By Vicki Christophersen
An ABC News story from September 2014 was titled “Pot and Parenting: Confessions of Colorado’s Weed-Smoking Moms.” It featured women who use marijuana and have set out to remove the stigma associated with its use. Recreational use of cannabis is legal in Washington, Colorado, Oregon and Alaska, and momentum to change laws in favor of legalization continues to grow throughout the nation. We have known for some time that legalization was only one step toward redefining what marijuana users look like, but will it be harder to shake the “stoner” label for women?
The effort to change perceptions about marijuana users definitely lags behind the will to change public policy about its legality. In addition to the four states where full recreational use is legal, there are more than a dozen that have decriminalized marijuana use and the number grows all the time. Public opinion continues to evolve. In April of 2015, the Pew Research Center reported that 53% of Americans are ready for marijuana legalization, with 44% who would keep it illegal. Not surprisingly, 68% of millennials support legalization, compared to only 29% of those aged 70 to 87 who agree with them. The Pew Research Center found that men outpace women in their approval, 57% to 49%.
There isn’t a high-profile stereotype of a woman who uses cannabis. In popular culture, the outdated images of male potheads are referenced frequently – Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, or Cheech and Chong and their smoke-filled van. And while Showtime broke ground with Weeds by portraying a strong female character engaging in the marijuana business — albeit illegally — it’s unclear how well the conversation has progressed since the show’s final episode in 2012. For women, the development of an image seems to be happening in real time. The Colorado women featured in ABC’s story could be your neighbor or might be sitting next to you in a PTA meeting. The question is whether or not cannabis-friendly women can enjoy the same social acceptance as their wine-drinking cohorts.
Internet memes featuring mothers and alcohol consumption are a dime-a-dozen. References to “Mommy’s juice” are humorously celebrated. Snappy one-liners featuring vintage images of a 1950s-styled woman in a full skirt and an apron holding a wine glass or a cocktail shaker are everywhere. It’s not hard to find a flask with “Mommy’s Juice Box” engraved on it. But you would be hard-pressed to try to find a similar cheekiness for marijuana use. For many marijuana users, the attitudinal shift toward acceptance seems a long ways off.
It’s hard to determine if attitudes about women and cannabis are more impacted by the drug or by antiquated stereotypes about women and anything. In the short term, we need only look around to see where the momentum is. Across the nation, there are women who are leading the political and business climate in positive directions. It is innovative women like those cited in the ABC story who are attempting to elevate marijuana products themselves, to recognize distinct varietals and products as “artisanal.” Women whose relationship with cannabis is directly tied to a personal battle with illness on behalf of themselves or someone in their family have become powerful advocates and role models. While not always recognized, revolutionary women tend to be at the forefront of significant cultural advancements. Marijuana will be no different.
Vicki Christophersen is the executive director of the Washington CannaBusiness Association (WACA).