Key Lessons from “Higher,” The Inaugural Cannabis Conference for Women of Color 

Philadelphia decriminalized cannabis in 2014, setting the stage for a more relaxed approach toward consumption within city limits. While the cannabis scene is in its early stages, entrepreneurs and advocates are working to make the city a leader in the industry. 

Higher: The First Cannabis Conference for Women of Color

Cannabis Noire’s “Higher,” the first-ever cannabis conference specifically for women of color, was a groundbreaking event that fostered inclusivity and representation within the cannabis industry. The June 2023 gathering brought 40+ panelists from accross the country. They are celebrating the achievements, struggles, and aspirations of women in cannabis. 

With a focus on empowerment and education, “Higher” addressed the challenges faced by women of color in cannabis and offered a platform to connect, learn, and share experiences. In a space historically dominated by cisgender white men, “Higher” created an experience tailored to women’s needs and aspirations, while highlighting important issues regarding inclusivity.

Without further ado, InClub presents 5 messages from the inaugural “Higher” conference:

1. The War on Drugs is far from over

77D021C5-7F15-4CC3-A982-77AF9CB6686CThe “Higher” conference featured diverse panel discussions featuring speakers of various backgrounds, professional roles, and expertise.

One of which, the Breaking the Stigma panel, highlighted cannabis, its deep connection to the war on Drugs, and how that affects the current state of the cannabis industry. The session delved into the historical context of the War on Drugs and called attention to the need for representation and equity within the cannabis industry in Philadelphia and on a broader scale. Panelists like Caroline Phillips of The National Cannabis Festival and Chelsea Higgs Wise of Marijuana Justice Virginia spoke on the importance of gatherings like the “Higher” conference and we’re breaking stigma just by being there. “People don’t necessarily expect the cannabis community to gather to talk about policy, to gather to talk about advancing and creating sustainable businesses,” Phillips stated during the panel discussion. “But we’re here doing exactly that.” 

2. Women find strength in collaboration, not competition

“Higher” emphasized the importance of building solid connections and uplifting fellow women in the cannabis industry. We learned about the power of collaboration, mentorship, and partnerships to drive growth and create opportunities. The event also provided networking opportunities and workshops on cannabis photography and social advocacy. I also loved the wellness and recharging stations. 

“Women in any space need to support and uplift each other because we face unique challenges,” explained Sheena Roberson, founder of Cannabis Noire and the “Higher” conference. “In the cannabis industry, we’re often overlooked and underrepresented but consistently outperforming and managing. We need to come together to intentionally build each other up and create a more level playing field,” she continued. 

3. Social Equity is more than a buzzword


A standout feature of the conference was learning about specific initiatives and organizations. Ones who are supporting and advocating for women of color in cannabis. 

The event showcased a diverse range of these initiatives and featured influential leaders like Cherron Perry-Thomas, the woman behind Black Cannabis Week – a local programming initiative aimed at bringing attention to the contributions of Black individuals in the cannabis space. Perry-Thomas and others shared expertise and insight on navigating the cannabis industry. They also highlighted the importance of social equity in cannabis. 

The “Higher” conference also partnered with local organizations focused on criminal justice reform and equity in cannabis legislation, dedicating a portion of the proceeds to support future initiatives and local legislation. 

4. The industry is vast and closed hands don’t get fed

The “Higher” conference featured a vendor marketplace that showcased products and services from minority-owned businesses in the cannabis industry. Attendees were able to connect with and support these entrepreneurs, fostering a more inclusive and thriving cannabis community.

One vendor, Brittany Lakes served as a powerful example of the vast reach and transformative opportunities within the industry. Beginning her cannabis career as a farmer in California, Lakes leveraged her expertise and passion into a new frontier. As the founder of Ganja Brews and The B Better Company, she demonstrates the industry’s capacity for innovation and adaptation. Her infused juices serve as a testament to the avenues for entrepreneurs to develop new products that meet consumer demands. 

5. Canna-queens mean business 

If you didn’t already know, the cannabis industry is a multifaceted realm that goes beyond common stereotypes. Having been in the cannabis space for 5-years now, Roberson says she created “Higher” to serve as a way to increase space and visibility for women in cannabis. “I wanted to create a space where people of color, especially women, could find safe space to come together to learn, network, and grow their businesses or improve their quality of life,” said Roberson.

The “Higher” conference treated us to a display of entrepreneurs, artists, and change-makers gathering to showcase their expertise and creativity.

The future of Philly cannabis

Philly’s cannabis industry has a long way to go. But with go-getters like Sheena Roberson and events like “Higher” in the mix, sights are set on an equitable market. The inclusive nature and sense of community fostered at the “Higher” conference is sure to leave a mark on history. And for those interested, Roberson has already announced the 2nd annual event for June 21-24, 2024. The group is currently seeking sponsors, panelists, and exhibitors.

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