I’ve been turning this post over in my head for quite a few weeks now, not sure how to fully articulate my thoughts around this topic that I am very passionate about, but have been caught without the right words, until I saw this meme.
It perfectly, in all its silly, light-making glory summed up everything I feel about the general societal acceptance of alcohol in comparison towards the ever-present, ever-persistent stigmatization of marijuana and marijuana users.
Millions of Canadians and Americans go home every night from work, pick up a bottle of wine or a case of beer, and drink one or more alcoholic beverages a night. They may do this once or twice a week, or just on weekends, and likely more if people were actually truly forthcoming about their alcohol consumption.
In offices and in workplaces, you hear people talking throughout the day, particularly on stressful days, about how they can’t wait to get home to a glass of wine (moderate drinking); many very flippantly joke that they’d love to consume the whole bottle (binge drinking). On the regular, social media news feeds get littered with memes about fantasies of larger than life wine glasses, or fridges that dispense wine instead of water, or cute sayings about wine being a requirement for sanity. You see people sharing various snapshots of their life, often showing glasses of wine or beer bottles in times of rest, celebration or just as an accompaniment to every day life.
You may recognize some of these below:
While I may have a chuckle when I see these memes, they always kind of piss me off, because they are representative of a very unfair double standard that people like me live under.
If I was honest and used memes to describe how I like de-stress, or remain sane, or how I use substances in my life, my social media feed would look more like this:
But I don’t share these, or haven’t until now, because I’ve been afraid of being unfairly stigmatized.
My Dirty Little Secret
There you have it: I am a proud user of marijuana, and I am a strong advocate for marijuana legalization for both medical and recreational use.
Not only do I use marijuana, but I also make money from marijuana and with that money I make, I can pay my rent and feed my family. I’ll explain a bit more about that later…
Why Does the Double Standard of Stigma Peeve Me?
I am not itching to go crazy with posting pro-pot memes all over social media, and to be able to match everyone’s glasses of wine with a doobie, but what I am looking forward to is the day where I no longer have to be so overly-discretionary about omitting pot’s place in my life.
I wish to be able to freely talk about how I use pot on a regular basis to treat anxiety as well as pain from endometriosis, and in addition to that, I want to be free to use it recreationally because I genuinely just enjoy the effect it has on me. It has a general mellowing effect on me and helps me focus where focus hasn’t always been on my side. When I need it, it can help me unplug and truly slow down. In addition, I want to freely be able to talk about my professional stake in the marijuana industry, but I keep that part of my life hidden, even from my own mother, because am not sure that those I know are quite ready to have that full conversation about what I do for a living.
I want to someday be relieved of my frustration over the double standard and the fact that it is “okay” to talk about one (evidence-supported harmful) drug, glamorize it, and revel in and take full advantage of its legality, but completely taboo to admit or discuss use of another, mostly due to misinformation, lack of research, and unjustified stigma and illegality.
Alcohol is the most abused drug in Canada. In 2015, almost 5 million Canadians suffered serious harm from alcohol, whether it be through the impacts of impaired driving or through the dangerous medical conditions caused by alcohol including cirrhosis and cancer. In 2011, alcohol-related disorders were the top cause of hospitalizations across the country. In the United States, 100,000 people die each year as a result of alcohol-related incidents, whether it be drinking and driving crashes, other accidents, falls, fires, alcohol-related homicides, and suicides.
Anecdotally, we all know about someone who has had their life destroyed by alcohol. Generational alcoholism, drunk driving, alcohol abuse, alcohol poisoning, mental health, homelessness, family breakdown, and loss are some of the things that I have seen happen both first hand, or to someone I know or know of.
When not used in moderation, alcohol has the potential to destroy health and destroy lives yet it remains legal, within anyone’s grasp, financially accessible, and a crucial part of the fabric of society and culture.
As someone who abstains from alcohol (for health reasons), I’ve come to the point where I am actually getting tired of seeing alcohol glamorized so nonchalantly, whether it be in discourse or social media or just in my daily interactions.
Maybe oddly, the biggest driver of my frustration about alcohol, and the ways that it is accepted into our communities, homes, events, and everything to do with being social, very much comes from how I see alcohol in comparison to marijuana.
