Pubdate: Sat, 5 Dec 2009
Source: AlterNet (US Web)
Copyright: 2009 Independent Media Institute
Author: Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet
Note: Daniela Perdomo is a contributing writer & editor at AlterNet.


Why Women Have Signed Onto Marijuana Reform -- and Why They Could Be 
the Movement's Game-Changers.

In September, ladymag Marieclaire ruffled some feathers when it 
published a piece about women who smoke weed. But its most 
interesting effect was not the "marijuana moms" chatter it unleashed, 
and instead the fact that it brought to the mainstream media a more 
open discussion of the fact that women can be avid tokers, too.

Public acceptance of pot is at an all-time high, and the fact that 
women have drastically changed their attitudes may be what is most 
fascinating about the sea change in public opinion -- and policy -- 
regarding marijuana. In 2005, only 32 percent of polled women told 
Gallup they approved legalizing pot, but this year 44 percent of them 
were for it, compared to 45 percent of men. In effect, women have 
narrowed what had been a 12-point gender gap.

Women are also smoking more weed. The most recent National Survey on 
Drug Use and Health shows that current marijuana use increased from 
3.8 to 4.5 percent among women, while there was no significant 
statistical change for men.

Indeed, it appears the growing acceptance of marijuana is fueled by 
women having joined the movement for reform.

Women "can reach people's hearts and minds," says Mikki Norris, 
co-author of Shattered Lives: Portraits from America's Drug War, 
managing editor of the West Coast Leaf, and director of the Cannabis 
Consumers Campaign. "I think we can really take it from the third-to 
the first-person, and make it personal."

Norris, who's participated in numerous successful marijuana 
campaigns, may be onto something. If pro-weed women are a new 
momentum behind the normalization of marijuana, they may also become 
the driving force behind game-changing drug reform.

If that's the case, then it's worth examining why some women have 
signed onto the marijuana reform movement -- because it may soon be 
why many others will as well.

'A Bigger Amygdala'

The avenue through which women have been foremost leaders in the 
movement is medical marijuana advocacy.

There are currently 13 states that have legalized medical marijuana 
use and at least 14 other states with pending legislation or ballot 
measures. In California, where cannabis has been legalized for 
medical use since 1996, a Field poll found 56 percent support for 
adult legalization -- and the matter may very well make its way onto 
the 2010 ballot.

Every woman I spoke to referenced cannabis' medicinal properties as a 
major reason they are so personally impassioned by the marijuana reform debate.

One of these is Valerie Corral, dubbed "the Mother Teresa of the 
medical marijuana movement," by Ethan Nadelmann, executive director 
of the Drug Policy Alliance.

Corral was introduced to the medical benefits of marijuana in 1973, 
when she was the victim of a car crash that left her an epileptic. At 
one point, while on pharmaceuticals, she was having up to five 
seizures each day.

In 1974, her husband read an article in a medical journal that 
described how positively rats had reacted to cannabis when treated 
for certain ailments. Soon thereafter, Corral started applying a 
strict regimen of marijuana, and kept a catalog of its effects.

"Within a few weeks, I noticed change," Corral said. And over time, 
she was able to control seizure activity in a way that allowed her to 
wean herself off the prescription drugs. To this day she does not 
take anything other than marijuana for her epilepsy.

Not only did medical marijuana change Corral's quality of life, it 
changed its course. She went on to found Wo/Men's Alliance for 
Medical Marijuana (WAMM), a patient collective based in Santa Cruz, 
Calif. that offers organic medical marijuana and assistance to those 
who have received a terminal or chronic illness diagnosis.

WAMM currently serves about 170 patients. When I spoke to Corral, she 
was late to hit the road for her Thanksgiving holiday. She had spent 
the morning with a patient who was anxious about his radiation 
therapy. She then spent the afternoon delivering' marijuana before 
counseling -- "and learning from" -- terminal patients.

While Corral knows first-hand the physical benefits of marijuana, she 
believes its most important effect is "the way it affects how we look 
at things that are difficult."

"No matter what else happens to us," Corral said, "the quality with 
which we live our lives is so important."

Cheryl Shuman, a 49-year-old optician in Los Angeles, would agree. Up 
until she started using cannabis therapy to treat her cancer, she was 
on a daily regimen of 27 prescription drugs, attached to a mobile 
intravenous morphine pump, and undergoing constant CAT and MRI scans. 
In 2006, her doctors told her she'd be dead by the end of that year.

