By Emily Rose Thorne
Smoking weed to smash the patriarchy? Well, common-sense drug reform isn’t just about letting Bay Area stoners light up whenever they please. It’s rooted in undoing decades of social inequality that led to nationwide pot prohibition in the first place.
Marijuana legalization typically finds support in women because its medicinal properties can treat conditions that disproportionately affect AFAB (assigned female at birth) people, but there are plenty of other reasons why legal pot is a feminist issue.
Marijuana could become the first billion-dollar industry in the U.S. dominated by women. Pot could bring in a projected $11 billion in 2019 alone, and women are at the forefront of the industry’s growth. They’re not just working in dispensaries, either, so forget the stereotypical hot budtender. More women hold executive positions in the marijuana sector than in most other industries. In general, less than a quarter of executives are women, but they fill between 27% and 36% of exec seats in the legal pot business.
Female attorneys, doctors, nurses, chemists, chefs, investors, teachers, and other professionals have found a more welcoming space to practice in the world of weed. Cannabis science is taking off as a field of study, too, and most of its students are – you guessed it – women, especially Black women and femmes. Many already have advanced science degrees, and they’re learning to apply that knowledge to the marijuana industry.
In fact, here’s a list of some of the most badass women and femmes in cannabusiness from The High Times: https://hightimes.com/business/five-cannabusiness-women-female-fronted-cannabusinesses-you-should-know.
Women and LGBTQIA+ activists pioneered modern marijuana reform – especially activists of color.
Most pro-legalization activists in Colorado and Washington State were women between the ages of 30 and 50, and we owe medical marijuana legislation to the LGBTQIA+ community. During the throes of the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the early 1990s, they advocated pot’s medical value. It helped alleviate some of the unpleasant symptoms of the disease, which still affects LGBTQIA+ folks more than any other population in the US.
“The LGBTQ community out in California were the first main activists pushing for medicinal marijuana laws,” Khadijah Tribble, an HIV and cannabis activist who studied pot policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, told The Washington Blade. “When you have identities that have been systematically discriminated – your gender, your sexuality – you are primed to be more marginalized by marijuana laws. If you are a cisgender white male, you are the least likely to be stopped for marijuana. If you are a person of color who is trans, you are more likely to be stopped, more likely to do time, and the time will be longer.”
These discrepancies persist today. LGBTQIA+ individuals may be more likely to use marijuana than heterosexual people. In turn, they are also more likely to suffer the consequences of pot prohibition; and conversely, to have promoted reform.
“It’s still an LGBT issue because it’s still not accessible to everybody everywhere,” Paul Scott, president of the Los Angeles Black Gay Pride Association, said in an interview with The Washington Blade. “HIV/AIDS is still high in Black populations in the South, and they can’t get pot. They still have to break laws.”
Marijuana criminalization is inextricably linked to racism.
Weed wasn’t high on America’s watch list until the turn of the twentieth century, when displaced and threatened populations from Mexico crossed into the US seeking refuge during the Mexican Revolution. They brought marijuana with them and used it for both medical and recreational purposes. Although some U.S. plantations were actually required to grow hemp and Americans used medical cannabis frequently until this point, white Southerners hadn’t come around to its medical purposes and had little tolerance for the influx of immigrants into their communities (surprise!). Painting pot as a public menace was a convenient way for them to demonize the Mexican populations and perpetuate the stereotype of Hispanics as lazy.
From there, journalists and anti-marijuana activists grabbed the attention of legislators and policymakers, who started putting restrictions in place in an effort to control “the Mexican menace” and incarcerate Brown folks who smoked it. The first marijuana ban in the county affected El Paso, Texas, in 1915, and officials quickly got to work rounding up Mexican immigrants and deporting them on drug charges.
Once drug policy reform efforts ramped up in the 1980s and ’90s, it was women, Black and Hispanic Americans, and LGBTQIA+ folks leading the way – but not all of these marginalized groups were treated equally. The HIV/AIDS epidemic particularly shed light on the racism underlying this and other social justice spaces.
“We had all these other diseases that marijuana helps for, but it wasn’t until the visual effect of young white men dying in the hospitals with AIDS that it shook the conscience of America and began to change the law,” Scott told The Washington Blade. “It wasn’t because of Black folks getting arrested. It wasn’t because it was the right thing to do. For the first time, this country saw young white men dying and sprung into action to do something.”
More Black people receive marijuana charges than white people even today, although people are equally likely to smoke weed no matter their race, gender, economic class, or education level, despite media stereotypes. And when it comes to the marijuana industry, Black entrepreneurs still face discrimination when trying to access capital. Systemic racism within American capitalism can limit people of color from equally participating in the industry – especially multiply-marginalized individuals.
Weed has ties to goddess-based spiritual practices and feminine deities.
It’s no coincidence that the part of the marijuana plant we smoke is the female part. Weed has been a part of feminist spirituality for as long as history has documented it. Think about it: plant medicine and herbal healing were long considered the tools of the witch, and political activism and female spirituality go hand-in-hand more often than not.
According to Ellen Komp, the author of Tokin’ Women: A 4,000 Year Herstoryand an activist as deputy director of the California chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), the unity of weed and woman has been revered as divine since the 3rd millennium BC.
“Back then, a predominant Sumerian goddess named Ishtar was associated with cannabis, and up until the Semitic invasion in 2600 BC, women practiced the healing arts without restriction,” Komp told VICE. “But by 1000 BC, women didn’t have that freedom to be healers anymore.”
And with the stripping of their right to practice came the first “crackdown” on marijuana use – from its very beginning, an affront to women’s autonomy.
Women still use weed in rituals and as a part of their spirituality. Just ask Gabriela Herstik, a practicing witch with Jewish and Latina roots who runs a monthly column in The High Times, The High Priestess. It’s all about using bud to supplement her craft, attune with deity, and get in touch with her sexuality.
Marijuana legalization has been a feminist cause since the idea was introduced.
To step up for reform, check out some of the organizations making it happen and supporting victims of the failed War on Drugs:
- National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (https://norml.org)
- Marijuana Policy Project (mpp.org)
- Black and Pink (blackandpink.org/chapters)
- Insight Garden Program (http://insightgardenprogram.org)
Emily Rose Thorne is a writer and journalist (she, her, hers), contributing to Georgia Public Broadcasting, The Cluster, and Step Up Magazine, feminist, student, and Southerner — for now.