“There’s a bro mentality in much of cannabis culture,” Society Jane co-founder Andy Greenberg told me. “It’s just a very male focus and attitude: ‘More is better! Stronger is better! Let’s dab! Let’s be on our couch for three days!’ Women do not want to be on the couch for three days.”
What women want, according to Greenberg, 55, is to know what they’re ingesting and where it came from. Society Jane, based in San Francisco, bills itself as “The Good Girl’s Cannabis Club,” befitting ladies who are more about strategic and careful consumption than raging. “Women tend not to want to get so high they feel out of control,” Greenberg said. “They want products that deliver consistent and manageable doses.” She and her business partner, Sharon Krinsky, talk up their organic and sustainably produced edibles, topicals, and tinctures; they spotlight women growers and packagers.
What is a Society Jane party like? Ten to 20 women gather—usually in the evening, usually at someone’s home—to have sparkling wine or cocktails (“we have a lovely cannabis-infused elderberry syrup right now,” Greenberg gushed), schmooze with friends, and learn about purgatory’s parsley. “We generally have samples,” Greenberg said. “You can try it there or take it home—it’s a gift; you’re not buying it, which is an advantage of having a privately hosted party.” (In other words, it’s legal.) You need a medical marijuana card—easily attainable in California, and Society Jane will explain the application process to newbies—to purchase products. Guests mill around, examining the products, asking questions. The hostess provides finger foods or desserts. Society Jane provides the education and guest speakers, who address topics from women’s sexual health (Society Jane sells a cannabis-infused personal lubricant for enhancing female sexual pleasure) to “Cannabis 101,” a beginner’s guide to the devil’s lettuce. The Cannabis 101 option is popular with seniors, Greenberg said: “The hostess of a party coming up is 80, and her friends are around that age,” she noted. “They lived through the ’60s, so they’re certainly aware of cannabis … but it’s been several years! Now what they want is alleviating arthritis and inflammation.”
In fact, a recent study found that since 2002, marijuana use has increased 333 percent (correct, three-hundred-and-thirty-three percent) among people over 65. Use is up across the board among people most likely to host Tupperware-esque pot parties: For Americans age 45-54, it’s jumped almost 50 percent, and for those age 55-64, it’s up 455 percent. (As the Washington Post editorialized: “No, that’s not a typo.”) Unsurprisingly, the most frequent users are still 18-25-year-olds, followed by 26-34-year-olds … but statistically speaking, middle-aged parents these days are actually more likely to indulge than their high-school-age children. (Marijuana use among 12-17-year-olds is actually on the decline.)
For Greenberg, the primrose path to pot was paved with Yiddishkeit. She grew up in Minnesota, active in her family’s Conservative shul. She was an officer in United Synagogue Youth, went to Herzl Camp and Ramah in Wisconsin (where, we discovered while playing Jewish geography, her camp boyfriend was my husband’s cousin), and is still tight with her camp buds. (“One of my good friends from Ramah is now a cannabis attorney in Chicago—he’s a great resource about cannabis law throughout the states,” she said.)
After graduating from the University of Michigan, Greenberg studied environmental law at the University of Oregon, then worked on cases concerned with groundwater cleanup, Superfund sites, and landfills. “It’s a basic Jewish value to cherish the Earth,” she said, speaking of bal tashchit. She gradually transitioned from environmental law to doing estates and trusts, because “in environmental law, cases last a long time, and it was burdensome when I had kids.” She’d volunteered doing estate work for many years with the AIDS Legal Referral Panel, but as her kids grew into adulthood (they’re now 19 and 23), she wanted a new mission. She and Krinsky did some research and focus grouping, and decided to launch Society Jane in 2015. Krinsky attended Oaksterdam University in (duh) Oakland, the nation’s first cannabis-related university program—the Washington Post dubbed it “the Harvard Business School of Marijuana.”—where she studied everything from politics to growing methods to dispensary management to the legal implications of the pot business.