"I had to make a decision [regarding] which way I was going to go and 
quite frankly, I thought if I am going to die, I want to control how 
my life is going to be," Shuman said, her voice breaking. "And the 
only side-effects were that I was happy and laughing."

It turns out those may not have been the only effects of her cannabis 
therapy. Her cancer has been in remission for 18 months now -- and 
that coincides precisely with the start of the marijuana treatment.

Shuman had previously used pot medicinally in 1994, when going 
through a harrowing divorce. Up to 80 milligrams of Prozac a day, 
coupled with multiple therapy sessions a week, did not help her get 
over the sense that she could barely make it through each day.

During one session, she says, "my therapist said, 'I could lose my 
license, but I think what would help you more than anything is just 
smoking a joint.' I didn't know how to respond! I said I couldn't do 
that -- I don't drink, I've never even smoked a cigarette!"

But after researching medical marijuana and realizing that cannabis 
had been available in pharmacies until the early 20th century, Shuman 
acquiesced and tried a joint. At 36 -- after learning to inhale -- 
Shuman says she found she "finally had some peace."

This year, Shuman became the founding director of Beverly Hills' 
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) 
chapter -- and she hopes to attract women to the cause.

Corral, for her part, acknowledges that the role she fills within the 
marijuana movement is one that fits the traditional female archetype. 
"Maybe it's because we have a bigger amygdala," she laughs, referring 
to the part of the brain that processes emotions. "It probably is!"

Debby Goldsberry, director of the Berkeley Patients Group, a medical 
marijuana dispensary, feels similarly: "It's our job in our families 
and in our circles of friends to be caregivers. It makes sense that 
women would gravitate to cannabis."

In a recent study of a sample of patient reviews at a chain of 
medical marijuana assessment clinics in California, Craig Reinarman, 
a sociology professor at UC-Santa Cruz, found that only 27.1 percent 
of the patients were female. Another study, conducted on a sample of 
patients at Goldsberry's Berkeley dispensary, found that 30.7 percent 
of those patients were women.

Those numbers are close to the general expert estimate that women 
constitute about a third of marijuana consumers.

Mainstream Myth-Busting

Since more women are smoking weed, it's no surprise there has finally 
been an onslaught of girl stoner coverage in the corporate media.

It probably started with "Weeds" -- a Showtime series about a 
bodacious soccer mom who deals and smokes pot -- which is now 
readying for its sixth season premiere. But the big dam opener this 
year was the aforementioned publication of the Marieclaire article, 
"Stiletto Stoners," which paints the portrait of a whole class of 
"card-carrying, type A workaholics who just happen to prefer kicking 
back with a blunt instead of a bottle."Julie Holland, a clinical 
assistant professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine, has 
been called onto NBC's Today Show twice now to explain why women are 
gravitating towards weed.

During one of her appearances, Holland seemingly shocks the hosts by 
telling them that 100 million Americans have tried weed -- 25 million 
of them over the past year. The most recent National Survey on Drug 
Use and Health shows that 10.6 million women used marijuana in 2008.

Also surprising to the TV hosts was Holland's assertion that 
marijuana is the least addictive substance among many. According to a 
1999 Institute of Medicine report, the rate at which people who try a 
substance and go on to become addicted is 32 percent for nicotine, 23 
percent for heroin, 17 percent for cocaine, 15 percent for alcohol, 
and 9 percent for cannabis.

"Look at what the choices are. Cannabis isn't toxic to your brain, to 
your liver, it doesn't cause cancer, you can't overdose, and there's 
no evidence that it's a gateway drug," Holland said. "I believe that 
the majority of adults can healthfully integrate altered states into 
their lives, and it makes sense to do it with the least toxic 
substance you can. "

The public seems to agree.

Societal mores around marijuana are at their most progressive in at 
least 40 years, when Gallup first started asking Americans whether 
they believed marijuana ought be legalized. This year, 44 percent of 
those polled -- up from 36 percent in 2005 -- said they are in favor 
of legalization. A May Zogby poll found marijuana legalization was 
even more popular with its respondents, at 52 percent.

Harry Levine, professor of sociology at Queens College and co-author 
of Crack in America: Demon Drugs and Social Justice, attributes a lot 
of the mainstreaming of progressive views on pot to the medical 
marijuana movement.

