Why Women Fight For Marijuana Legalization

April 03, 2014

The following article was originally published in MintPress News.

With motherly devotion and fierce feminine spirit, women are fighting for their place in the male-dominated world of the marijuana legalization movement.

Though the stereotypical marijuana user is often a man, marijuana, in fact, has specific healing properties for women. It can treat menstrual cramps, ease pain from contractions during childbirth and even function as an aphrodisiac.

Despite marijuana’s female-specific benefits, support for marijuana legalization among American women — whether it be medicinal or personal use — has long lagged behind that of men by about 5 to 10 percentage points.

But as marijuana’s medicinal powers for children gain international attention and myths associated with the drug and those who use it are debunked, female support for marijuana legalization is increasing. Women are coming out of the “cannabis closet” in order to prove marijuana is not just for boys and using the substance doesn’t make women bad people or inadequate mothers.

Kyndra Miller is a founding member of the marijuana legalization advocacy group the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws’ subgroup the NORML Women’s Alliance, the first female-specific marijuana legalization group. Miller says that just like the women who banded together in the 1920s to end the prohibition of alcohol, efforts to legalize marijuana in the United States require the influence and support of women, who make up slightly more than 50 percent of the voting population.

Though Miller first got involved in the fight to legalize marijuana because she saw the drug’s illegal status as a civil rights issue, she found a need to create a safe place where women could come together and talk about the unique issues they faced as cannabis consumers and activists, as well as set the record straight about what the drug can do for people, particularly women.

Miller, also president and CEO of CannaBusiness Law, Inc., pointed to the negative stereotypes associated with marijuana and its users as part of the reason women are afraid or hesitant to admit they use marijuana. For example, while everyone knows “mommy juice” is often code for wine or some other type of alcoholic beverage, bringing out a joint is taboo and could lead to Child Protective Services intervening and taking away a user’s children.

Moms and marijuana

Mieko Hester Perez is a board member of the NORML Women’s Alliance, founder of the Unconventional Foundation 4 Autism and one of the first parents in the world, let alone the U.S., to come forward and say that she was giving her sick child marijuana — and not the THC-free variety.

About six years ago, Perez got involved in the marijuana movement when her son Joey, who was 9 years old at the time, was given six months to live. As a side effect of all of the medications Joey was taking to help his autism, Joey became malnourished and was suffering from anorexia. Weighing only 42 pounds, Perez says her son was on his way to his grave, and she was willing to try anything, including giving him marijuana brownies, in order to get him eating again.

Despite all of the risks she was facing such as prison time and custody loss, Perez gave Joey about a quarter-sized brownie infused with medical marijuana every two to three days. The result? Joey began to put on weight, and Perez noticed other benefits, too, such as improvements in his eye contact and general demeanor.

“He wasn’t on edge anymore,” Perez said.

Though Joey was improving, some individuals who heard about Perez’s unique treatment for her son were concerned and called Child Protective Services. Although Perez was investigated by the child welfare agency and the California Medical Board, she never lost custody of Joey. But not all mothers are so lucky.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the number of women who have been imprisoned in the U.S since 1977 has increased by about 800 percent, which the agency says is largely due to the war on drugs, since about 40 percent of criminal convictions are for drug-related crimes. Three-quarters of women incarcerated in federal prisons serve time for nonviolent drug offenses, such as possession, yet many lose their parental rights due to the amount of time they spend behind bars. When they are eventually released from prison, these women struggle to reintegrate into society because they no longer have access to nutrition assistance, public housing or student financial aid.

Despite all of the risks, Perez continues to provide medical marijuana brownies for her now 15-year-old son, who was diagnosed a few years ago with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a terminal genetic disorder characterized by progressive muscle degeneration and weakness — a medical condition that can also be helped by marijuana.

Perez also continues to be an advocate for pediatric medical marijuana patients because she sees it as her purpose. She says parents who turn to medical marijuana to treat their children’s illnesses appreciate her honesty and willingness to publicly share her story, since most are in a dark place and have to separate themselves from society because they don’t live a traditional lifestyle.

The work of moms like Perez has inspired other parents of pediatric medical marijuana patients to form groups such as Moms for Marijuana and Parents 4 Pot, in which parents can openly discuss their struggles associated with providing a federally-prohibited substance to their children. And it’s the direct work of the “mommy lobby” that has prompted lawmakers and the American public to soften their stance on the drug — after all, no one wants to be the one to deny a dying or seriously ill child the medicine they need and deserve to enjoy a quality life.

Working in a man’s world

More than 20 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized the use of medicinal marijuana, and legalization initiatives are up for debate in a handful of other states, including Minnesota. Kim Socha is a board member for the Minnesota chapter of NORML. She, along with Leila Giannetti, who recently launched a nonprofit Counselors Against Prohibition, are the only two women on the chapter’s nine-member board.

Socha got involved with the legalization movement because she saw prohibition as a social justice issue.

“It’s about so much more than getting high. It’s political in every way possible,” she said, pointing to the racism associated with the drug, such as the harsher prison sentences for blacks and Latinos compared to white people.

“This is not a selfish movement about people wanting to get high,” Socha said, explaining that it’s about personal liberty, racial disparity issues and having control over one’s own body. Giannetti agreed that just like the disparity black and Latino marijuana users face compared to white marijuana users, men often forget that the U.S. is a predominantly patriarchal culture.

