The Marijuana Stigma

It's not often that you get to rewrite your moral code. To look, possibly change, at the very least challenge, a deeply held belief or societal norm that you have held as long as you can remember.

And how much easier it is for some of us to cast them aside, then others.

I met Jenna how I meet most people. I was getting a coffee. She had a coffee. I guessed that she was meeting someone or that she might be friendly, so I approached her.

She was in fact waiting on someone, but she was willing to talk to me until her appointment arrived.

I had a simple ten minute conversation with a stranger.  That conversation is now, albeit slowly, eroding a single held belief.

Jenna and her husband are entrepreneurs and have their own business. They have two kids aged 8 and 6. She looks like your “normal” mom on the playground. And their business, is “normalizing” cannabis.

Marijuana was legalized here in Washington in 2012. Since then legal marijuana shops are as ubiquitous as coffee shops, which is saying a lot for Seattle. It is regulated very similarly to alcohol in that you need to be over twenty-one to purchase it, but unlike alcohol, cannabis is still classified as a schedule 1 controlled substance and possession of larger amounts, and the growing of unlicensed or unregulated marijuana remains illegal under state law (wikipedia).

Part of Jenna's story is her relationship and communication with her husband. When they met, he agreed that they would never have kids and she agreed to never smoke pot again. Fast forward a few years, they now have two kids, cannabis becomes legal and some friends bring them a gift; a glass pipe with some marijuana. He tries it for the first time and after a bit, busts out in a fit of the giggles. The next morning, discussing how much fun they had had and how great it is not to be hungover, they become regular consumers.

At this point, they are both working full time in corporate careers.  They smoke cannabis (Jenna always refers to it as cannabis) regularly and as parents they start searching out “safer and more responsible storage solutions, as well as healthier consumption devices; because you want to make sure you can breathe when you're running after your kids”. They quickly found that none of the local dispensaries carried what they wanted and/or needed, so they went online and found the accessories they were looking for.

They soon came to realize that others would benefit from what they were buying, so they started reaching out to these companies offering to become local sales reps. They started selling and getting to know the needs and desires of the local dispensaries, eventually allowing them to quit their jobs and run their business, together, full time.

When I met Jenna, she was actually waiting to meet with the Director of NORML Women of Washington, “... a women’s group dedicated to education and outreach on marijuana in the State of Washington. We also promote the NORMLization of marijuana by challenging the myths and stereotypes associated with its use, users, and supporters.” (definition taken from Jenna is looking to take on a larger role in the education of parents and families around the use of cannabis, because, she believes, normalization begins at home.

Cannabis in Jenna's home is no different than say growing up on a winery, helping to glue labels on bottles, running through the grape arbors or helping to pick grapes. I grew up in Michigan and my dad dabbled in homemade wine making, I distinctly remember being young and stomping grapes, or being paid with Baskin-Robbins for picking enough dandelions for my dads' dandelion wine. Jenna's kids also have active chores in the business; helping to wrap and ship, learning about agriculture by remembering to water the plants and knowing what to look for in a healthy plant.

And just like wine is a constant to a winery, so is cannabis to a cannabis business. Jenna and her husband's use of cannabis, for pleasure or for medical reasons, around the kids is as normal as a glass of wine or taking a Tylenol. They find that their patience levels rise dramatically and they feel that they are better parents when they do micro dosing – where you smoke just a little bit, not so much to get high but to become more in balance and in tune with their kids or when they aren't feeling well.

Now, I feel like this writing needs to be labeled Part 1. Because I only had 10 minutes with Jenna and I have A LOT of questions for her and more popping up as I write.

Because this, I have to admit, is taking me some time to wrap my brain around. I was raised in a family that we would have a glass of beer or wine before, and sometimes with, dinner. It's a time to relax at the end of the day. And I have smoked many a bowl in my youth but I still equate it with being “wrong” or I worry that smoking too much is considered an escape from reality or may lead to addiction. I still see a stigma around cannabis, so there is definitely some normalizing that needs to happen in my brain, and I'm thinking many others, before we look at it the same way as alcohol.

But the thing is that I see nothing wrong with taking an anti-depressant, a Tylenol, a peptol-bismol or any other medicine that can help you lead a more pain free, normal life. And all of these medications contain a warning list a paragraph long of possible side effects or contraindications (when someone shouldn't use a drug because it could be harmful to them).

