While national figures show that the number of women in leadership positions within the cannabis industry is on the decline as the industry expands, some locals have defied this trend, becoming trailblazers in the Ocean State’s newest (legal) industry. Here are the stories of just a few of the wonderful women of weed in Rhode Island:
Emily Cotter, Lovewell Farms
A lifelong Rhode Islander, Emily got her start in the cannabis space as President of the University of Rhode Island’s chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, a youth-led network dedicated to ending the War on Drugs. During her time at URI, she was involved in the campaign to decriminalize cannabis in Rhode Island, and also helped organize Hempfest, a yearly musical festival on the University Quad that helped raise awareness about the damages caused by marijuana prohibition.
Since leaving college, Emily has stayed heavily involved in the RI cannabis space. In addition to her work with Yes We Cannabis RI – where she helped encourage the legislature to pass cannabis legalization and automatic expungement of cannabis-related offenses – Emily is also Co-Founder and COO of Lovewell Farms, a hemp farm and wellness company based in Hope Valley that uses sustainably grown CBD to make high-quality products. Despite the intense competition in the CBD space, Lovewell’s use of locally grown cannabis and commitment to using only the best ingredients has allowed the company to gain a dedicated customer base. [ed note – Cotter is also a regular contributor to Motif]
Tanya Luongo, Cannalytics RI
As a strong believer in the benefits of medical cannabis and as someone who previously spent 15 years as the director of an environmental lab, Tanya Luongo was the perfect person to help start a cannabis testing laboratory in Rhode Island. Unhappy with the quality of the cannabis testing lab she previously worked at, Tanya and co-founder Mike Pytell fled to start Cannalytics RI in 2021.
As one of the three licensed cannabis labs in the state, Cannalytics RI helps ensure that medical cannabis used by patients is free of contamination and properly marked for potency.
Rhode Island only implemented mandatory third-party testing for medical cannabis in 2021, so Cannalytics RI has been a key player in helping the state’s testing scene get caught up with cannabis markets in other states, including the implementation of low-level beverage extraction procedures and analysis methods that had not been previously available at other labs in the state.
Despite the fact that the company was founded only a year ago, Cannalytics RI has already become an important player in improving the quality of RI’s cannabis industry.
Jessica Gorman, Seawitch Medicinals
In the early days of the medical cannabis program in RI, Jessica Gorman and her friends were constantly lamenting the lack of available products on dispensary shelves. Determined to rectify this situation herself, she founded SeaWitch Medicinals in 2014. The company has since grown into one of the leading providers of cannabis infused products in the state.
The Newport-based company makes a variety of tinctures, topicals, teas, and other non-smokable cannabis products in small batches, using only the finest ingredients. SeaWitch has even gotten into the cannabis beverage game, releasing a line of infused tonics that come in tantalizing flavors such as white grape and spiced apple.
Medical patients can currently find SeaWitch products at Greenleaf, Summit and Sweetspot Dispensaries.
Adina & Sasha Birnbaum, Talaria
Talaria is a Providence-based cannabis cultivator that specializes in growing small-batch, craft flower, and is one of the few women-owned licensed cultivators in Rhode Island. After spending some time in the Pennsylvania cannabis industry, Adina Birnbaum moved to Rhode Island and started Talaria with the help of Brent VanZile, a local cannabis grower and consultant. The business is truly a family affair: Adina’s daughter Sasha also works for Talaria.
When asked if she had any advice for women looking to get into the cannabis industry, Adina told me, “GO FOR IT! Women are needed in this industry and there are very few of us in Rhode Island. The percentage of women cannabis consumers is growing significantly, but the number of women in C-level positions in cannabis is falling. In Rhode Island Talaria is one of the only women-owned cultivation businesses. We make up less than five percent of the industry here.”
Talaria flower is available at all four of the medical dispensaries that are currently open in the state, and Adina is excited for the opportunity to sell their products to recreational consumers once sales begin in the state.