Growing up as an immigrant to the United States during the war on drugs, Amor Montes de Oca stayed away from cannabis. 

“My history without the plant was ignorance,” said Montes de Oca, who last year became executive director of Illinois Women in Cannabis (IWC), a networking and mentorship organization. “Like many of us, I was a victim of propaganda. It wasn’t in my immediate circle.”

Things changed nearly a decade ago, when she co-founded the 2112 creative business incubator on Chicago’s Northwest Side. 

“Startups were looking at cannabis as an industry they could expand their businesses to,” she said. “Today we are seeing a tremendous amount of job growth in the industry with all of the displaced workers coming from other fields.”

Founded in 2014 by Green Thumb Industries executive Dina Rollman, nonprofit IWC blossomed in the years preceding adult-use legalization in Illinois. But just as the industry was expanding recreationally in the state one year ago, in-person professional and social events went ka-zoom. Online and on Montes de Oca’s watch, the organization convenes multiple online programs per month focused on topics like cannabis resume writing and understanding how to recommend products based on customer input. (Disclosure: I volunteer on IWC committees focused on education and marketing in the cannabis industry).

Next month, Montes de Oca, Rollman, and fellow board members Gina Gault and Carrie Armour will be on a “How to Cultivate a Cannabis Career” panel at SXSW Online

“I have a daily sense of urgency to promote opportunities,” she said. “I see my function at IWC as to help employers with inclusion. The majority of the responsibility falls on the employer, but we all have a responsibility to contribute to the enormous amount of restorative work that needs to be happening.”

Avatar photo

Brad Spirrison is a journalist, serial entrepreneur and media ecologist. He lives in Chicago with his son. Interests include music, meditation and Miles Davis.