By Cassandra Szklarski

Carol Francey waxes nostalgic when she thinks back to the first time she tried pot.

The year was 1966, the place was Toronto's hippie-packed Yorkville neighbourhood, and she was 17-and-a-half-years-old.

The Victoria resident has been using pot ever since, she says -- some 52 years. And for most of that time, she did it in secret.

"I worked for the government most of my life, I was a school teacher, I was teaching elementary school," says Francey, who now uses cannabis for recreational and medical reasons. For a long time, she even kept the secret from her son.

"I would keep it private from him until he was a teenager and then we would discuss it. But you didn't want to put your child in any jeopardy, you were afraid that the school authorities would be really concerned about it, much more so than if you had all the alcohol in the world in your room."

If popular culture is full of pot icons who happen to be male -- think Bob Marley, Cheech and Chong, Snoop Dogg, Seth Rogen and Woody Harrelson -- this is why, says cannabis advocate Irie Selkirk.

While women have long been part of the grey market using and celebrating cannabis, it's largely been in the shadows, and under a much harsher stigma than that faced by men, says the Toronto-based speaker and consultant.

"It was incredibly accepted for generations for men to unwind with their whiskey or their scotch at the end of the night," notes Selkirk, who also works with the licensed producer Emblem Cannabis and accessories company Tokyo Smoke.

"Men are obviously given far more liberties as far as judgment goes and it's a lot easier for a male parent to find themselves a little less stigmatized."

Of course, attitudes have changed rapidly in recent years as a growing number of U.S. states embraced recreational use and as Canada inches towards legalization this October.

A scan of Canada's burgeoning cannabis sector suggests women are a major focus for licensed producers eager to tap into the market, with edibles and health-and-wellness products such as topicals -- expected to be legal by July 2019 -- seen as especially lucrative avenues.

That's opened doors for several female-led and female-focused startups, as well as female influencers, entrepreneurs, growers, edible-makers, and product creators -- many of them chasing female customers.

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