Even though Socha and Giannetti describe their male colleagues as friendly and supportive, both agreed that there are some challenges to being a female in this “big penis party.”

“It’s this sense of intimidation when it’s all men,” Socha said about being one of a few women in a room of 20 or so people. “It has this power to silence me. I have to really fight to speak up, and when I do, I’m really conscious when I’m speaking.”

Both agreed that while it was never their male colleagues’ intent to silence them, women are somewhat silenced in the movement, and both took issue with the sexualization of marijuana at events and in magazines such as High Times.

“High Times culture is not representative of the entire community,” Giannetti said. “They have some good articles sometimes,” but the half-naked girls posing in bikinis made of giant buds detracts from the seriousness and legitimacy of the marijuana legalization movement.

Lies and legalities

Part of the serious concerns associated with the marijuana legalization movement stem from all of the unknown legal implications that have surfaced. For example, the U.S. federal government’s propaganda and subsequent war on drugs is what prompted Denver-based civil rights lawyer Kim Ryan, whose work focuses on employment law, to join the legalization movement.

Ryan said that after a female friend of hers “came out” as a medical marijuana patient in 2007, she researched the drug for herself. She was “shocked and amazed that the federal government had lied to us” about the drug’s healing powers.

“It’s sensational lies,” she said.

Socha can personally attest to the misinformation, especially the myth that marijuana is addictive. With a history of crack and cocaine addiction, as well as experience with “many other drugs” and a history of drinking to excess, Socha says marijuana is the one drug she can’t get addicted to.

“I have a few hits and I’m fine and I don’t really want [more],” she told MintPress News. “I’ve never craved it. It’s great for an addict.”

However, Socha sympathizes with those who say they are addicted to the drug, since she says people can technically become addicted to anything, even shopping, and she doesn’t want to discount people who struggle with a marijuana addiction.

Because Socha has “spent a good portion of my life fairly embedded in the drug culture,” she claims she’s able to see a difference between those individuals who only sell marijuana and those who sell any and every drug for which there is demand. Though Socha says she’s sure men and women have given sexual favors for marijuana, the desperation and urgency to get marijuana because the body is hurting and requires the drug in order to keep functioning doesn’t happen like it does with crack or heroin.

Since Socha lives in a state where no form of marijuana is legal, her honesty is rare. But even in states like Colorado, where medical and personal use are both legal, Ryan says people are hesitant to admit they use marijuana for fear they will be fired, since marijuana is still associated with criminal activity and is illegal under federal law.

As a result, people like Colorado resident and medical marijuana patient Brandon Coats, a former telephone operator, was fired by his employer Dish Network in 2010 after testing positive for marijuana use. His enrollment in the state’s medical marijuana program was not seen as a valid defense for his positive results, and his stellar work record didn’t save him, either.

“People can’t be deprived of work because of a medical condition or a treatment,” Ryan said, which is why she made it her mission to help medical marijuana patients, including women, keep their jobs in the state.

“Most people want to do an excellent job at work, get promoted, get kudos. There should be an emphasis on personal responsibility,” she said, noting that there is no such thing as a drug-free workplace.

Just as pharmaceuticals warn users to not operate machinery until they know how the medication affects them, Ryan suggests that instead of an outright ban, employers should trust that marijuana, like alcohol, can be used responsibly while off duty.

Coming together

Part of the difficulty for some medical marijuana patients, even in states where medicinal use is legal, is that due to federal law and stigmas, there are few places people can come together to take their medicine, and people are sometimes nervous to admit they are a user.

Madeline Martinez, a NORML board member, co-founder of the NORML Women’s Alliance and founder and owner of the Oregon-based World Famous Cannabis Cafe, knows the importance of ensuring that medical marijuana patients don’t feel isolated, which is why she opened her cafe — the first of its kind — on Nov. 13, 2009.

Martinez, the first Latina on the national NORML board, grew up smoking marijuana in Northern California, but realized when she was working for the Department of Corrections that if the maximum-security prison reeked of marijuana, there was no way the U.S. government was going to win the war on drugs.

Married with children, Martinez got involved in the fight to legalize marijuana, a substance she points out our body has receptors for, because she was tired of feeling like an outcast. Though she was concerned about going to prison and losing custody of her children, Martinez says she felt she had to do whatever she could as leader of Oregon’s chapter of NORML — the largest chapter in the country.

“We are isolated,” Martinez said, while talking about medical marijuana patients, who often turn to marijuana to get off of large doses of addictive pain medications. But now, thanks to Martinez, medical marijuana patients in Oregon no longer have to isolate themselves while they medicate, which Martinez says has saved some lives because “we’re all social creatures.”

Standing executive orders from the local police captain have shielded Martinez’s cafe from raids, adding to the sense of serenity of this 4,000 sq. ft. Shangri-La-esque sanctuary, which has live entertainment, a pool table, air hockey, a jukebox and other lively amenities.

Martinez says it has been difficult to speak out on marijuana legalization since the Mexican people have been largely vilified in the drug war and inherent prohibition of marijuana throughout history. While Martinez appreciates all of the work her male colleagues have done, she says “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world,” stressing that women are the future and have a direct role in the success of marijuana legalization efforts.

“Bringing women to the table is the difference that needs to happen,” she said. “How long do we have to wait to do this? I’m 63. I don’t have 40 more years to wait.”


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