In case you haven't noticed, the cannabis industry is blossoming before our eyes. Having long been considered a taboo topic that legislators swept under the rug, marijuana is finding support in a growing number of countries around the world.

Today, more than 40 countries have legalized medical marijuana in some capacity, with two -- Canada and Uruguay -- also allowing the sale of recreational pot. By this coming October, it's expected that Mexico will become the third. Sandwiched in between Canada and Mexico is the United States, where even though cannabis remains a Schedule I drug, 33 states have legalized its medical use, and 10 have also OK'd adult-use consumption. Having an all-time record 66% of Americans support broad-based legalization has been a big help in persuading states to "go green."

A woman holding a cannabis plant with soil in her outstretched cupped hands.

Image source: Getty Images.

Women are key to the cannabis movement

But aside from this generalized momentum, there's a bigger catalyst that the industry could be overlooking. One that could really drive growth in the marijuana industry in the years and decades to come. I'm talking about the influence and guidance that women, as both consumers and corporate leaders, will provide to the weed industry.

Generally speaking, the executive world is male-dominated, with an average of 77% of executive jobs held by men worldwide. But the cannabis industry has proved to be a different beast in the early going. According to Marijuana Business Daily, 27% of all executive positions in the marijuana industry are currently held by women, although that's down from an estimated 36% in 2015. Nevertheless, it's a notably higher number than in other global industries, and for good reason: Women are going to be highly influential for the pot industry. 

For example, Dutch-based Rabobank, a multination banking and financial services company, released a report in April 2018 that outlined three reasons U.S. wine sales would be hurt by the burgeoning pot industry. Aside from noting that recreationally legal U.S. states already consume more wine, and health-conscious consumers may lean toward cannabis over wine, the report points out that women are far more likely than men to increase marijuana consumption after legalization. In its study, 26% of men and 34% of women responded that legalization would influence their cannabis consumption habits. That makes women an integral part of future consumer strategy in the United States, the largest marijuana market in the world (if legalized). 

Two miniature shopping carts, with one holding a cannabis flower, and the other cannabis oils.

Image source: Getty Images.

These female execs have helped put their respective companies on the map

But woman aren't just changing the game as consumers. They've taken the reins as cannabis executives and are running with the opportunity. While Marijuana Business Daily has a list of more than 20 female executives making waves in the weed industry, here are a handful that are impacting companies you're probably familiar with.

Kim Rivers, CEO of Trulieve Cannabis

In June, it'll mark four years since Kim Rivers took the helm as the CEO of U.S. vertically integrated dispensary operator Trulieve Cannabis (OTC:TCNNF). Known for her legal and administrative acumen in previous jobs (Rivers does have a law degree), she was considered the perfect fit for Trulieve to navigate the complex legal environment that is marijuana in the United States.

Since becoming CEO, Rivers has overseen the company's approval to cultivate and distribute medical marijuana in the state of Florida in November 2015, and the opening of Trulieve's first retail store in July 2016. Today, the Sunshine State is home to 27 Trulieve dispensaries, as well as multiple growing and processing facilities within the state. Rivers also helped to orchestrate the acquisition of dispensaries in California and Massachusetts toward the end of 2018, pushing Trulieve into two recreationally legal states. 

Perhaps most impressive is that Trulieve Cannabis is one of only a few operationally profitable pot stocks at the moment, and it's grown into the 13th largest marijuana stock by market cap among pure-play pot stocks. That's a job well done for a company that's been built from the ground up in four years.

An up-close view of flowering cannabis plants in an indoor grow farm.

Image source: Getty Images.

Jeanette VanderMarel, co-CEO of 48 North, and co-founder of The Green Organic Dutchman

Another leader in the cannabis field is Jeanette VanderMarel, who is currently the co-CEO of 48 North, along with Alison Gordon. At the moment, 48 North is the only licensed producer in Canada being led by two women.

But what you might know VanderMarel for is being a co-founder of The Green Organic Dutchman (OTC:TGOD.F) in 2013. After having her daughter pass away in 2003 from Dravet syndrome, a rare type of childhood-onset epilepsy, VanderMarel helped co-found The Green Organic Dutchman with the expectation that it would run clinical trials involving medical cannabis, part of which would be targeted at epilepsy. Today, however, The Green Organic Dutchman is transforming into one of the largest licensed producers on the planet. 

Although VanderMarel left TGOD, as the company is also known, last year, she left the company in good hands, with 219,000 kilos of peak production expected when operating at full capacity. Depending on how organic and inorganic capacity expansions play out within the industry, TGOD could be a top-five grower by peak annual output when all is said and done. Chances are that The Green Organic Dutchman doesn't get to this point without VanderMarel's leadership.

A large dispensary sign, with a cannabis leaf and the word dispensary written underneath it.

Image source: Getty Images.

Jess Henson, director of data and insights for Acreage Holdings

Women are also playing a key role when it comes to growth strategy, as evidenced by Jess Henson's role as the director of data and insights at Acreage Holdings (OTC:ACRGF). Henson, who joined Acreage Holdings in August 2018, had previously led purchasing and market research at Higher Leaf, one of the largest retailers in Washington state. 

With Acreage, Henson's job becomes infinitely more important. Rather than studying data to improve sales for a single-state operator, she's responsible for figuring out how to improve the efficiency and/or sales potential of the company's retail stores and production facilities that'll eventually span 20 states, assuming all current acquisitions close. No vertically integrated dispensary operator has a projected presence in more states at the moment.

Henson may also have played a role in reeling in Canopy Growth, which earlier this month announced the right to acquire Acreage Holdings for $3.4 billion in a cash-and-stock deal if the U.S. federal government legalizes marijuana. Henson's focus on branding, packaging decisions, and pricing may have provided some of the impetus for Canopy to make the move it did.

Long story short, don't overlook the impact women are having on the evolution and growth of the global cannabis industry.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.