Are Women The New Face Of Marijuana Use?

Avital Norman Nathman | November 15, 2014 - 12:00 pm

What comes to mind when you picture someone who uses marijuana? For many it’s the stereotypical image of a lazy, spacey, and possibly dirty stoner who listens to The Grateful Dead, prefers hemp as their jewelry of choice, and is always good for a laugh or two. Recently, however, mainstream publications like Vogue, Elle and The New York Times are doing their best to challenge these tired assumptions as they introduce readers to the “new” wave of pot enthusiasts. And if Elle.com’s foray into the wild world of weed is any indication, it’s all about women.

Last month, Elle.com ran an entire week on women and marijuana, affectionately dubbed The Pot Issue. Their intro post vowed to explore the new face of women tokers, and over the week the site looked at the “Marijuana Mom,” pot-inspired fashion, the top women in the pot industry, and how to throw a “classy cannibis party.”

Over at the New York Times, the Fashion & Style section took a look at the recent explosion of vaporizers — pieces used to smoke pot without inhaling all the toxic and carcinogenic byproducts. The Times’ Motherlode blog also talking how parents are now talking to their children about marijuana. Not to be outdone, Vogue magazine included a piece on cooking with marijuana in their signature September issue. Suffice it to say, marijuana has shed its stereotypical stoner rep to become downright chic.

On the heels of all this positive press, I wondered how the average female cannabis-user felt. Though difficult to obtain completely accurate data, a 2013 Gallup poll reported that 30 percent of women have tried marijuana at least once, and 6 percent smoke it regularly. (The Gallup poll did not ask respondents about injesting marijuana in other ways, such as through food or drink or via a pill.) These numbers are most likely on the low end, and that’s probably because of stigma that still exists when it comes to pot, especially for women — trend pieces be damned.

Marijuana’s reputation is also changing on the legislative landscape as well, particularly where medical marijuana is concerned. As LiveScience.com notes, cannabis is used for “pain relief, digestive problems, and psychological disorders,” covering everything from nausea,  vomiting and loss of appetite (all side effects of chemo), chronic pain, MS and anxiety.  According to the Medical Marijuana Project [PDF], medical pot is legal in 23 states, as well as the District of Columbia, with a doctor’s recommendation or approval. Additionally, 17 states and D.C. have legalized state-regulated dispensaries — plus California, whose dispensaries are regulated locally. More recently, marijuana has been legalized for recreational use in Colorado and Washington state, with Oregon, Alaska and D.C. on their way to legalizing it.

I spoke with a handful of women across the country to learn more about where we fit into this changing landscape. It should be noted that the majority of women I connected with‚ spanning from early 20-something students to 50-year old professionals — wished to remain anonymous. Certainly some of that has to do with legalities, but many pointed to the inherent stigma still surrounding women who use pot, despite what recent trend stories have shared.

“There is some stigma, people seem to assume you’re lazy or dumb,” said Stef*, a 30-year-old from Boston. “It does get a little frustrating having to explain that I have a full-time job and many hobbies that keep me active, trying to undo the “burnout” stereotype” that people who consume pot with her frequency face. And Stef is not alone in that frustration. Aly*, a 20-year-old student from Pennsylvania, recalled her high school experience, noting that “…boys used to be surprised when they found out I smoked, but I think it was less because I was a girl and more because I was Asian and kind of nerdy.”

Kristy*, a writer from South Carolina, said people were suprised she used marijuana because she appears to be so “together”: ” I wear high heels and lipstick. I think a lot of people associate it strongly with Phish fans and college students.”

And, at least for Grace*, a 29-year-old woman from the South, that stereotype is completely off base. “Most people that I personally know that smoke have thriving careers and at least one college degree,” she told me. This was a sentiment I heard repeatedly from all of the women I spoke with. Jenn, a 40-year old data analyst and mother of two from Vermont has been using pot for 23 years. She said that she wants folks to know that yes, she enjoys cannabis recreationally, but that she’s also “your helpful neighbor, the mom volunteering in your kids classroom, the employee presenting to company executives, the mom at the playground or ballet lessons or the football game.”

Ellie*, a 33-year old college professor from Oregon, feels like the stigma could be problematic when it comes to her job, even though her state just legalized recreational marijuana in addition to medicinal pot. Ellie said she uses marijuana to alleviate various medical conditions — including bursitis and muscle spasms — but that even in her marijuana-friendly state, she hasn’t obtained an official medical marijuana prescription due to stigma. “Part of why I haven’t aggressively pursued finding a pot-friendly doctor is that I live in a very small town,” Ellie shared. “I know that people talk, and I don’t want to be known as the stoner English professor before my position is fully secured. Some people tell me no one would really care, but then I hear from other people who assume I [don’t use pot] about how much they look down upon ‘stoners.’ So, I remain reserved about making my habit well-known.”

But it could just be that medical marijuana is the gateway to lessening the stigma all around. Hannah*, a 31-year-old writer and mother of two noted that when people find out she uses cannabis for pain relief, it normalizes the behavior which helps in breaking down any stereotypes. “Most people I know, once they hear that I smoke and that I have both fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, they express sympathy, not judgment,” she said. “But I also have no problem with recreational use either. We do it with alcohol, so why not this? I hope that legalization in some states starts some movement in other states, much like the momentum of marriage equality progress this year.”

Former TV reporter Charlo Greene recently made waves by quitting her job on live air and announcing that she is the owner of the Alaska Cannabis Club, knows something about stigma. “The stigma associated with marijuana usage is ever present currently but it is on its way out,” said Greene, who was instrumental in getting marijuana legalized in Alaska. “Every day that more men and women are willing to share their own experience with marijuana usage takes us one step closer to a world where marijuana consumers are viewed no differently than say, adults that consume alcohol responsibly.”

Greene is not alone in that hope. Amelia from New York City [Yup. That’s me. Owning it. — Amelia] said she thinks that the combination of changing policy and the newfound media focus will help reduce stigma. “Marijuana policies are changing across the country pretty rapidly and the media is always looking for new trendy ways to cover a seemingly controversial story,” she told me. “I actually really appreciate the fact that a lot of those stories are really positive, as the tide changes towards legalizing. Instead of stories about burnouts, by and large, the media is covering it from the angle of ‘Look, people who smoke weed can actually be successful, thriving members of society!'”

*All names have been changed.

This piece was republished with permission from our friends at You Beauty. Check out these related articles: