As cannabis becomes increasingly legal in the U.S., our options for consuming become more varied, and much more fun and interesting. Besides the multitude of high-quality, lab-tested strains available at dispensaries, enterprising small businesses are now producing creative cannabis-laced tinctures, topical creams, and edibles that go way beyond the traditional pot brownie. To support the new market, San Francisco-based entrepreneur Andrea Brooks created the new virtual marketplace, Sava, which launched in February of this year.
Sava has drawn comparisons to Etsy, apt for both its function and aesthetic. Where cannabis marketing overall still largely targets men and stereotypical stoner culture (think packaging covered in pot leaves), Sava is marketed explicitly to women, especially those who rely on the plant for its more medicinal qualities. Just like Etsy, Sava is an online meeting place where artisans and small businesses can sell their products.
Brooks became interested in medicinal cannabis after an injury in 2010 left her in severe pain, disabled, and unable to work. Frustrated with her slow recovery, unpleasant side effects from pharmaceuticals, and the doctors’ prognoses that her disability would be permanent, she began seeking alternative treatments. When a friend made her a cannabis tincture, she experienced what she describes as “a really major turning point.” Though she still medicates daily to manage her pain, she has since largely recovered and returned to work. Researching more about the plant and the industry introduced her to a wealth of small businesses that she knew could help others like herself.
“I met a lot of small product makers that were also injured and didn’t feel they could return to traditional jobs or were trying to get a small boutique cannabis business off the ground, but were having a hard time getting their products in places,” she explains. “There are so many amazing people in this industry making really healthy products that are totally different than what many people think cannabis products can be.”
Everything available on the Sava site comes along with a page that details its makers story, giving consumers a chance to learn about who’s creating their products. In an industry that’s still struggling to achieve mainstream legitimacy, it’s particularly interesting to hear what inspired these merchants to do what they do despite myriad challenges. “The aim is that even if you’re shopping online you’ll have a connection with who’s making your medicine and try to give as much of an intimate connection as possible,” says Brooks.
Though Brooks didn’t enter the industry considering herself a cannabis activist, she says that it’s a role she’s taken on. She’s adamant about referring to her products as medicine, not drugs, a result of her own journey as well as interactions with patients who contact her, particularly people who struggle with chronic pain and are fearful of the judgment and stigma that come with using a legal-grey-area substance. The fear of federal crackdowns and the future of legality persist, but for Brooks and her colleagues, the pay-off of helping patients is well worth it.
As a co-chair of the Bay Area chapter of Women Grow, Brooks is in regular contact with plenty of female growers, some who have taken major risks in working both legally and illegally for decades. She says maintaining these local groups and a positive environment for small businesses will be an important part of keeping cannabis culture friendly to advocates and patients. We’re approaching what could be a pivotal moment.
“As the industry is getting all this attention and there’s more money and people coming in, there are also the concerns about corporations coming in, and Big Pharma,” she says. Businesses like Sava and groups like Women Grow want to assure that “the people that have taken all the risks this entire time to get us here don’t get pushed out of the industry... We don’t want money to be what decides what happens with the cannabis industry and what dictates what sort of medicine you get.”
Besides legal and practical hurdles for marijuana businesses, Brooks also describes a level of long-standing, self-imposed stigma that can be hard to overcome. ”For so long, for the people that have been in this industry for a long time, you weren’t encouraged to come out and meet people and post about your business on Instagram. You would do the opposite. You were scared, you wanted to keep it as underground and discreet as possible,” she says. “It’s changing now where it’s like ok, we’re getting increasingly legal. Put it out there, stake your claim. But for so long people had to be in the shadows. There’s this coming out process now.”
BTW - Sava is currently offering 20% off all products in honor of 4/20!
All photos via Sava
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Catherine Plato is a freelance writer and editor from Oakland, California. Follow her on Twitter @catherineplato.