And so we grow

Women, weed and feminism: why we belong at the forefront of the burgeoning cannabis industry
Words by Annie Brookstone
Illustration by Mateo Studio

The first time I ever had an orgasm with a partner – after a decade of not having orgasms with partners – I was high on LA’s finest medical-grade marijuana. I know, I know – bold opening statement. Had I been writing this very same article about the wonderful ways in which women’s lives and cannabis can intersect even just a few years ago… well, I just wouldn’t have been, would I? See, those were the days when women always came and never smoked pot. Wait, what?

Women have, for the most part, been woefully underrepresented in weed culture. There were The stoner dudes, the cringe-worthy Rasta caricatures that only some old white guy could’ve OK’d, hell, even the middle-aged dads still occasionally blazing up like it’s Woodstock ’69… Up until as recently as 2012 – when cannabis’s image was overhauled by changes in legislation in the US, being made legal for recreational use in the states of Colorado and Washington – any depiction of women using marijuana was, well, you know that ‘gateway drug’ video we somehow all had to watch in high school? That. The only time you saw female stoners celebrated was when they happened to be scantily clad girls sucking on bongs (phallic much?). Then it was alright to be a stoner. Real diverse and not at all some condescending, male gaze bullshit…

Okay – now that your eyes have stopped rolling – it’s not just pop culture that failed women as weed users. Our oft-perpetuated roles as the carers, the keepers of the home, and ‘control freaks’ are at odds with our social perception of pot. Rarely have we been afforded the same opportunities to ‘let loose’ that men have. Oppressive social norms, disproportionate domestic pressure, and distribution of emotional labour, as well as the risk of stigma,  have contributed to a real stoner gender gap. One US study reported that almost twice as many men smoke weed as women. However, this is starting to change.

Oppression is worked into the history of weed too. The world over, prohibitive laws surrounding weed have tended to have racist roots. At the turn of the last century, recreational cannabis use wasn’t common amongst white Americans – the population that was enjoying it (though they called it by another name: ‘marihuana’) was Mexican immigrants. Fearful of the immigrants flooding into the States as a result of the Mexican revolution, cannabis and the people who smoked it was demonised. The ‘Mexican menace’, alarmist headlines screamed, was driving Mexican men mad and turning them into killers. 

Here, in South Africa, the situation wasn’t much better. While colonial settlers were down with ‘daccha’ when they were trying to establish a monopoly on its sale (short story: they failed), they became irritated that their imported Indian workers had arrived with their own cannabis culture and prohibited its use in the Natal Colony. Later, in the early 20th century, a moral panic flared up in the Western Cape concerning the camaraderie between pot users that would cause them to set aside issues such as race. By 1928, cannabis was wholly criminalised in South Africa, so also criminalising those for whom it was entrenched in their culture by the stroke of a pen – and it took 90 years for that to change.

At the heart of intersectional feminism is the understanding of how different forms of discrimination overlap. It’s clear though that fighting for changes in cannabis is more than just a battle for personal freedoms – it’s a feminist fight, it’s a fight against structures that police bodies and cultures, and as the tide turns and ‘legal weed’ becomes the norm, it’s a fight against the continued incarceration of mostly people of colour on cannabis-related charges. It feels only natural that the most significant weed reforms in a century are occurring alongside powerful women’s rights movements.

It also feels natural not only because some of the most important voices in feminism have been witches, healers and mystics but also because without the female plant, the industry wouldn’t exist. Only unpollinated female plants produce the potent buds used to get a buzz. Male plants, on the other hand, contain low levels of THC and are often removed completely as pollination can ruin entire crops. Instead of running this risk, most plants in the industry are cloned from the best possible female specimen – the mother. 

The cannabis industry’s matriarchy is mirrored in its human makeup. It’s the fastest growing industry in America (no pun intended) and still being in its infancy, women are taking advantage of the chance to shape it. In 2018, women held 27 percent of cannabis leadership positions in the US – a significant margin over the national average of 23 percent across all other businesses. And the opportunities are not just in growing the stuff. From edibles to cosmetics, PR and marketing to science and healthcare, law to retail and design, the opportunities are there for women to be both leaders and pioneers.

Even more significantly, the changing face of ‘the stoner’ and the work that has been done to deconstruct the stigma means that every woman can enjoy the benefits of cannabis – and often for issues we had no clear solutions for in the past because they were dismissed as ‘women’s problems’. I’m talking period cramps, premenstrual tension, pain associated with endometriosis, eating disorders, sleep issues, breast cancer, anxiety and PTSD (both significantly more common in women than in men). I’m talking the 10 years I waited to cum! One study earlier this year reported that women are twice as likely to experience ‘satisfactory’ orgasms when using marijuana before sex. And it checks out: cannabis not only lowers your inhibitions by helping you relax, but it also helps with chronic disorders that can lead to painful sex.

In 2017, in Portland, Oregon, Anja Charbonneau – former creative director at hip lifestyle publication Kinkfolk – launched Broccoli, ‘a magazine created by and for women who love cannabis’. In Canada, companies like Van Der Pop are cultivating weed strains specifically designed for women’s needs. Here, KushKush is placing women at the forefront of the weed movement. It speaks of a wave of women making decisions for themselves – not the government, not pharmaceutical companies, not social conventions. 

Women are done being puff, puff, passed over. Never mind a seat at the table – the cannabis industry represents a real chance to take our place at the head. We’re now blazing our own trails – and I do mean blazing…

Annie Brookstone is a writer, feminist and stoner. She's happiest when she gets to combine these three. 

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