Side effects of Tylenol (via WebMD) may include: nausea, stomach pain, loss of appetite, itching, rash, headache, dark urine, clay-colored stools, or jaundice (yellowing of skin or eyes). And you need to get medical help right away if you notice symptoms of a rare serious allergic reaction, including: rash, itching/swelling (especially of the face/tongue/throat), severe dizziness, or trouble breathing.

Possible side-effects to cannabis (via WebMD) are paranoia, anxiety, short term forgetfulness, a distorted sense of time and random thinking; all of which disappear once the cannabis wear off. It can also cause more (ie. not CREATE more) health problems for people with liver disease, low blood pressure or diabetes (United Patients Group disagrees and suggests that cannabis can alleviate diabetes symptoms), can lower testosterone in men and increases the chance of addiction for 10% of users.

On the website United Patients Group ( ) a resource for navigating medical cannabis uses, lists 174 conditions that cannabis can help treat and/or manage. Everything from Stage 4 lung cancer (the foundation was started when the founders father was given 2 weeks to live, started THC capsules and 5 years later his charts show no evidence of disease) to premenstrual cramps to cocaine withdrawal.

And this is interesting for me, and actually quite hypocritical, as it is not out of the ordinary for me to have a glass of wine while cooking.  Or just last week I was sitting on a balcony in the sun at 2:00 in the afternoon sharing a bottle of wine with friends during spring break, while the kids played inside. Or if we're all sitting around a campfire drinking beers and someone passes out a joint I'll be the first one to take a hit (and did so before it was legal).

My husband used to drink as well, he actually drank a lot – too much, and he finally quit alcohol altogether over three years ago. Before then he had never liked smoking marijuana, he didn't like the way it made him feel, though, to be clear, he only smoked while he was drinking. Then a couple of years ago, after it became legal and he quit drinking, he decided to try it and liked it. Now he smokes most nights when the kids go to bed, he then writes or plays music for a while and then goes to bed.

And the thing is, the things that I hated about his drinking are not there. The worst thing he does is raid and clear out our snack drawer... And most people that I now know who prefer to smoke over drinking are much more responsible. They never say or do stupid things, they never sit around the campfire and repeat over and over how much they love each other (to the point that my husband has to leave us to our hijinx), there are no hangovers, there is no throwing up, black outs, or regretting what you said or how you acted. We've all been the sober person around the too drunk person who couldn't even stand up – but being around the too stoned person, who might just speak a bit slower? Funny. Usually insightful and comes from a loving place. Are there any angry stoners? Worst side-effect (for a light user) may be forgetting the point of a story.

Now we all know the picture of the stoner on the couch watching TV or playing video games all day, eating pizza. That's no different from the person sitting on the couch watching HGTV all day or binge watching Netflix with a box of chocolates. You don't need marijuana to try and escape your reality, people do it all over, all day, without any help from a drug.

So why do I sometimes give my husband a hard time for smoking? He never smokes around our kids, though he has never done anything that would imply he shouldn't. He's actually way more patient than I am. He can carry a conversation. Really the only tell tale sign is some red eyes. But it's my moral code – I've been told for so long that “drugs are wrong” that I too have bought into the stereotype. And even though I'm all for legalizing cannabis, I'm not positive I want it in my home.

And honestly, I think my real problem is that I'm scared of how it may affect our children. We're ground zero. Our children are the test subjects of how children do growing up in a land of legalized marijuana. And by that I mean, “we” the adults are the ones who get to shape this. Do we accept it as “normal” or do we stigmatize, hide and shame it, thus having them seek it out more? What is the conversation that we have with our kids now that will help them use cannabis judiciously?

My generation was the one that learned the hard lessons of how horrible drinking and driving is. How it ruined peoples lives. So the next generation of kids were raised not to drink and drive, we gave them outs, taught them structure with sober drivers. Since 1980 when 60% of fatal car accidents were caused by drunk drivers, that number dropped every year to it's lowest in 2016, which was down to 31%.

We need to learn what the conversation is with our kids now, so that they aren't the statistic that all future kids are compared to.  We need  to do some deep soul searching and remove the stigma, have the conversations, normalize cannabis and how to use it responsibly.  We need to do this for the future of our kids.

Jessica McClure