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Women’s Role in Legalizing and Destigmatizing Weed

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Posted on Oct 29, 2013
shjauzmn (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Women including pop singers, working professionals and stay-at-home moms have been publicly admitting to cannabis use for a number of health and recreational reasons. Not only does this represent a massive shift in the way women view marijuana since a few decades ago, but it’s also having an impact on the legalization of the herb. And yet, some ladies are still reticent about announcing they smoke weed due to lingering social stigma, drug testing at the workplace, and laws with severe punishments for possession of certain quantities. The Atlantic’s Emily Dufton writes about the implications of going public with smoking habits, as well as the negative effects of staying quiet:

And yet, recently, more women are starting to use the internet to come out of the cannabis closet. Whether on Facebook, through online journals like Ladybud, or in the comments section of popular articles on Jezebel and The Stranger, women are exposing themselves as tokers—and as mothers, lovers, students, employees, taxpayers, voters, and otherwise upstanding citizens. Many of the comments following these articles voice an overwhelming sense of relief: “I finally felt like I wasn’t alone!” There’s an air of cognitive dissonance about it, that a woman, especially a nurturing professional woman, could both smoke pot and not be Jim Breuer in Half Baked was, to many, a revelation.

Because of the often surprising nature of their confessions, pot smoking is still not something many women are entirely comfortable admitting. Even in an age where the majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana and two states (Colorado and Washington) have already legalized recreational use, adult women still often feel the need to hide their smoker identity. Unlike younger women who gladly post photos of themselves with their favorite herb, adults with kids and careers are rarely so open about their use….

This makes sense. In a world where drug testing is still a common workplace requirement and mandatory minimums for pot possession could land you in prison for up to three years, it’s a scary world in which to expose yourself. Yet, as scholars are growing more concerned about rising rates of female alcohol abuse, some women are defending marijuana as a healthier, less harmful, more natural, and less addictive source of relief for pain and anxiety….

A growing number of these women are getting involved in reforming cannabis laws. Activist women in organizations like the NORML Women’s Alliance, Mothers Against Misuse and Abuse (MAMA), and Moms for Marijuana not only support women’s marijuana use, but they’re also working to challenge drug laws that they feel unduly harm pot users while leaving violent criminals out on the streets. As the NORML Women’s Alliance puts it, “There is no doubt that once women, especially mothers, become educated about the social and economic costs of marijuana prohibition… the scope of the national, mainstream conversation will be changed for good.”

And, as an article in The Atlantic pointed out in November of last year, women are key to passing marijuana reform legislation, whether they smoke pot or not. Ads run last November specifically targeted mothers, with a “Washington mom” telling her audience that, through the potential tax-and-regulate system, legal marijuana would bring a bevy of benefits—including tight controls over selling pot to minors and millions of tax dollars raised for prevention and education—to families across the state. Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML, acknowledged in the Atlantic article that getting women to vote for legalization was the only way to pass a bill: “If women get weak-kneed, the men will start to drop.”

But as the divide between medical marijuana and legalized marijuana use for adults grows ever more blurred…women are beginning to defend their smoking as a natural form of relaxation. For the first time in years, since the legacy of “Just Say No” and the drug wars of the 1980s have faded into the past, women—regular, professional, adult women—are starting to admit that they smoke pot, not only because it helps those with cancer and AIDS and because taxing pot sales could fund struggling public schools, but because it’s something they simply enjoy.

Dufton adds that it’s also extremely important for the average American woman who smokes marijuana to admit she forms part of the 17.4 million cannabis users in this country in order to assess what effects this drug has on female bodies and minds. And, if they continue to get involved in the legalization process, women could also help drastically reduce the number of arrests related to possession, which cost taxpayers billions of dollars each year.

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi

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