My point comes down to this: I get frustrated that marijuana is a taboo topic that you don’t talk about openly, but has never caused anyone to die through overdose, while alcohol has been responsible for millions of deaths over time, but it’s completely acceptable to publically boast about how much you love booze.
Pot smokers don’t talk about pot, because its widely illegal, even though we all know that unlike alcohol, marijuana and cannabis extracts are powerful medicine, a savior for many, and on the recreational side, a low-risk substance that has no chemically addictive properties and when used responsibly, little mental and emotional harm.
How has society become so backward in what is socially accepted in terms of substance use?
Is Stigma Based on Legality?
There was once a time when alcohol was illegal in our recent history. During Prohibition in the United States, alcohol was associated with hedonism, poor moral character, and bad behaviour and was regarded as one of the greatest ills on society. Canada reflected these prohibition values with laws being more temporary and not so wide-spread, but very much carrying the same ideas of American Prohibition. Movements such as the Temperance Movement that operated both in the United States in Canada in the early twentieth century stressed the importance of abstaining, connecting an alcohol-free life to moral virtue.
Since the end of Prohibition, the consumption of alcohol, in the North American context, has secured its space as one of the most accepted past-times, connected very closely with being social, “feeling good” and as one of the most effective, and cheap, ways to escape the pressures of daily life. People celebrate special events with toasts. Beer flows at sports events. “Meeting up for a beer” is a normal way to ask someone to hang out with you. At the societal level, the general assumption that alcohol is part of someone’s life, even though we know many have gone through addiction rehabilitation programs, is persistent and hard to avoid if you are an abstainer. It’s a drinker’s world.
Marijuana has always had a hard time in modern North American society. We all know of Reefer Madness and the anti-pot propaganda that had a strong foothold in the early part of the twentieth century. Then, marijuana was associated with crazy-making, a drug that could spin people into terrible behaviour that would get them in trouble with the law. Marijuana was lumped into the rhetoric surrounding the “war on drugs” that has been a huge contributor to the negative perceptions on marijuana.
Since those times, things have changed drastically, but not enough. Despite state-legalized sales of marijuana skyrocketing, with $6.7 billion in legal sales in the United States being generated alone in 2016, an economic growth so fast that it is topping that of the dot.com industry in the 1990s, those who use marijuana are still seen as the bad kids in the school yard. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has refused to declassify marijuana as a Classification 1 drug, which are the most controlled and potentially dangerous substances, usually regarded for their high potential for abuse. Even more recently, they have re-classified cannabidoils (CBDs), and marijuana extracts, as a Schedule 1 drug.
As we know, the United States and in turn, Western society, is divided on the issue of marijuana. It remains illegal for recreational and medicinal use at the federal level, yet sale, cultivation and legal enforcement is allowed to be determined at the state level. Colorado, California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts are leading in legalization at the level of recreational use, with other states behind at various stages of medical legalization or decriminalization. About half of the U.S. remains in the stance that marijuana should be illegal at the state level. As Trump is about to take office, those in the cannabis world are watching closely to see if he and his appointed staff will take any action against legalization of medical and recreational cannabis at the state level.
In Canada, legalization is on our horizon, with the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation having released their Framework for the Legalization and Regulation of Cannabis, and Justin Trudeau under the eyes of both pro- and anti-marijuana users alike, will be under scrutiny with how he’ll handle the process of legalization in the country. In December 2016, Prime Minister Trudeau shocked weed activists and industry participants alike when he ordered law enforcement to criminally charge dispensaries, siting that the country hadn’t quite yet made it to the path to legalization yet where the “current prohibition stands”. Trudeau remains adamant that legalization for Canada is to protect children and remove the criminal elements that result from marijuana. He is also clear that he is not pushing legalization to please pot smokers but rather as a measure of regulation.
Where Does Stigmatization Come From?
Knowing what I know about pot, those who use it, and why we are still facing a struggle in legitimizing ourselves, I can easily attribute the ongoing stigmatization of marijuana and marijuana users to a few main things.
First of all, where pot stands in terms of the law, its place as a medical treatment, and its general acceptance into society is pretty ambiguous and confusing. With some boasting the health benefits of marijuana while others stating “good people don’t smoke marijuana”, it’s hard to get a good grasp on the collective opinion on marijuana use.