"What it has done is change the image of marijuana from this tie-dye 
1960s hippie-dippy kind of thing to a real drug, a real substance 
that has medical uses," he said. "You can separate it from the scary 
image of drugs."

Why Do Girls Smoke?

As weed is no longer considered by the public to be a "hard drug," 
three presidents -- 41, 42, and 43 -- have admitted to smoking 
marijuana. "The whole association of failure and dropouts [with 
marijuana] has been smashed in an important kind of way," Levine says.

In other words, you can smoke pot and be successful. Look at Natalie 
Angier, for example. In her book Woman: Intimate Geography, this 
Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer interjects a personal note of 
- -- and case for -- female empowerment through weed:

All the women in my immediate family learned how to climax by smoking 
grass -- my mother when she was over thirty and already the mother of 
four. Yet I have never seen anorgasmia on the list of indications for 
the medical use of marijuana. Instead we are told that some women 
don't need to have orgasms to have a satisfying sex life, an argument 
as convincing as the insistence that homeless people like living outdoors.

As Angier writes, alcohol is a "global depressant of the nervous 
system" so marijuana can be a woman's best friend. In that vein, 
Holland has clinically observed that many of her female patients 
choose marijuana over alcohol -- for all kinds of social situations 
- -- because it makes them "more present instead of absent."

"You can relax but not be incapacitated. You can keep your wits about 
you and protect yourself," Holland told me, adding that women don't 
always tolerate alcohol the way men do.

Diana, 37, a published writer in Madison is one such woman. She uses 
marijuana as a social lubricant: "If I drink, I know I'll be throwing 
up by night's end, even if it's only a couple of beers. But with 
weed, I know I can make it to closing time -- and keep up with all 
the steely-stomached drinkers."

Paloma, 25, a Bay Area union organizer, told me she smokes weed two 
to three times a week to "relax, sleep, work on arts and crafts or 
clean the house and cook" without being distracted by what she calls 
her "explosive" attention deficit disorder.

A few women smokers said they did not initially like the effects 
marijuana had on them. Tessa, 29, a doctoral student in Portland, 
said, she didn't enjoy weed in college "because I would not be able 
to do anything besides be high and stupid. Now I know to smoke less 
- -- maybe a hit or two -- and then relax on that."

What a lot of women like Tessa don't know is that there are several 
kinds of weed that have different effects on the mind and body. Women 
who live in places where marijuana can be purchased at dispensaries 
are often more attuned to the fact that cannabis sativa gives a 
euphoric head high while cannabis indica results in a lazy body high. 
And then there are hybrids -- the equivalent to blends in wine culture.

Ally, 34, an architect and mother in San Francisco, sees weed as 
similar to vino: "Smoking a joint and taking a bath is what drinking 
a glass of wine and taking a bath was to my mom," she says, balancing 
a baby on her knee. "It's 'me' time!"

Think of the Children!

The acceptance of pot has led to discussion of how marijuana reform 
might positively impact families and children. This may change the 
debate because family values have long been employed by drug warriors 
as reasoning for why weed ought remain criminalized.

Enter Jessica Corry, a pro-life Republican from Denver. A mother of 
girls aged two and four, this 30-year-old newly-minted lawyer is 
widely hailed as a rising star in Colorado politics. She is currently 
working on her first book, which she described to me as an "analysis 
of how race consciousness and political correctness are silencing 
America's students and our entrepreneurial spirit."

A real conservative. Yet she is also one of the most outspoken 
proponents of marijuana legalization.

In 2006, she started a group called Guarding Our Children Against 
Marijuana Prohibition, which supported a statewide initiative to 
legalize marijuana.

"I had high-ranking Republicans politely encouraging me to write my 
political eulogy," Corry said. "Fortunately, they were wrong. While 
the initiative failed, it garnered more general election support than 
that year's Republican candidate for governor."

Corry doesn't smoke pot -- though she is open about past use. "As a 
mother," she says, "I'm far more concerned about my kids having 
access to a medicine cabinet than having access to a joint or a 
liquor cabinet. Marijuana, when consumed independently, has never 
been linked to a single death."

Mothers like Corry are drawn to marijuana regulation as part of a 
larger appeal that encourages the use of harm reduction to more 
pragmatically deal with substance abuse. Examples of harm reduction 
include providing designated drivers for drinkers and clean needles 
for heroin addicts.