Greenberg’s interest in medical marijuana was piqued when her son developed Crohn’s disease that didn’t respond well to conventional treatment. “He was nauseated all the time,” she recalled. He tried a little high-CBD gummy and the response was amazing and immediate.”
CBD stands for cannabidiol, one of the two main molecules in marijuana. It has no mind-altering properties, unlike its sister molecule, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which brings the high associated with pot. THC has long been considered a possible treatment for chronic pain and other symptoms. But until recently, CBD was thought to be the molecular equivalent of dirtweed: schwag and non-dank. In the last few years, though, dozens of studies have found that CBD can ameliorate symptoms of anxiety, cancer, epilepsy, and a range of other maladies.
“The healing and compassion element of cannabis felt really Jewish and interesting to me,” Greenberg said, “but there’s also a social-justice element. When I was sitting in services a few weeks ago, and the parsha said, ‘tzedek tzedek tirdof,’—justice, justice shall you pursue—I almost cried. That’s it! I want to do that!”
“We are not an advocacy group,” she went on, “but you can’t be in the industry without understanding the history of cannabis in this country and how fraught and racist it is. The Controlled Substances Act was created in 1970, and cannabis was made a Schedule I narcotic, like heroin, the most harmful in the eyes of the federal government. Schedule II drugs include cocaine, methamphetamine, all the oxy drugs, fentanyl. This is insane. Every year congresspeople try to get the law changed, but nope, it’s still a Schedule I narcotic. It has disproportionately sent more people of color to prison for possession and selling than anything else in the country. In the future, Sharon and I want to add an advocacy element to Society Jane.”
For now, though, they’re about sales, education, and invitation-only cocktail parties. Society Jane sells prettily packaged antibacterial skin salves, deep muscle rubs, and anti-inflammatory bruise balms. The company sells tiny squares of artisanal dark chocolate and matcha-tea-infused white chocolate. “We gravitate toward low-dose edibles, where you can enjoy the whole thing rather than having to break it into tiny pieces,” Greenberg said. “And it has to be delicious. An edible can take an hour to take effect, so we want the experience to be a good one.”
They sell organic French fruit gelées with THC. They sell tinctures with little droppers that can be used sublingually, kicking in fast if, say, you feel a migraine coming on. They do not sell tinctures for pets, though this is apparently a big growth area in the veterinary industry. They’re into topical lotions, face serums, and lip balms, “if you don’t want the psychoactive effects, but you do want analgesic effects. You can’t get high through your skin … and the seniors really like it.” They sell fancy little single-dose vaporizer pens from a company called hmbldt with tiny, precisely-metered doses, some with THC and others with CBD, with names like “sleep,” “bliss,” “relief,” and “arouse.” They sell bath balms full of essential oils and cannabis, made by a company co-owned by Whoopi Goldberg. Perhaps next: vaginal cannabis suppositories for menstrual relief. “You insert as you would a tampon, and then you put a tampon,” Greenberg said. “Right now our demographic skews older, but our customers want to help their daughters and granddaughters with cramps.”
Greenberg, as you can tell, is an evangelist, eager to talk about new research, delivery methods, and health benefits of the krazy kale. “There is no shame in using cannabis,” she told me fervently. “In states where it’s legal, it can be super-helpful.” And yes, Jewish. “When I was talking to my rabbi about this a couple weeks ago, she noted that ashan—ayin shin nun—is the Hebrew word for smoke, and the letters’ value in Gematria is 420!” More seriously, she said, “In our tradition, you have no choice but to do tikkun olam and practice gemilut chasadim [acts of loving kindness]. Why not use a plant to help people with pain and get off opioids and live happy, pain-free lives?”
Like this article? Sign up for our Daily Digest to get Tablet Magazine’s new content in your inbox each morning.
Marjorie Ingall is a former columnist for Tablet, the author of Mamaleh Knows Best, and a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review.