When I first became vocal about my relationship with cannabis, I braced myself for the inevitable question: You’re a mom—how can you use marijuana?
Informed by outdated stereotypes and a nagging stigma around this plant, those who ask me this question are confused. The cognitive dissonance between their concept of mothering and their idea of a cannabis consumer is too much. They can’t make sense of it.
Lately, motivated more by a fascination with a burgeoning movement, the question takes a different approach: Does marijuana make you a better mom? This query tries to subvert the expected, to poke holes in the stigma, to reassure everyone by asserting that cannabis is actually a tool, not a vice.
No matter how they’re posed, though, these questions point to the same concern: Despite the benefits I can access with the help of cannabis and regardless of how well I care for my child, I am stigmatized for being a mom who takes drugs.
As much as we want to believe we’ve moved beyond it, the stigma persists. Even in places where cannabis has been viewed as medicine and legally bought and sold for years, you may encounter side-eye glances when you mention your cannabis consumption during a playdate or at the office. You know what I’m talking about: the stigma that dictates that cannabis is wicked, that its consumers are lazy stoners, and that mothers who like it must be terrible parents.
For many of us—women in general and mothers in particular—that’s exactly why we take on this issue: because of this gap between assumptions about us and our lived experience as cannabis consumers. Because we are determined to bust the stigma, through education and through the example we set. Not content to just consume cannabis, we throw our passion and skill into the work of destigmatization, legalization, and normalization.
We do this because we know it is part of a necessary evolution toward compassion and fairness. For us mamas, there is an urgency here that others might not see. We’re not just fighting for our right to use marijuana; we are fighting for the future, for our children’s future, and some of us are literally fighting for our children’s lives. Like every generation before us, we want that future to be better than what we have now, and we believe cannabis can help us get there. Eliminating the stigma becomes crucial, because without mainstream acceptance, cannabis will be stripped of its potential to transform our society.
Mothering with marijuana, then, means we seek out the hard conversations. We engage the naysayers because we are excited to educate them. We tell our stories in an effort to change hearts and minds, and so others may feel safe telling theirs. We ask big questions of those with opposite views because we know that, thoughtfully considered, the social capital benefits of legalization far outweigh the fruits of marijuana prohibition’s racist agenda.
With our colleagues, our children’s friend’s parents, our neighbors, and our lawmakers, we reframe the conversation. Instead of pushing our right to get high, we provide information about marijuana’s efficacy as medicine, its applications for health and wellness, and its relative safety. We debunk myths and propaganda as we highlight the history of prohibition and the damage done by the war on drugs. Because we know that once they have all the information, they’ll see things differently.
We talk to our children about this issue because we take seriously our responsibility to raise a generation of changemakers. While we’re clear that cannabis is not for children unless they have a medical need, we also explain how marijuana has been misused to oppress people. How we—how they—can overhaul our understanding of this plant and the way it operates to reproduce inequality in our society. How we can, in fact, use it to do just the opposite. It’s up to us to plant the seeds of science and social justice and to teach our children to fight for what’s right. The stigma cannot stand up to critical minds of the next generation; of that we will be certain.
The challenges presented by this lingering stigma are numerous, and they’re exhausting. But we mothers are adept at holding a line, and we’re no strangers to fatigue. Driven by a never-ending desire to prove the stigma wrong, we live and work and parent in a way that stands in direct opposition to those who see cannabis as a vice and our use of it as the mark of our failure at parenthood.
Strength in community
In order to continue this work, day in and day out, we find like-minded women and communities of support. Women who help us shed the shame that we’ve internalized after years of enduring the stigma that comes with consuming cannabis, who help us find our voices and use them to do the important work of ending prohibition. Communities that empower us and encourage us to care for ourselves and for one another. We both lean on and energize each other, as women, as cannabis consumers, and as mothers.
Cannabis is beautiful, and so are our relationships with it. It is a vehicle for self-care, a way to create intimacy with our partners, and the perfect antidote to a long, hard day. It makes space for non-judgmental self-reflection and improvement; it’s so much more than an intoxicant and often isn’t that at all. But mothers recognize that it doesn’t stop there, that our personal relationships with cannabis exist within a matrix of criminalization and oppression. That the very plant we are praising—the plant that many of us are making our livings off of—is also the reason that hundreds of thousands of people sit in prison.
The stigma around cannabis is hard to navigate, and the shame associated with it is real. But going to jail for marijuana—actually losing your freedom or your children—is an atrocity.
Mindful of privilege
I write this from a position of privilege that must be acknowledged.
I am white: So I stand far less chance of being arrested for consuming cannabis than my friends of color, and my conversations with my child do not regularly include instructions on how to survive an encounter with the police.
I am educated: So I know my rights and how to exercise them.
I have a supportive partner: So I don’t fear my cannabis advocacy being used as a way to separate me from my child.
My child is healthy: So I don’t have to worry that the government might deem me unfit for administering a safe and effective medicine when all other options have failed.
And I had the means to relocate to a place where cannabis is legal: So I don’t fear for my freedom or for my daughter being taken away. As much.
Think of all the mothers who cannot check off these boxes. The differences between us are just chance, just luck. The risks they take to medicate, to keep their children comfortable are so huge that they may not be safe speaking truth to power. But someone must.
So long as prohibition endures, we all have something to fear and we all have something to fight. Those of us with privileges like mine have a responsibility to dig in and to stick our necks out. Not only to normalize cannabis but to point out the way racism functions as policy when it comes to the war on drugs and to demand a change. Because by eradicating the stigma, we do more than shed ourselves of shame.
Mothers and fathers are still behind bars, separated from their families. Children are still suffering from conditions that could be mitigated by cannabis medicine. Record numbers of people are dying from alcohol and opioid abuse.
All this harm because of a stigma.
So, while we’re extolling the benefits of cannabis, we’re also advocating for public health, for social justice, and for body autonomy. And by mothering with marijuana, we’re teaching our children that we can create a world that prioritizes compassion and fairness, a society where a plant available to all can enhance our personal health and the health of our democracy.
If you’re inspired to get involved in advocacy, there are plenty of organizations that need your help. You can support their work by becoming a member or a sponsor, or by volunteering your time for the cause:
-Americans Safe Access (ASA) pushes for safe and legal access to cannabis medicine and works to advance medical cannabis research.
-Cannabis Cultural Association (CCA) advocates for marginalized communities so those most negatively impacted by the war on drugs may benefit from the end of prohibition.
-Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is a strong voice for drug policy that’s based in science, compassion, health, and human rights.
-National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has led efforts to end cannabis prohibition since 1970 and has chapters in most states and several countries.
If you’re looking for direct involvement, the best place to begin is in your own community. While the federal government is finally considering large-scale cannabis law reform, the movement to end prohibition has been most effective at the state level. Attend city council and town hall meetings. Get to know your state representatives, and make sure they now where you stand on this issue. Look for opportunities to connect with local organizations that work to change drug laws, end mass incarceration, and promote harm reduction.
Share Your Story
If you feel safe doing so, there’s nothing more powerful than speaking your truth. Whether it’s over coffee with a parent from your child’s class or in an op-ed to your local newspaper, your voice can have an impact. Empower your children with real drug talk, with facts over propaganda, and they will amplify the message.
Illustrations by Drea Torres.