activism

Is Weed a Women’s Issue?


Cheri Sicard, who’s been dubbed the Martha Stewart of Marijuana, wants to see the stigma of the female stoner go up in smoke.



Cheri Sicard wants to talk to women about marijuana. She’s not your stereotypical smoker—the lazy, flaky stoner doing bong hits in a dank basement—or even the accepted-because-she’s-a-performer type like Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, or Rihanna who have come to represent contemporary women who toke. She’s a baby boomer who is now being called the “Martha Stewart of Weed”—a onetime international circus performer, who’s now a travel and food writer and novelist—who didn’t inhale before she turned 40, save for a few friendly passes at parties. That is, until her doctor recommended marijuana as treatment for her chronic nausea. The drug not only helped this condition; it alleviated her chronic gastrointestinal problems and her depression, which, she said, enabled her to wean off her antidepressant medication. She entered the door as many have before her, through realizing marijuana’s medical benefits, and from there she saw the positive impact it had on her overall wellness. Now, she wants to help other women overcome the stigma of marijuana use through her new book Mary Jane: The Complete Marijuana Handbook for Women (The Seal Press).

Our culture is shifting ever faster toward acceptance of a drug that was once so feared, that our country was creating propaganda films to scare off potential users, the most famous movie, 1936’s Reefer Madness, with its tagline, “Women Cry For It. Men Die For It.” Currently 23 states and the District of Columbia have laws legalizing marijuana usage in some form, with Alaska, DC, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington passing measures allowing it for recreational use. But supporters are often met with the usual barrage of questions and misinformation—and vilified for their association with cannabis by conservative pundits. 

Sicard’s desire to “come out” as a marijuana user was tied heavily to her activism. Looking beyond her personal relationship with marijuana, she saw what the “war on weed” has done to all Americans’ civil liberties. “We have about 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, and over half of those are nonviolent drug offenders,” she said. Within six months of researching cannabis prohibition and its relationship to other important issues, from the environment to our health, she went from the typical closeted smoker to an outspoken advocate. She loves to tell people she is a stoner because it takes them aback. Sicard says, “It makes people reconsider,” because there is no one kind of marijuana user. “Honestly I do not know of any other issue that unites so many otherwise disparate groups of people,” she said. Teaching people about the spectrum of smokers is an important step in educating and changing perspectives. Unfortunately, because of the social stigma of being known as a smoker and the scarier legal consequences, many people are afraid to take the step “out of the basement.”

What can responsible, weed-smoking adults do to help destigmatize it? Kick open the closet door. As Sicard explains, “This movement at its heart is a civil-liberties issue and it can learn a lot from the gay rights movement in the sense that the more responsible, successful, productive people who talk positively about their experiences with marijuana, the more those who are still uneducated about it will start to question their preconceptions and prejudices.” Currently, the face of marijuana use is the entertainment industry: comedians like Sarah Silverman, actresses Frances McDormand and Susan Sarandon, and most recently, the aforementioned Rihanna and Miley Cyrus. But they have somehow earned a free pass. What happens when others—businesspeople, politicians, parents—step out? The movement grows.

What happens when women come out in favor of marijuana usage? Sicard believes a lot, which is why she wrote a marijuana handbook specifically for women. And she is eager to portray marijuana in distinctly feminine terms, she explains in Mary Jane’s introduction. “The plant itself is matriarchal. After all, it’s only the prized flowers from female marijuana plants that we smoke, vaporize, or turn into concentrates or edibles.”

“Women ultimately ended alcohol prohibition when they learned that prohibition did far more damage than the substance itself,” Sicard told me. “I predict it will be the same with cannabis.” Where she once saw a gender bias in pop culture’s lack of a portrayal of women and weed—the films of the 60s, with the occasional exception, often showed only men smoking—she now sees movies, TV, and music more accurately reflecting society.

Mothers who smoke often carry with them the unfair and engendered stigma of being bad parents, but Sicard said that “more and more mothers are also waking up to the fact that the prohibition against cannabis can do their children far more harm than the herb ever could, as a youthful arrest, even if they do manage to avoid prison time, can mean the end of student funding and a felony record that will follow them around for life, making everything more difficult, especially finding gainful employment.”

As women tend to feel the stigma of marijuana usage on a higher scale, the need for an educated conversation around the subject becomes increasingly more important. Her book addresses everything from knowing your legal rights and how to win a weed argument to fun topics like marijuana in the kitchen and in the bedroom. Sicard believes women have the power to decriminalize and destigmatize marijuana usage. “Maybe it is because we are the nurturers and the ones who usually are the caretakers, but for whatever reason, when women’s numbers in this movement started to grow, the pace of change picked up steam, and that is a very good thing for everyone.”

 

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