“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.” Emily Dufton, The Atlantic (10/28/13)
Emily Dufton does an excellent job identifying the cultural challenges and social setbacks that are experienced by female cannabis consumers on a regular basis. The issue of women and weed has become a hot topic recently, and being on the forefront of this push for female engagement has been nothing short of fascinating. The emergence of independent, mainstream professional women becoming more outspoken about their cannabis use has prominently challenged traditional stereotypes, and started the long-overdue process of reframing gender norms. As marijuana goes mainstream, its cultural connotations will continue to evolve. In return, more women will feel comfortable coming out of the cannabis closet.
A little over 4 years ago, I wrote an aptly named blog; Because Women are NORML Too, in response to the overwhelming interest to Marie Claire’s famous Stiletto Stoners article. In that post, I noted, “The normalization of recreational cannabis consumption is not just happening with men, which is what most people think of when they think of pot smokers. Women, who are not necessarily left out of the movement, are rarely recognized as a major demographic that is essential for the reform effort to push forward in a truly legitimate fashion.” It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come.
Since then, there has been a major effort on behalf of NORML and the movement to identify and close the gender gap. Reformers are acutely aware that in order to succeed in ending blanket prohibition, female outreach has to be a key component to their advocacy work. Women, a significant demographic were largely responsible for bringing down California’s Proposition 19, but were also a key factor in the passage of Washington and Colorado’s legalization initiatives in 2012. In fact, campaigners in Colorado and Washington spent a significant amount of time and resources cultivating the female vote. Though a gender gap still exists nationwide, it is shrinking, fast.
While great strides have been made culturally and politically, there still remains a great deal of curiosity and intrigue surrounding female cannabis consumers. Many want to know, who are these women who smoke pot? Why do we smoke pot? Is it because we are sick or in pain, need a crutch or because we simply want to relax with a substance that has less side effects than alcohol? Why don’t more of us speak out about it? Why aren’t there more women leading the fight? Can a responsible mom still smoke pot? It’s truly amazing how a single chromosome can alter the entire construct and perception of a certain behavior. One can write volumes on each of these questions, but the interest clearly comes from the disconnect of deeply rooted gender norms regarding women, intoxication, and our various roles in society. Many of these abstract components have been mulled over time and again by different authors and publications. But if we look at our current policies, some of these questions are answered in very real terms.
For example, a mother who chooses to unwind with a joint after her child has gone to bed is no more a danger to her child than one who chooses a glass of wine. Yet, our laws say otherwise. A mother who smokes pot is in constant danger of losing her children because child protective services maintain the false presumption that this behavior (or the mere presence of pot) poses a threat to the child’s safety. This is just one example of how the culmination traditional gender norms and our current marijuana policies play a real and tragic role in our society. The proliferation of government agencies across the country removing children from safe, loving homes for the mere fact that a parent is a cannabis consumer, even in states with a legal medical marijuana program, or where marijuana possession is no longer a criminal offense is not just an abstract discussion, but a tangible, legal issue that requires immediate attention and an expedited solution. Support for marijuana legalization is higher than ever before, and as the political winds change, so too will the scope of the marijuana culture. Women, and our relationship with marijuana will have political and social implications for years to come, and it is therefore up to us to make sure we take a leading role in defining what those outcomes will be.
It’s no secret that there has been a proliferation government agencies across the country removing minors and infants from their home, based solely on the fact that a parent is a cannabis consumer, and the false presumption that the presence of marijuana poses a danger. This even occurs in states with a legal medical marijuana program, or where marijuana possession is no longer a criminal offense. Some of these experiences can be incredibly traumatic to the child, as well as the parents, as officers have a tendency to use aggressive and sometimes militaristic tactics while engaging with these families.
NORML receives dozens of calls and emails every month from devastated parents who have lost custody of their children to state agencies, and we remain committed to providing support and resources to those forced into these unfortunate circumstances. In light of such efforts, we are pleased to announce that NORML has recently partnered with the newly formed Family Law and Cannabis Alliance (FLCA), founded by longtime drug reform activists Jess Cochrane and Sara Arnold. The FLCA is an informational clearinghouse that provides educational resources, advocacy information and legal referrals geared toward reformers & affected families on the crossover of marijuana laws & the child protection system.
Sabrina Fendrick, Director of Women’s Outreach said, she is “looking forward to working with the Family Law and Cannabis Alliance to raise awareness about the devastating effects, and sometimes dangerous practice, of child services in removing children from their safe and loving homes for the mere fact a parent is a cannabis consumer. It is time to end this destructive policy, and put an end to marijuana prohibition once and for all.”
