Blunt Q&A: Leah Maurer, The Weed Blog
Leah Maurer has been involved in the push for legal weed on many fronts.
The Portland native was a fixture in the successful fight for adult use legalization in Oregon, founding activist groups like New Approach Oregon and Moms for YES on Measure 91.
She’s now an owner, journalist, and Editorial Lead of The Weed Blog, a site dedicated to sharing cannabis news and information, while also acting as consultant for cannabis firms looking to ethically navigate the booming pot market.
As a mother of three boys aged 13, 11, and 7, Maurer has become a natural advocate for cannabis users with kids. She stresses the importance of opening the lines of communication around pressing medical and legal issues that carry extra anxiety for parents who may fear legal repercussions, or just stern judgment, for their cannabis use.
“We all recognize that there’s a huge stigma to be lifted around this plant, and that’s what’s holding us back from forward motion,” Maurer says. “People are purely misinformed, because of decades of conjecture and propaganda.”
Maurer just returned to Portland from South by Southwest, where she’d been invited to host a meet-up session entitled “Cannabis and Parenting: Lifting the Stigma” as part of the Austin mega-festival’s first-ever track of programming focused specifically on the cannabis industry. (Check out our recap of that session here).
She came away impressed. “The SXSW team just did an outstanding job on making diversity in the content that was presented, getting very highly esteemed speakers and industry professionals and policy reform types,” she says.
We talked to Maurer about her time in Texas, the current state of parenting as a cannabis user in the state of Oregon, and the editorial principles she brings to her work at The Weed Blog.
What were some of the key things you took away from participating in South by Southwest’s first year of dedicated cannabis industry programming?
Even though I do work in the industry, I consider myself to be an activist at the core. So what was really interesting for me was being able to connect with boots on the ground Texas activists.
I live in the Portland bubble, in a state that’s had adult-use legalized cannabis for four years now. We are talking about it [at SXSW], but you are in a prohibition state. There are very very dedicated activists down there [like Informed Texas].They were very very inspiring to me, and I tried to encourage them as much as possible. They are doing some actual reform down there and it’s not just at a total screeching halt at this point.
The other takeaway I had being around all these thought leaders and very esteemed and successful cannabis industry professionals as a whole, is that this industry is just continuing to grow and thrive.
These people aren’t going anywhere. One of my personal highlights of the inaugural cannabis track programming was being one of the maybe dozen people who got to sit in a roundtable sessions with with Steve D’Angelo.
One of the things that [he] is really working on right now is the storytelling aspect, everyone telling their stories and continuing to tell their story to lift the stigma around cannabis in an effort to push policy reform forward and to help push socially responsible cannabis companies forward.
How much has the message that normal, responsible parents might also be cannabis users sunk in? No one could see a parent sip a beer at a backyard BBQ and reasonably think that alone was grounds to brand them as an inattentive or irresponsible parent. Can we say the same for someone who enjoys an occasional joint or edible?
I think that really really depends on where it is that you are living at this point.
There are people living in prohibition states who are parents, or non-parents [who are] still very capable of judging parents. It’s much more difficult to have a conversation if you are in a space where using cannabis is still considered to be a crime, or if they find you with a gram or less of cannabis on you you’re still going to have to deal with legal repercussions because of that.
So, I guess my short answer to that would be no. I don’t think we are there yet in this country.
What’s the climate for parents in Oregon, post-legalization?
In Oregon, I think we are definitely approaching that point. I’m sure there must be some people in the state that feel that way, but they are a little bit less likely to verbalize that.
I think in general, what I’ve continued to notice is that parents are at least more likely to be comfortable talking about it. Whether they agree with it, or they do think it makes you a bad parent, I think they are more willing to talk about it in a rational way than they were before.
But here in Oregon, when you compare it against something like alcohol, I do think that people will pass more judgment at you as a parent if you’re at a backyard BBQ and you are going over into a corner with some other adults to consume some cannabis as opposed to being in the corner with some other adults talking and drinking wine or beer.
There’s a heavier bar for you to pass in terms of other people’s judgment if you are choosing to be a cannabis consumer, rather than drinking alcohol, or abstaining altogether.
