In Denver, Colorado, Dr. Lisa Calderón has been dedicated to serving and shaping her community through political avenues for over 30 years.
Through her work as a justice reform advocate, nonprofit executive, and social justice organizer, Dr. Calderón’s policy work centers around many of the issues within the cannabis industry, such as the War on Drugs, gentrification, and social equity.
One of her first encounters with policy work in the cannabis community was through support of equitable business licenses for Black and Brown business owners. Because Black and Brown communities have been disproportionately impacted by the “war on drugs”, Dr. Calderón wanted to put forward policies that would enact real change.
“That was the hope,” she says, “that people with a history of living in neighborhoods that were overly surveilled and over-criminalized would get an opportunity to repair some of that harm.”
Sadly, these licenses did not come to fruition, but that hasn’t lessened her pursuit for policy changes with cannabis.
In July 2021, Dr. Calderón accepted the role of Executive Director for Emerge Colorado, a non-profit organization that offers Democratic women who want to run for office support through recruitment, training, and networking opportunities.
Through Emerge, Dr. Calderón is looking to continue the conversation with cannabis in a way that positively impacts the political system. Because as she sees it, cannabis has many intersecting issues.
“Cannabis isn’t in its own lane,” she explains, referring to its connection to economics, small business opportunities, and policing and prosecution. “Cannabis needs representatives that are part of the conversations.”
Together with local industry leaders like Wanda James, founder of Simply Pure dispensary and the first African American woman to own a marijuana dispensary in the United States, and Samantha Walsh, founder of Tetra Public Affairs, Dr. Calderón is open to forming a cannabis training segment through Emerge or at least add input from cannabis subject matter experts.
This would give future candidates the tools for public speaking and messaging necessary to address the issues on cannabis that “can become complex during candidate races.”
Conversations with women in cannabis have validated Dr. Calderón’s assertion that women have historically been pushed out of cutting-edge industries despite being at the forefront and cannabis is no different.
“Women often become entrepreneurs out of necessity,” she states, explaining that when they see a need or gap within the community, they fill it. But struggles with receiving funding from often male-dominated financial institutions leads to their exclusion. “Once you corporatize a product or industry, it shuts out women from going beyond a certain level.”
This is why Dr. Calderón believes that electing more women will ultimately help reduce barriers for women in the cannabis industry as women legislators are more likely to understand the hurdles they’ve had to overcome.
She also believes that there is room for women to lead in cannabis like they do in any other industry, and is optimistic about innovative women leaders creating pathways for future women entrepreneurs to follow.
Dr. Calderón’s advice?
“Talk to women who are currently in the industry. Understand the politics that are involved. Support women who are doing the work, ask them what they need, and then follow their lead. Vote with your dollars.”
Read about the 12 other women defying the cannabis industry shutout here.