Concerned moms may be moved to action by studies such as the Teen 
Survey, conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance 
Abuse at Columbia. This year, there was a 37 percent increase in 
teens who said pot is easier to buy than cigarettes, beer or 
prescription drugs. Nearly one-quarter said they can get weed within the hour.

Those stats matter to women. In light of this, children and family 
will be included in the mission statement of the Women's Alliance, a 
group NORML will launch next year. The coordinator, Sabrina Fendrick, 
plans to include mention of how current marijuana policy undermines 
the American family and sends mixed messages to young people.

An Economic Savior?

The harm reduction approach extends itself from families and children 
to our ailing economy. With the largest economic recession since the 
Great Depression firmly in place, more people see the benefits of 
taxing and regulating marijuana for adults.

Economist Jeffrey Miron has calculated that, assuming a national 
market of about $13 billion annually, legalization would reap state 
and federal governments about $7 billion each year in extra tax 
revenues and save about $13.5 billion in law enforcement costs.

This kind of math attracts libertarian support, ranging from Gov. 
Arnold Schwarzenegger of California who recently called for an open 
discussion on legalization, to Rep. Ron Paul, a physician and 
Republican congressman from Texas, who has long advocated it.

The problem with a fiscal approach, however, might be that it could 
have more traction as a top-down rather than a bottom-up movement. 
Deborah Small, a drug reform veteran and founder of Break the Chains, 
a group that engages communities of color around drug reform policy, 
believes the reason the medical marijuana movement has been so 
successful is that its female leaders have made it a "real grassroots 

"Male-dominated libertarian philosophy and money has dominated" the 
general marijuana reform movement, Small says, and "there's a 
struggle in this next stage to see whether the movement will be 
driven by people with a lot of money or people on the ground -- or if 
they can agree to work together."

Perhaps male drug reform leaders can learn from the ladies. Jessica 
Corry, the GOP mom from Denver, turns the economic discussion back to 
the home: "It's generational child abuse to waste billions of dollars 
every year on marijuana prohibition."

Mikki Norris, the California marijuana activist, observed 
gender-specific focus groups in Oakland on Measure Z, a 2004 ballot 
initiative that ultimately succeeded in making marijuana the lowest 
law enforcement priority. She heard the women's group speaking on 
behalf of their children -- "they wanted money for their kids' 
education and they didn't want kids arrested for pot." Men, on the 
other hand, were more worried about children getting involved with 
drugs, she told me.

Norris said, "I just think women have a better grasp of home 
economics," or what's really important in a family.

Today's economic climate lends itself to easy parallels with the 
fight to repeal Prohibition in the 1920s, which was also framed as a 
family issue. Harry Levine, the sociologist, reminded me of Pauline 
Sabin, a high-society Chicago feminist who organized women in the 
fight to repeal the 18th Amendment.

"Sabin said that because of the violence, the corruption, the 
bootleggers, and all the resulting lost tax revenue, that alcohol 
undermined the home and therefore women should speak out for 
themselves and children," Levine said.

Many point to the moment when women joined the fight against 
Prohibition as the tipping point for the ultimate success of the movement.

Women As a New Force

The women in the marijuana reform movement have different reasons for 
trumpeting policy change. Some see cannabis as a medicinal wonder 
drug, others see tangible -- and sensible -- socio-economic benefits 
to taxing and regulating it.

Trends indicate that as more states legalize the use of cannabis for 
medical purposes, more people will discover first-hand that 
legalization of marijuana does not equate with anarchy and instead 
with more effective control of a substance so readily available to 
Americans -- and American kids -- across the country.

And as Californians may next year, Americans will soon be exposed to 
the choice between regulating marijuana for adult use or continuing a 
failed drug war that incarcerates 850,000 people a year -- tearing 
apart families, ruining futures, and siphoning from public funds that 
might otherwise benefit the next generation. All this for a 
relatively mild psychotropic that at least a third of us has tried.

As the recession continues to unravel communities across the country, 
the economic incentive to end this drug war will affect the opinions 
of many who might never otherwise have considered legalization. The 
time may very well be now.

Similar to the prohibition of alcohol in the early twentieth century, 
what we have today is a federal policy that is at odds with public 
opinion. It is a policy without a plurality of citizen supporters.

And many women are at the vanguard of the movement that recognizes 
this and is fighting for change.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake