A Brief History of the Relationship Between Women and Cannabis

“Legal pot is in its infancy, with no patriarchal tradition infrastructure in place.”

With the most recent mid-term elections, over half of US states now have some form of marijuana legalization on the books, and 2018 saw 44% jump in job growth, possibly making it the fastest-growing job market in America.

While this level of growth in such a short time is impressive, the cannabis industry could be making history for another reason. As of 2016, women already made up 36% of all executive-level leadership positions in the cannabis industry, and although that number has shrunk slightly - it’s currently 27% - but it’s still higher than the average number of women executives in other US industries.

One reason for the female-leaning demographics is that legal pot is in its infancy, with no patriarchal tradition infrastructure in place. Virtually anyone can get in on the ground floor, meaning there's more room for women to place their stakes. For those who associate marijuana dealing with male-dominated gangs, cartels, and street dealers, women's current leadership may come as a surprise.

In truth, feminism and cannabis go hand in hand, and have for a long time. Historically, foraging cultures sent women out to gather herbs, fruits, and plants used in making food and medicine. Cannabis was used as a pain reliever and antidepressant as far back as 500 BCE, according to Kikoko’s women and cannabis timeline. Some of the (not so) secret ways women used pot throughout history include:

  • Treating migraines
  • Relieving pain from menstrual cramps
  • Easing childbirth pains
  • To rub on swollen, sore breasts during pregnancy
  • Inducing and amplifying the power of contractions during labor
  • As an aphrodisiac and anxiety-reducer on their wedding night

These uses date back as far back as the 9th century, and were recommended by medical journals, sociologists, and even nuns. The history of women and weed didn't get complicated in the US until it was criminalized following the end of alcohol prohibition the 1930’s. Before that, it could be found listed on ingredient labels in pharmacies and medicine cabinets in the form of tinctures, tonics, and tablets.

One reason women's roles in cannabis growing, dealing, and activism was disproportionately suppressed compared to men during the years of criminalization had to do with motherhood, as activist Ellen Komp told Vice. Any women with dependent children had to be extra cautious, living in fear that they might lose their kids if they were open about using or took public roles in marijuana rights organizations. Still, some prominent female cultural, social, and literary figures made contributions to cannabis over the years, such as Maya Angelou and Louisa May Alcott.

Now, says wellness and cannabis advocate Jessica Assaf, women are reclaiming their role as healers as well as the “power of cannabis and returning the plant to its feminine life-nurturing potential,” reports Royal Queen Seeds on their blog. Assaf sums up the relationship between the cannabis market and feminism as simply “cannabis feminism.” It starts, she believes, with breaking the barriers that make it harder for women to access the herb.

Photo via Instagram

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