Since the early days of cannabis advocacy, influential women throughout the country have been trailblazers through their activism and dedication towards advancing humane cannabis policies. These women have made great strides despite an abundance of adversity and stigmatization surrounding cannabis use and womanhood.
Here at MPP, we recognize that the progress we’ve made so far wouldn’t be possible without the immeasurable contributions and leadership of women, and that legal cannabis can’t reach its full potential without the participation of women at every level, from grassroots to the C-suite.
We have seen women take the helm and begin to redefine what good business practices look like in the cannabis industry as it continues to expand. We’ve witnessed firsthand how women in leadership positions can exceed expectations and influence positive change as they simultaneously work towards ushering in more women to the burgeoning industry. And yet, over the past five years the percentage of executive positions held by women in the cannabis industry has remained stagnant or declined year-by-year (Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Report, MJ Biz, 2023).
In honor of Women’s History Month, we believe it is important to bring awareness to the gender disparities within the cannabis industry, and to also shine a light on some of the women making their mark in the cannabis space. To that end, MPP is proud to have some of the most influential women in the cannabis legalization movement on our team!
Toi Hutchinson, MPP President & CEO
As the first woman to lead the Marijuana Policy Project, Toi Hutchinson is one of the most influential voices in cannabis policy in the country. She is a pillar of the legalization movement and has inspired countless others through her work. With her distinctive professional background as a legislator, administrator, and nonprofit advocate, Toi brings a completely unique perspective to the cannabis policy arena. During her time as a state Senator in Illinois, Toi helped to lead the charge for the first-ever legislatively passed law to legalize and regulate cannabis with her colleagues Sen. Heather Steans, Rep. Kelly Cassidy, and Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, later dubbed the “Marijuana Moms” by NPR.
As the President & CEO of one of the leading organizations working to end cannabis prohibition, Toi Hutchinson is leading through example. Toi understands the importance of investing in women, noting that when women have an opportunity to enter the conversation, they bring new perspectives and unique insights which is exactly what we need to understand the true potential of the cannabis industry.
“When you invest in women, women invest in the community.” -Toi Hutchinson
Karen O’Keefe, MPP Director of State Policies
Karen has spent nearly two decades with the MPP team at the forefront of cannabis policy reform, playing a central role in replacing the failed approach of prohibition with sensible and sustainable cannabis laws nationwide. As MPP’s director of state policies, Karen has managed our grassroots and lobbying efforts in state legislatures, working closely with local allies and lawmakers to pass cannabis legislation in every corner of the country.
Karen’s track record of success includes her pivotal role in the campaigns that resulted in Vermont and Illinois becoming the first two states to legalize marijuana via legislation. She helped guide Connecticut's successful legalization campaign; medical marijuana victories in eight states; and successful decriminalization efforts in Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
Without Karen’s strategic insight and steadfast determination, the cannabis reform movement would not be where it is today.
Additionally, we are proud to both recognize and celebrate the women of the MPP Board of Directors — Bridget Hennessey, Kim Napoli, and Betty Aldworth — as well as the rest of the women on the MPP staff who make our work possible: Andrea Navarro, Bridget Spiddle, Christina Beal, Daniela Jang, Natasha Olinger, Olivia Naugle, Rawan Elfar, and Violet Cavendish.