Weed has historically been considered a boy’s club; women are often either dismissed as minority participants, or employed as sexualized sales tools. While rapidly evolving, a lack of equality still exists. Despite marijuana culture being at odds with some feminist issues, the two movements also intersect and align. The relationship between them is most evident in the areas of medical marijuana, the fight for legalization, and women’s roles in the cannabis business.
A prevalent and longstanding feminist issue is that of body autonomy, also known as bodily integrity. This is the simple belief that everyone has the right to make decisions about their own body. Currently, neither the Constitution nor any Supreme Court judgment specifically grants this right. An established legal precedent in favor of body autonomy for women’s rights or marijuana rights would be a powerful tool that either movement could use to advance their objectives.
University of Arizona philosophy professor Joel Feinberg summarizes the overlap, noting,
After all, we speak of “bodily autonomy,” and acknowledge its violation in cases of assault, battery, rape, and so on. But surely our total autonomy includes more than simply our bodily “territory,” and even in respect to it, more is involved than simple immunity to uninvited contacts and invasions. Not only is my bodily autonomy violated by a surgical operation (“invasion”) imposed on me against my will; it is also violated in some circumstances by the withholding of the physical treatment I request.
Cannabis is proven to assist with a multitude of ailments that women frequently suffer from. Some of these conditions are exclusive to women, such as menstrual pain and pregnancy complications. Others, including depression and anxiety, are more common in women than men. Restrictions on cannabis directly impact women’s health in a negative way.
There’s a growing need for children to have access to medical marijuana. When we discuss body autonomy, we must consider that parents are responsible for their children’s health. It is both law and natural instinct that compels people to ensure the safety and well-being of their offspring. This bodily authority is violated when parents are prohibited from treating their sick child with the researched medication of their choice.
Real kids with debilitating conditions like autism, cerebral palsy, and seizure disorders – not to mention child cancer patients – have had dramatic positive results using cannabis as treatment. Children are often prescribed low-cannabidiol, low THC extracts that are ingested orally. These provide low dose relief without the altered mental state of being “high”. Despite this, many states refuse to consider legal access. Recent years have seen an influx of medical marijuana refugee families moving to Colorado and similar states. Many parents feel that this is the only way to legally save their children’s lives. If they don’t move, they risk Child Protective Services terminating their parental authority or revoking custody.
Legalization of marijuana would also protect parents that need cannabis for medicinal purposes from the risk of losing their children. Legalization might force lawmakers to reevaluate the actual child safety risks presented by marijuana. Adults who drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes don’t automatically risk losing their children to Child Protective Services, and adults who smoke weed shouldn’t either. Furthermore, these types of laws often marginalize minority and low-income parents, and mothers in particular.
Intersectional feminism focuses on the experiences of inequality that are unique to people of different ethnicities, sexualities, and economic classes, among other factors. The consequences of marijuana use are different for men versus women, but even greater disparities exist in the treatment of white versus nonwhite users. People of color are disproportionately punished for marijuana use; it is a riskier endeavor for some segments of the population than others.
All this can seem particularly unfair when you consider that white men have traditionally dominated the cannabis industry. In her article, The Unbearable Whiteness of the Marijuana Industry, writer Angela Bacca notes:
“But as the industry continues to grow, women, people of color and people of different gender identities are noticeably absent from a lot of the success driving the historic national headlines. Despite being the groups to bear the damaging judicial brunt of the War on Drugs—particularly people of color—they are seemingly the last to be experiencing the windfalls of the evolving legal landscape.”
The status quo can seem grim, but progress is made on a regular basis. One reason for this is the work of women, both at the polls and in the public spectrum. A recent report by the Global Drug Policy Observatory found that women were crucial in the 2012 elections that legalized marijuana in Washington, Colorado, and Oregon.
“Women were the key demographic in these historic marijuana campaigns,” says Dave Bewley-Taylor, the research hub’s director and co-author of the paper. “Activists directed much of their attention on 30- to 50-year-old women and, at the end of the day, it was women who made history.”
As half of the voting population, women’s voices matter. One such collection of voices is Women Grow. This organization was created to “connect, educate, inspire and empower the next generation of cannabis industry leaders.”
Frances Schauwecker, cannabis educator and meeting director, says, “The cannabis industry is predominantly male-dominated. Women Grow is trying to reshape that stigma and say, we are the mothers, the healers, the educators, and the executives.” Schauwecker reports that half of the attendees at their Orange County chapter meetings are men. She observes, “The Women Grow movement helps fuse together men that value women with valuable women in the industry.” This equal balance between men and women is exactly what feminism aims for.
Dr. Bonni Goldstein speaking at the Women GROW: April Signature Networking Event at Weedmaps Headquarters
Women Grow and their contemporaries, including Marijuana Business Association Women’s Alliance, NORML Women’s Alliance, and Women of Weed, are among the most progressive aspects of current marijuana culture. They offer a safe space for dialogue and a welcoming environment to educate women and men on personal growth, business acumen, and their potential in the marijuana industry. They are ensuring that women’s specific needs and concerns about marijuana are addressed, and they are helping women succeed in the booming cannabis business.
Legal cannabis is a relatively new industry with more business opportunities for women than many other established markets. A joint report by Marijuana Business Daily and Pew Research Center found that the national average for women in executive roles (across all industries) is 22%. In the marijuana industry, though, women account for 36% of executives. Women are also more likely to be in power positions in each major sector of the industry, such as scientific testing, wholesale cultivation, and retail sales.
Drug reform activist attorney Shaleen Title feels that women’s “participation is necessary to legitimize marijuana as a business. The mom in her 40s is the one with the power to push marijuana into the mainstream once and for all.”
Women help with legitimacy, and they also bring unique strengths to the industry. They excel at the empathy and communication necessary for success in the world of cannabis, and they help female consumers connect with marijuana. In return, cannabis offers women a chance to quickly succeed in previously male-dominated leadership and STEM positions. These opportunities extend to related fields, including legal, agricultural, and financial aspects of the marijuana business. The industry’s receptiveness towards women allows it to cultivate the best talents, male or female, from a full spectrum of qualified individuals.
Feminism is a movement towards equality, but marijuana is not an egalitarian drug. Broadening access to legal marijuana would benefit both genders as well as the feminist and cannabis movements.
Cover Photo Courtesy of Allie Beckett