Furthermore, we all have our image of “the stoner” as the people who use marijuana on a regular basis. We’ve been conditioned as a society to think of pot as a lazy-person’s drug. It’s the drug of hippies, artists, free thinkers, and of those who are yet to grow up, according to many. Popular culture hasn’t done much to help marijuana advocates with their image; there is a reason why pot is usually associated with Cheech & Chong, or Bob Marley, or people that listen to Sublime, or kids with low, baggy pants “rollin’ blunts”. While I do love Bob Marley, Sublime and other parts of “stoner culture”, I can’t say that I’m overly grateful for the way these cultural associations have stigmatized pot smoking.
Take me for an example. While I certainly can have my lazy couch moments when I can sit and have a couple joints and binge watch Netflix as good as the next guy, as a pot user, I have been able to acquire two degrees, one diploma, make a boatload of money, find success and respect within fields of work, and open up two thriving businesses. I remain driven, interested, motivated, and engaged in my work and in my life, and I have been a pot smoker for more years of my life than I have not. Pot has not been a “gateway drug” for me as I have never ingested another type of substance in my life. It has had its place in my life, as a moderate indulgence, and will continue to do so as I get deeper into my journey with cannabis.
I wish that society as a whole could turn away from the negative associations of marijuana, to focus less on the “stoners”, and more on the positive aspects of marijuana to legitimize its use and allow pot smokers to be able to operate more freely within their spaces, where they don’t need to hide their use for fear of shaming or being wrongfully categorized.
The Call for a Shift in Thinking
Now for that piece where I explain a bit more about making money off marijuana. I have been extremely fortunate that my involvement with marijuana has moved from being a consumer on the black market to now operating professionally within the legal marijuana industry. A large part of my portfolio for one of my businesses is as a professional writer for the legal marijuana industry in an American state where medicinal and recreational marijuana has become legalized.
My team includes an extremely qualified, experienced and knowledgeable business lawyer who specializes in marijuana law, as well as a business investor who has made millions of dollars within business is now applying that acumen and investment ability to the legal marijuana industry.
These are not the people that you would see sitting in their basement rolling blunts listening to Cypress Hill; these are the people who wake up early, put on a business suit, go through a series of meetings, invest millions of dollars on a regular basis, get interviewed by some of the world’s leading publications, and have the general respect of the business world. These are also the people who wouldn’t think twice about posting a photo of them enjoying their “wake and bake” on their personal social media pages because they have been able to rise above negative stigma.
There seems to be a collective resistance as well to accept the medical benefits of marijuana. As so many studies have shown, marijuana can work wonders in the treatment of medical conditions such as epilepsy, Tourette’s Syndrome, chronic pain, just to name a few. The frustrating thing for those of us who 100% stand by and advocate for medical marijuana to have a better place in our public discourse is that there isn’t the rich body of scientific research to substantiate the anecdotal and empirical evidence put forth by 420 advocates.
Perhaps it will take the emergence of more business leaders like the people I work with, or a stronger movement within the medical marijuana community to educate about the medical uses of marijuana. Perhaps when legalization makes its way across more states, when the radical conservative right lays off pot, and when Prime Minister Trudeau delivers on his promises for legalization, that more investment will be made into the research on medical marijuana. At that point, science will speak for itself, as it always does.
Happy Little Pot Smoker
I can foresee being stuck in this frustration I am feeling towards the pro-alcohol, anti-pot discourse for a while, because as a society we just aren’t there yet to be able to openly embrace marijuana while continuing to justify other forms of substance use. On the bright side, I know that I will gain more and more hope by the day through my work in the legal marijuana industry as I see it making more and more breakthroughs in research and in legal regulation. While I still won’t go crazy with posting pro-pot memes, I may be more compelled in the future to not be so hushed about my advocacy around marijuana, especially when I see on a regular basis the positive impact pot has on many people’s lives.
What is fantastic is that I have been able to build a community of people around me who use marijuana, use it proudly, understand its positivity, and are up for joining me around my advocacy efforts, and I feel encouraged by knowing I am in such good company.
Puff, puff, pass.