In prohibition states a cannabis using parent’s biggest concern has to be legal ramifications of being caught with cannabis. Child services, school officials, or even a custody judge in the case of divorce could very well use cannabis use against them. Is there enough sustained advocacy around that issue?
No, there’s not enough. There are so many important things to advocate for like responsible social consumption regulation, allowing adult spaces where they can go consume cannabis outside of their home or backyards.
Some parents are really not comfortable having it in the house, or ever doing it in front of their kids. The way things are set up here, they don’t have the option to go anywhere else. I mean, they can go in their car? (laughs) There’s nowhere where they are allowed to do this in a safe space where children aren’t present. So, I would love to see more advocacy.
There is a non-profit that I’m involved with called CannaMommy. She has sort of a fledgling organization at this point, not at the point where they can do real policy reform advocacy or lobbying.
Being in Oregon, I’ll give you an example. My oldest son is 13, and he is 8th grade. Last year when he was in 7th grade, he had a P.E. / Health / Wellness block where they did a week long unit on drugs. They spent a few days on stimulants, a few days on psychedelics, and kind of went through each category. They spent the longest on cannabis, 3 days.
I felt comfortable enough to reach out to the teacher, and say “Hey, I just want you to know my husband and I were very involved with the legalization effort here, we consider ourselves to be law reform activists and we work in the industry.
[Our son] has been very privy to having lots of information about drugs and cannabis specifically for several years now. and I just want you to know that and we’ve made it very clear to him that if he had questions for you, it might be better for him to wait until after class to ask them.”
What I didn’t want to happen is for him to go into class saying, “What you are telling the class is wrong and this is the truth!” [laughs] I didn’t want there to be any internal micromanagement kind of struggle there. She was very receptive and very kind.
He came home when the unit was over, and he said the things that he was being taught in school were the same things he was learning at home, about brain development and human development and the effects of certain substances.
That was really refreshing for me as a parent, to be able to have such a candid conversation with the teacher, and also have him come home and say, “No, they’re not saying anything like cannabis will make you turn purple,” or whatever.
What issues are you seeing underreported in cannabis media right now?
I think something that’s being underrepresented in cannabis media today is spotlighting companies that are doing a good job at business social responsibility, or corporate social responsibility, depending on the size of the company.
To be in an emerging industry, where most companies are bogged down by day-to-day operations and compliance, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that we are setting a tone for an entire industry right now.
One of the things that absolutely needs to be considered in every company is your level of social responsibility. I’m especially talking about things like community involvement, continued involvement in policy reform and advocacy for your industry, including diversity in your team, making sure you’re reaching all roles.
When I say diversity, I want to be really clear that I’m talking about hiring the best candidate, but making sure that the pool of people you’re interviewing and looking at are diverse. And of course, making sure that reparations are built into your company or your vision, for those people who have served prison time, and those people whose communities have been incredibly and disproportionately affected by the overall drug war.
Because the industry is moving at light speed right now, there are new companies popping up every day, mergers being announced, acquisitions being announced every day. I feel like cannabis media focuses on the industry.
I can’t even tell you how many things I’ve read or gotten outreach about branding, marketing, operational things, when I really feel like the thing that needs to be spotlighted is the social responsibility of cannabis companies that are doing it well.
How do you bring that conviction to your role as Editorial Lead of The Weed Blog******?**
I have to say, I’ve done a few interviews with companies where I get past the initial interview questions of how long has your company been around, your mission, and one of the first things I always ask them is, “What are you doing in terms of social responsibility as a company right now?” If they don’t have a lot to tell me about it, I generally don’t like to tell the story.
There’s enough other companies that are going to tell me about the high quality of their product and the high quality of their processes, but aren’t really doing a lot in their own communities or aren’t really doing a whole lot for continued advocacy. Those are just so crucial.
I’m a big believer that the cannabis industry, and these pioneers in it right now, are not only at the point where they can set standards for other companies in the cannabis industry, but could really raise the bar for social responsibility and diversity and community involvement and equity and all those things in other industries that are not doing such a great job there, but could be.