Documentary Profiles Women in Weed as Female Leadership in Cannabis Drops

Lady Buds filmmaker says women are being squeezed out of the business

Mark your calendar for Mediaweek, October 29-30 in New York City. We’ll unpack the biggest shifts shaping the future of media—from tv to retail media to tech—and how marketers can prep to stay ahead. Register with early-bird rates before sale ends!

In creating a feature-length documentary called Lady Buds, filmmaker Chris Russo wanted to show that women have been the backbone of the cannabis industry for decades, long before legalization began sweeping the country.

The film, newly released on premium cable channel Starz after a lauded run on the U.S. festival circuit, may also end up becoming a rallying cry to boost female representation in C-suites and ownership ranks.

Lady Buds follows a diverse group of six women in various parts of the weed business in Northern California. The film includes the play-on-words tagline, “It’s all about the females,” referring to the fact that only female marijuana plants produce potent THC buds and flowers.

Among the subjects profiled are a retired Catholic school principal who now runs a dispensary for senior citizens, a second-generation family farmer and community organizer, and an LGBTQ+ activist.

When shooting for the documentary began in 2017, women made up 37% of the senior leadership in the cannabis industry, according to MJBizDaily. But as the film launches on TV, that number has dipped to 22%, putting the industry lower than the national average of 30% female executives.

Women own about 20% of American cannabis businesses, per MJBizDaily’s recent report. The numbers are slightly higher in states like Nevada, at 25%, but lag significantly in places like Ohio at 10% and Massachusetts at just 5%.

That backdrop makes the film “extremely timely and somewhat urgent,” Russo told Adweek, noting that female entrepreneurs have been squeezed out by deep-pocketed multistate operators and hobbled by limited access to financing, not to mention sky-high taxes and strict regulations.

Ironically, and worth noting: Women consumers are among the fastest growing and most coveted demographic for cannabis, with their numbers swelling 55% over the last two years, per researcher Headset. Cannatech firm Akerna reports that women made up 38.3% of the market in 2021, an increase of 3.3% since 2019.

A marketing sisterhood

As part of the promotion around Lady Buds, which scored a rare 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the producers have joined forces with two female-centric brands, the Sava cannabis delivery service and Josephine & Billie’s dispensary.

The San Francisco-based Sava, a female-, queer- and Latinx-owned company with an ongoing commitment to boost BIPOC- and women-owned brands, is offering a $30 discount on orders with coupon code “ladybuds.” 

The brand is also selling a limited-edition box of THC-laced goodies curated by the Lady Buds team. The products come from women-founded brands like Sonder, Garden Society, Sonoma Hills Farm, Arcanna and Kikoko.

Gravitas Ventures

And in Los Angeles, Josephine & Billie’s ties into the film with displays in its Jazz Age-themed store. (The retailer’s name is an homage to Josephine Baker and Billie Holiday, and owners refer to it as a “teapad” in 1920s lingo.) 

There’s also a special spotlight on Arcanna, the brand owned and run by Chiah Rodriques, whose Mendocino County farm is featured in the documentary.

With purchase of the highlighted brands at either partner, consumers get a link to a live Q&A session with the filmmakers and stars to celebrate International Women’s Day on Tuesday.

A growing Lady Buds empire

Russo, who interviewed more than 100 potential subjects before choosing the film’s stars, wanted to show a range of professionals “whose stories conveyed universal themes,” she said.

The director-producer is aiming for a wide audience with the doc, which gives an intimate look at the women’s lives and work, and wants to further destigmatize cannabis as more states continue to legalize but federal prohibition remains in place.

Lady Buds joins a number of small-screen programs like Kings of Kush on A+E’s Vice network and Growing Belushi on Discovery Channel as original cannabis content digs further into mainstream media.

Not only has Lady Buds been a hit with critics and gathered an armload of festival awards, but it will also spawn at least two more projects: a reality show and a feature-length comedy.

The unscripted series will center around 71-year-old Sue Taylor, also known as “Mama Sue,” whose lengthy battle to open a senior-centric dispensary was captured in Lady Buds. Wally Eltawashy, executive producer of the Showtime documentary on The Go-Gos, is developing the show.

The movie will come from production company Hellcat, headed by former WME and Endeavor Content executive Pippa Lambert. It’s described as a comedy in the vein of Bridesmaids, with an inclusive cast, set in the cannabis cultivation world.

Lambert, speaking to Deadline, called the legacy cannabis growers depicted in Lady Buds “as dynamic as they are diverse, and they’re truly inspiring. I’m thrilled to be bringing their story, a true and still unfolding David and Goliath tale for our times, to life on the big screen.”