“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.
Nearly nine out of ten Americans — including 80 percent of self-identified Republicans — now say that marijuana should be legal if its use is permitted by a physician, according to nationwide Fox News telephone poll of 1,010 registered voters. The poll, released today, was conducted by under the direction of Anderson Robbins Research (D) and Shaw & Company Research (R) and possesses margin of sampling error of ± 3 percentage points.
According to the poll, 85 percent of voters agree that adults ought to be allowed to use cannabis for therapeutic purposes if a physician authorizes it. The total marked an increase in support of four percent since Fox last polled the question in 2010 and is the highest level of public support for the issue ever reported in a scientific poll.
Although respondents were divided on whether they believed that “most people who smoke medical marijuana truly need it,” the overwhelming majority of voters nonetheless agreed that consuming the plant should be legal if a doctor permits it.
To date, eighteen states and Washington, DC have enacted laws authorizing the physician-supervised use of cannabis therapy. Medical cannabis legalization measures are presently pending in a number of additional state legislatures, including Illinois, New Hampshire, and New York.
Voters in the Fox News poll were less supportive of the notion of legalizing the non-medical consumption of marijuana. The poll reported that only 46 percent of voters favored broader legalization, while 49 percent of respondents opposed the idea. Self-identified Democrats (57 percent) were far more likely to support legalizing cannabis than Republicans (33 percent) or Independents (47 percent). Men (51 percent) were more likely to support legalization than were women (41 percent). Those age 35 or under were most likely (62 percent) to back legalization while those age 65 and older were least likely (31 percent) to be supportive.
By contrast, in recent months national polls by The Pew Research Center, YouGov.com, Quinnipiac University, and Public Policy Polling have reported majority public support for legalizing and regulating the adult use of cannabis.
Despite the overwhelming public support for medical marijuana law reform, legislation in Congress to amend federal law to allow for its use it states which permit it — House Bill 689, the States’ Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act — only possess 16 co-sponsors (less than four percent of the entire US House of Representatives). The bill has been referred to both the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Subcommittee on Health and to the House Judiciary, Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations — neither of which have scheduled the bill for a public hearing.
Despite several attempts by the media and policy makers to associate the rising number of state regulated medical marijuana programs (and popular legalization efforts) with a rise in use and a drop in associated risk, the 2012 Monitoring the Future Survey reports that there was no rise in daily or annual marijuana use among teens. According to the report, “annual marijuana use [among 8th, 10th and 12th graders] showed no further increase in any of the three grades surveyed in 2012… [And the] daily use of marijuana…remained essentially flat.” Also of note, despite the sharp decline in perceived risk of marijuana use across all three grades, there was a statistically significant decline of use among 8th graders. These numbers are consistent with other recent studies showing that states with regulated marijuana programs have not seen an increase in teen use. Some have even seen a decrease in pot use among their youth population.
“This study suggests that exposure among teens to the concept of marijuana regulation policies (one third of whom live in such states) does not cause an increase in use. It is also important to consider that a drop in perceived risk is likely associated with their rejection of the overzealous scare tactics used in most schools’ drug education programs” said Sabrina Fendrick, Director of Women’s Outreach.
It is important to note, however, that marijuana use rates and availability nationwide remain at relatively high levels, while alcohol use rates remain historically low. This is most likely due to the fact that the former is illegal and thereby not subject to government controls, while the latter substance is legally restricted to adults only. The same goes for tobacco. We did not have to outlaw cigarettes to reduce the use among minors. A policy of education and regulation (not prohibition) has created an environment in which cigarette usage has fallen to an all time low. According to the principal investigator of the study, Lloyd Johnston, “[A] lowering teen smoking rates…likely…depend[s] on…changes such as raising cigarette taxes, further limiting where smoking is permitted, bringing back broad-based anti-smoking ad campaigns, and making quit-smoking programs more available.” It has been proven that age restrictions, coupled with the imposition of government regulation and education are the most effective at reducing youth access to adult-only recreational substances. According to the 2011 MFS report, the drop in alcohol use can be attributed to a strict regulation scheme that include educational campaigns focusing on responsible use and age restrictions which, in turn, lowers availability.
The report concluded; “In the 1980’s a number of states raised their minimum drinking age to twenty-one, which these researches were able to demonstrate reduced drinking.” It goes on to say “the proportion of 8th and 10th graders who say they could get alcohol ‘fairly easily’ or ‘very easily’ had been declining since 1996 and continued to drop in all three grades in 2011. Various other factors of likely importance include…higher beer taxes and restrictions on alcohol promotion to youth.” The 2012 survey reported that again, “there was no increase in perceived availability of alcohol.”
