing at first, but I eventually became more used to it. I began using it discreetly to self-medicate, and it helped!
Initially, convincing my immigrant mother about the benefits of cannabis was difficult. However, she is a clinical researcher at City of Hope Cancer Hospital, so talking to her about cannabis sparked deep and scientific discussions about cannabis treatment for patients with cancer and other conditions. Our discussions prompted me to educate patients interested in using cannabis medicinally. With the assistance of my mother, I’d go to the hospital and teach cancer patients about the endocannabinoid system and talk to them about cannabis products and consumption methods. Then shortly after graduating high school I started working and helping patients at a local dispensary in Pasadena, CA.
What is your Superpower?
Multitasking! Being a full-time student at UCLA and a full-time employee in an emerging industry wouldn’t be possible if I couldn’t manage wearing many hats at once. Some days I am expected in class, other days in meetings or conferences, at storefronts or cultivation facilities, writing papers or reports, being on campus or in the office. There is always a lot going on, and it is important to stay on up of it all! However, it is also important to not do so much that you spread yourself thin and lose focus. Maintaining a balance in all aspects of life is crucial, and being able to multi-task effectively certainly helps.
What has been your greatest obstacle in this industry or with your business to date?
My greatest obstacle is an ongoing battle for myself and many women: addressing sexism in the cannabis industry and beyond. Although I am no longer experiencing the pressures of a budtender who’s expected to wear revealing clothing, in many sectors of the industry there are unfavorable behaviors and perspectives towards women. Indeed, the fraternity parties I see on campus seem to have found their way into the industry. At one company, for example, women were outnumbered by male coworkers over ten times!
The misrepresentation of women in the cannabis industry is very prevalent, even though there are many women who are interested and qualified to be part of the conversation. These dynamics give men the idea that they can act differently and inappropriately without repercussions. I have been exploited by a cannabis business, and some women are still being exploited despite the changes over the years. It’s important to recognize the progress but also realize that there is a lot of change pending.
Additionally, being a student in the industry doesn’t make it easier. I am frequently doubted of my credentials and not taken seriously by older professionals. Although my experience started at a younger age, especially as it aligned with the process of legalization in Los Angeles, many people in this industry underestimate me and other young women because of our assumed lack of experience. I would much prefer to see more support among all ages and races in the cannabis community.
The misrepresentation of women in the cannabis industry is very prevalent, even though there are many women who are interested and qualified to be part of the conversation.
What is your advice for women in the cannabis industry?
There is still a lot of work left to do when it comes to our efforts to empower each other. Minority women are still underrepresented, and I hope to see more diversity in the industry in general. Women, people of color—especially as a woman of color—our chances of being included are less.
According to a report by MJBizDaily, the percentage of women executives in the cannabis industry was 36% in 2015, but this dropped to 26.9% in 2017. And the national average of women executives in any business is 23%. Furthermore, the percentage of female minority executives in the cannabis industry is even lower at 5.3% while the national average is 4.5%. I want women to understand we have a lot of work to do in order for this to be a progressive and accepting industry for women and others who are oppressed.
My plans for Cannaclub is to continue highlighting women in the cannabis space through our women empowerment events and panels. I organized and moderated our first Women in Cannabis panel this year. We plan to have women’s events every quarter and would love to collaborate with more women in the cannabis industry.
Connect with Maha Haq:
Instagram: @mazehaq and @cannaclub.ucla
Facebook: Maha Zehra Haq