Women's Month Spotlight: Andrea Cabral




What is your proudest accomplishment in the cannabis industry?

My proudest accomplishment is my contribution to the creation and growth of a vertically integrated adult-use cannabis company in Massachusetts in 2018 right on the heels of adult-use legalization. AWH started in Massachusetts with five people and we were one of the first, if not the first, adult-use cannabis companies in the state. MassGrow and Ascend Mass – our cultivation, manufacturing, and retail operations – have grown enormously in less than four years and during a pandemic where the adult-use market was initially deemed non-essential. It still amazes me.


Do you feel that the cannabis industry has more opportunities for female-identifying people than other industries?

As a relatively new and therefore more open industry, cannabis presents more opportunities for female-identifying people, and certainly, there are a lot of female entrepreneurs in the space, but executive and middle managerial leadership is still predominantly male. There are a number of reasons for this that are not specifically tied to gender bias, but that bias does exist and the cannabis industry is not immune to its consequences. Companies must be very intentional and focused on recruiting and retaining female participation and leadership at all levels. It does not happen organically.


Do you feel you have to work twice as hard as male colleagues or do you think the industry has moved past that?

I don’t personally feel that I have to work twice as hard as male colleagues, but that is due in part to the professional background I brought to the job and my title, but I am certainly aware that my circumstances are unique. Again, the cannabis industry is not immune to perceiving competence and judging work performance very differently based on gender.


What was your biggest challenge in business and how did you overcome it?

My biggest challenge was learning the business of business.  I came to cannabis from a 28-year career in government, politics, and law enforcement. Learning about private industry, particularly a new and exciting one like cannabis was a very big challenge, but such a fun and rewarding one. Also, the nexus between government and cannabis created by legalization and regulation is just fascinating given their historical antagonism and I wanted to be part of how that relationship developed in Massachusetts.


What has you or your company done to help give more opportunities for women?

I have been very intentional about hiring female-identifying people at all levels and wherever possible. But mere hiring isn’t enough. There has to be a commensurate focus on retention and the kinds of opportunities for professional growth and advancement that make retention sustainable. Those things can be very different for men and women. It’s also a challenge because there’s a lot of natural attrition in cannabis and while many are comfortable getting into the industry, many still are not. Federal legalization would change that.


What are your personal goals for 2022?

My personal goals for 2022 involve pushing for review of state regulations to make them more consonant with the actual impact the industry has had on the state versus the impact policy and law makers feared it would have.  None of the anticipated public safety consequences, which heavily influenced regulatory content, have occurred.  Cannabis companies not only bring significant revenue to municipalities and the state, their presence improves the communities in cities and towns where they operate in many ways. The stringency of the regulations should reflect that.



Andrea J. Cabral is the Massachusetts CEO of Ascend Wellness Holdings, a vertically integrated, multi-state cannabis company.  She leads MassGrow LLC, a cannabis cultivation and manufacturing company and Ascend Mass LLC, a multi-site adult use retail cannabis company.  In 2020, she was listed by Forbes Magazine as one of Fifteen Powerful and Innovative Women in Cannabis.  Her leadership in AWH follows a 28-year career in government and public service.  Andrea is a former Assistant District Attorney, the twice-elected Sheriff of Suffolk County and a former Patrick Administration Public Safety Secretary.  She is the Chair of the Public Safety and Community Mitigation Subcommittee of the Cannabis Advisory Board appointed by Attorney General Maura Healy as an expert in criminal justice reform.


Ms Cabral also provides weekly commentary and legal analysis on Boston Public Radio, The Jim and Margery Show on WGBH Boston Public Radio.


She is a graduate of Boston College and Suffolk University Law School.

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