top of page

Celebrating the History of Women in Cannabis

Updated: Apr 15

Women and cannabis have a long, intertwined history. While the first recorded use of the plant occurred during Emperor Shen Nung’s reign in 2727 B.C., women were cultivating cannabis thousands of years prior. Today, women are still an influential part of the cannabis industry. While marijuana remains a male-dominated field, more women hold executive positions than ever before. This International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating the history of women in cannabis.

1. Cannabis in the Ancient World

Antique Portrait of Asian man with hemp plant

Ancient Mesopotamian women were some of the first to utilize cannabis. They mixed the plant with saffron, mint, and hemp seeds to ease labor pain and alleviate menstrual cramps. During Egypt’s 18th dynasty, the Pharaoh Hatshepsut reportedly used marijuana to treat her dysmenorrhea.

Therapeutic uses for cannabis were found throughout the ancient world. Texts indicate that the Indian Hindus, Assyrians, Greeks, and Romans used cannabis to treat a wide array of conditions. This included arthritis, depression, inflammation, pain, and asthma.

2. Middle Ages to the Victorian Era

Portrait of St. Hildegard von Bingen sitting on a bench illuminated by light writing on a scroll

During the 11th century, abbess, writer, and composer Hildegard von Bingen was well-known for her healing powers. She used tinctures, herbs, and precious stones to heal the sick. The abbess also grew cannabis in her garden and frequently recommended it for stomach aches and nausea. Her work, Physica, contains an entire chapter dedicated to the healing powers of what she called “Cannabus.”

While there are no records of Queen Elizabeth I smoking weed, she, too, was an advocate for the plant. In 1563, Queen Elizabeth I ordered landowners to grow cannabis or risk incurring a £5 fine. Nearly 300 years later, Queen Victoria was rumored to have used an alcoholic extract of the plant to relieve menstrual cramping and pain during childbirth. Regardless, cannabis was a well-known herbal remedy in Victorian England. The plant was frequently added to teas and tinctures to manage pain.

Vintage photographic portrait of Margaret Mead

3. Margaret Mead

In 1969, anthropologist Margaret Mead testified before Congress. At 68 years old, the author and social scientist noted marijuana “ not harmful unless it is taken in enormous and excessive amounts.”.

Mead cited the usage of cannabis in other parts of the world and claimed that the prohibition of cannabis ultimately did more harm than good in the United States.

4. Mary Jane Rathburn

Portrait of Mary Jane Rathburn holding a plate of brownies with a field of cannabis plants behind her

During the height of the AIDS crisis, Mary Jane Rathbun became the “Florence Nightingale of the medical marijuana movement.”. Mary Jane offered free cannabis brownies to patients who suffered from AIDS.

After two arrests, she advocated for the medical use of the plant and was instrumental in passing California Proposition 215 in 1996 and San Francisco Proposition P in 1991. Mary Jane also contributed to the opening of the San Fransico Buyers Club, the first dispensary in the United States.

5. Maya Angelou

Portrait of Maya Angelou with green and gold marble background

Author, poet, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou frequently indulged in cannabis throughout her twenties.

In the second installment of her famous biography, Maya Angelou wrote about her experiences with the plant: “I learned new postures and developed new dreams. From a natural stiffness, I melted into a grinning tolerance. Walking on the streets became high adventure, eating my mother's huge dinners an opulent entertainment, and playing with my son was side-cracking hilarity. For the first time, life amused me.”

The book was released in 1974, a time when marijuana use was heavily criticized. Angelou’s work helped to reform laws and normalize weed.

5. Wanda James

Portrait of Wanda James, CEO of Simply Pure Dispensary

Over the last decade, CEO and activist Wanda James has worked to remove the stigma associated with marijuana and expose the racial inequalities in the industry.

James, along with her husband Scott Durah, were the first African-Americans to own a legally licensed dispensary, cultivation facility, and edible company in America called Simply Pure. James worked on Barack Obama’s National Finance Committee and served on Gov. Hickenlooper’s Amendment 64 Task Force Work Group, which helped end cannabis prohibition in Colorado.


Women have always been integral to the cannabis industry. From rights to regulations, our work is increasingly vital to transforming the profession. With the right resources and support, women are in a unique position to drive innovation and progress for years to come.

Who are your favorite canna-advocates making herstory? Let us know in the comments.


bottom of page