Click here for more information on the Family Law and Cannabis Alliance.
Six out of ten likely California voters support making cannabis legal, according to survey data released yesterday by the Public Policy Institute of California. Sixty-eight percent of likely voters also believe that the US government should not enforce federal anti-marijuana laws in states that have approved the plant’s use. The percentages are the highest ever reported by the polling firm in favor of allowing adults to possess and consume cannabis socially.
Support for marijuana law reform fell slightly among all adults. Among all Californians, not just likely voters, 52 percent responded that “marijuana should be made legal,” and 61 percent believed that the federal government should not interfere with statewide marijuana laws.
Men (57 percent), Democrats (64 percent), and Independents (60 percent) were more likely to express support for legalizing marijuana than were women (47 percent) or Republicans (45 percent). Caucasians (63 percent) and African Americans (61 percent) also expressed far greater support for legalization than did Asians (48 percent) or Latinos (36 percent).
Pollsters surveyed 1,703 Californians, including 1,429 registered voters. The PPIC poll possesses a margin of error of between 3.7 percent.
Marijuana prohibition has taken yet another innocent life. In January 2013, two- year-old Alexandra Hill was taken from her home in Round Rock, Texas because her parents had admitted to smoking pot after their child had gone to bed. As a result, she was placed with an abusive foster mother, who subsequently beat her to death.
According to her father, Joshua Hill, who spoke with KVUE, a local ABC affiliate, “She would come to visitation with bruises on her, and mold and mildew in her bag. It got to a point where [he] actually told CPS that they would have to have [him] arrested because [he] wouldn’t let her go back.” A few days later, the Hill family got a call informing them that their daughter was in a coma, and they needed to get to the hospital right away. Two days after that, Alex was taken off life support. Up until she was snatched from her family in January, the 2 year old had never been sick or gone to the hospital.
“When a parent who responsibly consumes marijuana after hours is seen as neglectful in comparison to a parent who responsibly enjoys a glass of wine, then the system isn’t just broken, it’s deadly,” said Sabrina Fendrick, Director of Women’s Outreach at NORML. Little Alex’s fate was sealed the minute the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) determined that such behavior qualifies as “neglectful supervision,” and put her with a foster mother who had not been given a proper background check.
This is just one more tragic casualty of marijuana prohibition. However, the practice of child snatching by CPS from marijuana-using parents is by no means unique to this story. Current policy gives state agencies the right to legally kidnap minors and infants from their loving parents’ home (simply for the fact that they are cannabis consumers), and place them in an unknown, possibly dangerous or truly neglectful environment. Hundreds of similar CPS cases pop up around the country every year. Only when the government changes its view, and policies on marijuana can we truly protect the rights and integrity of good parents who responsibly consume cannabis after hours and out of their child’s view. It’s time for CPS, the state of Texas and the federal government to step up, take responsibility for all of the damage they have caused, and commit to ending this disastrous and fatal policy.
As more women are drawn to Humboldt County’s marijuana trade and off-grid lifestyle, a local battered-women’s shelter has noticed a growing trend of violent encounters. The Standard-Examiner reports that, “The bulk of… cases involve single young women aged 18 to 26, who may travel to the area and are lured to farms by promises of work, money and, often, romance. The women are hired for trim work, which involves cleaning freshly harvested pot and preparing it for sale.” Most women who survive violence are hesitant to seek help in general. The women in the pot-growing business however, are under even more pressure to keep quiet because they are part of a culture that promotes secrecy.
There is no doubt the pot-growing industry supports the local economy by pumping much-needed cash into the community. The problem is however, that because farm owners and managers (most of whom are male) are running illegal operations under federal law, standard employment regulations such as working conditions and sexual harassment laws do not apply. The Director of W.I.S.H (Women’s Crisis Center of Southern Humboldt), points out that, “Men managing the farms can be paranoid over the threat of raids or people stealing the plants. Women’s cell phones may be taken away and they may not be allowed to leave until season’s end. Some are forced off farms at gunpoint without being paid. Women may be beaten or psychologically controlled…”.
The cycle of violence is perpetuated by an underground, black market economy. This is just one more reason marijuana needs to be legalized and regulated. Moving the entire marijuana industry above ground will protect workers’ rights, hold employers accountable, and remove the culture of secrecy that continues to foster female exploitation.