By Victoria Dekker
A lazy blue haze hangs above a mess of blankets, magazines and makeup strewn across Brooklyn’s* living room, the hallmarks of a proper adult slumber party. Clad in our ugliest, coziest pajamas, we steadily swap her well-worn pipe and a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos to each other across the couch.
We’re chatting about our preferred methods of consumption (I opt for vaping, while she’s partial to old-school combustion), and the web series, Cannabis Moms Club. Her finger hovers above the ‘like’ button below an article about the show, but instead of hitting it, she shakes her head and scrolls down the page instead.
Brooklyn – whose name has been changed at her request – and I are alike in a lot of ways: we’re both 30-something moms, we’re both active in our communities, we’re both Prairie ex-pats living on the East Coast and we both love cannabis. She, however, keeps her affinity for the plant a secret. I don’t.
She and I represent two camps of women: those who share their enthusiasm for marijuana with the rest of their world, and those who prefer to keep it private.
Photo: Pinterest / Pax
Brooklyn admits there isn’t any ‘real’ reason she doesn’t want anyone outside her close circle to know. She owns two successful businesses, so losing her job isn’t an issue. She’s an excellent parent; her kids attend Montessori school and her home is Pinterest-perfect. She and her husband both have prescriptions, consume their cannabis to the letter of the law, and neither has ever been in any legal trouble.
But here’s the thing – she lives in a microscopic coastal community, and while attitudes toward cutting loose tend to lean on the liberal side in Atlantic Canada, old ideas and stereotypes around topics like drug use, sexual preference and gender identity still run strong. It’s a matter of stigma, she says – she doesn’t want people to label her a pothead.
“It’s a hard thing. There’s one plumber in town, one really good salon – that kind of thing. I already have one ‘X’ against me because I’m from ‘away.’ I don’t know for sure that I’d get blacklisted or if it would affect my children if word got around that I smoke a lot of pot, but I don’t want to risk it,” she explains.
While cannabis is gaining some credence as a legitimate medicine, in the arena of socialized substances, it still carries a stigma that alcohol and tobacco largely don’t. That stoner stigma runs deep. So deep, it effectively silences some who consume on a regular basis, confirms Vancouver-based cannatherapy consultant and legalization advocate Danielle Jackson.
“There’s a lot of shame associated with cannabis use,” Jackson explains. “While stigma and stereotype is something other people can put on you, shame comes from the inside. Even though a lot of people enjoy cannabis and understand its therapeutic value, they’re still stuck in that prohibition mindset.”
Jackson (who’s affectionately dubbed ‘Miz D’ and ‘Doprah’ in the cannabis community) opines that the first step to shattering that stigma is by examining one’s own relationship with the plant and casting off the misplaced shame that can come with even the most responsible consumption.
“I know this is wrong, but when I think of what a pothead looks like, I think of your typical dirty stoner with dreads and no job,” Brooklyn says. “And it’s completely crazy, because that’s not me at all. I know it’s not accurate and that the laws are changing.”
Photo: Vancouver 4/20, 2017 - MARK VAN MANEN / PNG
Onlookers with even mild interest in the evolving medical and recreational legal and consumer landscape in North America are witnessing history in the making. American states are steadily modernizing policy, and Canada’s recreational framework is rumoured to be in place by July 2018. Cannabis is a hot topic north of the border – developments in the industry make mainstream headlines almost daily. And with the rapid expansion of Canada’s medical cannabis registry (a rise from 30,000 to 130,000 patients since Trudeau took office), and the steady emergence of storefront-style dispensaries, the lines on what’s legal and what isn’t are becoming increasingly blurry for a largely uneducated public.
But even if the illegality argument is slowly losing steam, and will, before long, become obsolete, modern cannabis culture still has a long way to go in erasing that broader public stigma, Jackson says. ‘Regular’ people who choose to publicly identify as smokers – the patients, the moms, the retirees, the executive types, the young professionals, the athletes – play a major role in dignifying consumption, legitimizing cannabis culture and redefining the modern cannabis consumer.
For 23-year-old digital marketer Maddy Schaap, the recent decision to go public with her habit after six years of closeted consumption was motivated by her desire to both live authentically and contribute to changing those public perceptions.
About four months ago, Schaap began revealing her preference for pot with family, and followed by her social media feeds. She’s smoked socially, recreationally and therapeutically since age 17, and plans to build a career in cannabis marketing.
The impending changes to Canada’s marijuana policies helped affirm her decision, she says; she’s not worried about future repercussions, neither legal, nor professional. The pretty, young professional hopes that lending her image to responsible cannabis use will challenge people who consider all supporter as lazy, low-functioning stoners.
“Cannabis is a large part of my life. I want to help de-stigmatize it and help other people realize they can be themselves too… it’s really about being a leader for other people and showing that it’s O.K.,” Schaap says.
In addition to its social benefits, a certain dignity accompanies the decision to ‘come out,’ says Jackson. Schapp confirms she found an unparalleled sense of relief after smoking in front of her mom for the first time.
“Coming out is so liberating. There haven’t really been, traditionally, appropriate platforms for people to come out from behind that ‘green curtain,’” Jackson says, crediting groups like Women Grow and cannabis conventions for offering supporters a space to listen, learn and be heard.
If cannabis is ever to gain widespread socially accepted status, it’s invaluable for legalization supporters to give a face to responsible consumption, Jackson says. It’s equally important for consumers to connect and spend time with one another.
“By being the change we want to see in the world, we give other people the permission to do the same.”
Victoria Dekker is an award-winning print and online journalist, covering life, culture and business in the cannabis sphere and beyond. Connect with her on Twitter @deadtowrite.