One can therefore conclude that the only sensible answer to restricting marijuana access to [as well as use among] minors is through state and local government regulation and a message of moderation.
Defense Attorney Lauren K. Johnson won a major court victory for parents who legally use marijuana for medical purposes last week in Los Angeles. In the case of Drake A. (case # B236769), Division Three of the Second Appellate District, California Court of Appeal ruled on December 5, 2012 that there was no evidence showing that the defendant, a father, is a substance abuser for simply being a legal medical marijuana patient. The court confirmed that while parents who abuse drugs can lose custody of their children, a parent who uses marijuana for medical reasons, with a doctor’s approval, isn’t necessarily a drug abuser.
The father, “Paul M.” was placed under DCFS (Department of Children and Family Services) supervision after he testified in an October 2011 hearing that he used medical marijuana about four times a week for knee pain. During that same hearing, he also stated that he never medicates in front of his children, nor is he under the influence while they are in his care. DCFS supervision requires drug counseling, parenting classes and random drug testing. During subsequent drug screenings the father tested positive for marijuana, and negative for all other drugs. As a result, the Superior Court of Los Angeles ruled that the child was to become a “dependent of the court based on the trial court’s finding that [the] father’s usage of medical marijuana placed the child at substantial risk of serious physical harm or illness…”.
“Paul M.” appealed the former court’s ruling, which was challenged in the Second Appellate District of California. The Appellate court subsequently ruled in favor of reversing the Superior court’s judgment. The official ruling stated “[that the] DCFS failed to show that [the] father was unable to provide regular care for Drake [the minor child at issue] due to father’s substance abuse. Both DCFS and the trial court apparently confused the meanings of the terms ‘substance use’ and ‘substance abuse’.”
Johnson issued a press release noting that this is the first case to distinguish between marijuana use and abuse with regards to child protection laws. “In overturning a Los Angeles Superior Court ruling against the plaintiff, Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, the Appellate Court said the ‘mere usage of drugs,’ including marijuana, is not the same as substance abuse that can affect child custody, as alleged in this case by the lower court.” She went on to say, “The ruling illustrates a growing recognition of the legitimate use of medical marijuana in this state and other states. We want kids to be safe, but we also want parents to be able to use legally prescribed medications when children appear not to be at demonstrated risk of harm.”
This has been a pervasive issue in California, as well as other medical marijuana states. Legal patients have lost custody of their children and been forced to turn their children over to a juvenile protection agency. The NORML Women’s Alliance has been working hard to bring this issue to the forefront. NORML Women’s Alliance Director Sabrina Fendrick issued the following statement; “This ruling is a small victory in our fight for legal marijuana patients’ parental rights. We hope that future judicial hearings, as well as child protection agencies will utilize this judgment and adopt new policies that reflect the Appellate court’s ruling.”
Patricia Spottedcrow, an Oklahoma woman who was sentenced to 12 years for selling $31 worth of pot, with no prior convictions, was released from prison yesterday (Thursday, November 29th), after serving almost two years of her twelve-year sentence.
Her case received significant coverage after the story was featured in 2011 Tulsa World series on why Oklahoma ranks number one for sending more women to prison per capita, than any other state. Grassroots organizers then rallied together to bring attention to this egregious example of our overzealous sentencing for marijuana-related crimes. It worked, outrage spread far and wide.
After several targeted campaigns to local law enforcement and elected officials, as well as an especially strong grassroots effort spearheaded by outraged mothers and reformers, the lobbying paid off. Officials decided to reconsider her twelve-year sentence.
In July of this year, upon the unanimous recommendation of the Pardon and Parole Board, Gov. Fallin agreed to approve her parole, contingent upon her completion of the community service part of her sentence. Today, Spottedcrow is a free woman that has since been reunited with her family and her three small children.
After spending over two years in prison, Patricia Spottedcrow greets her children when they get home from school. from Tulsa World on Vimeo. (Try this too: http://vimeo.com/54579830#at=0)
The NORML Women’s Alliance was deeply involved with this effort, as well as providing personal support to Patricia Spottedcrow through a formal letter writing campaign. She received an outpouring of support and sent the Alliance a personal thank you letter.
“This is an inspirational reminder that justice still exists. It proves that with cooperation and determination, grassroots efforts truly can make a significant difference in people’s lives,” said Sabrina Fendrick, Founder and Director of the NORML Women’s Alliance.