Drug Law

Marijuana Movement Sexist Against Women?

| by NORML

By "Radical" Russ Belville

Is it NORML to be sexist?  It’s not exactly a rhetorical question.  When you look at the statistics, the more one smokes pot, the more likely one is male.  Those who have tried pot in their lifetime are 54% male; by the time you get to the daily tokers like me, it’s 68%.  That’s two tokers for every tokette!  (Hmm, is “tokette” sexist?)

Then there are the trade magazines and expos.  The advertisements of naked women covered in buds have long been a complaint among many women and some men commenting on the cannabis culture.  Now the medical marijuana industry is flourishing in California and Colorado.  With it come the trade shows where some vendors compete for traffic by employing scantily clad spokesmodels.

On one side you have free speech and sexual expression advocates explaining that sex sells!  The marijuana industry is no different in that respect than the fast food, car, and beer manufacturers.

On the other side you have civil rights and reform advocates explaining that fast food, cars, and beer are legal and don’t have to fight for legitimacy and respect in a political market alongside fighting for eyeballs and dollars in a commercial market.  It’s more than an industry, it’s also a civil rights movement.

Should free speech and sexual expression be curbed for political correctness?  Or do we flaunt our freedom to communicate any message we like, risking it may harm recruiting efforts and public opinion for legalization?  Bottom line (if you’ll pardon the pun): are the extra dollars from advertising marijuana with babes in booty shorts worth impeding the legalization of marijuana?  (Hmm, I guess if you make profit off overpriced marijuana due to prohibition tariffs, it just may be…)


Ladies, it's raining men over here in the toker community... much better odds than your local bar...

This subject comes to mind because of a Facebook zit I just popped.  I know, gross, but it sums up succinctly my general impression of the social network.  When I get complaints about NORML chapters in my position as Outreach Coordinator, as soon as I see “Facebook” in the description my eyes glaze over.  I know what I’m about to read will be a sensitive, painful public eyesore that is taken far too seriously, makes a tiny mess, and is then forgotten.  Like a zit.

However, this time a complaint caught my attention, because it was about one of our chapter directors and had been forwarded to my colleagues at the NORML Women’s Alliance.  It seems the director had posted a graphic on his wall someone found to be sexist and violent and unbecoming of a NORML leader.  It’s safe-for-work (so long as the word “vagina” is safe for your work, and if it isn’t, ha ha, too late!) if you’d like to look for yourself.

Needless to say, my colleagues at the NWA* weren’t amused by epithets accompanying a photo of striking a woman.  The posting is on the director’s private Facebook page; however, his position as a NORML leader was listed prominently in his profile and he often promoted his chapter’s work and events through his public page.

We asked the director to either remove the one offensive graphic post from his personal Facebook page or make the page truly “personal” and remove reference to his leadership position at NORML.  It’s a more measured response than I would have given.  I can’t imagine a leader of any other political organization posting such offensive material publicly and then being allowed to remain in a leadership position.

Unsurprisingly, the director became irate about NORML “censoring” him and not respecting “free speech”.  He defended the graphic as being “funny as hell” and that “99.9%” of the public found it hilarious.  He disparaged our founder, Keith Stroup, railed about political correctness, and lamented how NORML wants to restrict his freedom of expression because of the complaints of a couple of “pissy little bitches”.  He resigned, telling us we’ve “lost the most important person NORML had” in that area, vowed to spread the word of our transgressions and pledged to be our mortal enemy.  In other words, my first instinct was correct; we’re better off without such a lout.

I’m shocked, though, that it came to all this.  How is it that male tokers who wish to be public leaders of a marijuana movement can’t understand how institutionalized sexism holds us back politically?  Does our outlaw counterculture and male/female imbalance just shelter us from recognizing the sexism that the mainstream’s been addressing and correcting over the past three decades, or does it actively foster an environment of sexism?

*No, not Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, and MC Ren… oh, how I wish the Women’s Alliance had picked a different acronym!

Women’s support for marijuana legalization in the latest polls lags behind men’s support by ten percentage points.  If women supported legalization as men do, there would be overall majority support for legalization.  Women, for many reasons, not the least of which is the pressure to be good mothers, are more afraid to voice their support when they do support legalization.  Critics have complained about the overwhelmingly-male boards of NORML and other drug reform orgs, rightfully so, but for so many years there was a dearth of capable women stepping up to the plate.

Not so anymore.  Strong women like Kandice Hawes (CA), Ellen Komp (CA), Norma Sapp(OK), Cher Neufer (OH), Mary Mackenzie Crow (AZ), Anna Diaz (OR), Anne Davis (NJ),Tonya Davis (OH), Lori Duckworth (OR), Karen Goldstein (FL), Linda Adler (VI), Karli Duran(TX), Ruth Liebesman Martiniuk (NY), Jennifer Foster (NC), Dee Duffy (VA), Karri Gallaugher(OR), and Lauren Wolpin-Maytin (CO) are leading or have recently led NORML Affiliates and Chapters all across the country.  Madeline Martinez joined NORML’s board in 2007 and is joined by Greta Gaines this year on the board.  We are moving in the right direction.

Still, 16 of 67 affiliate and chapter leaders is less than one female leader in four.  Two of fifteen board members being female is an even worse disparity.  How much of this crisis in female recruiting is attributable to their lower representation among tokers generally and how much of it is attributable to strong capable women not wishing to jump into a movement they perceive as sexist?

I will do everything I can to recruit more women to the cause,  I encourage everyone to visit our NORML Women’s Alliance page, and I’m always eager to continue this conversation on NORML SHOW LIVE and in the comments on this blog.  We must increase female support for legalization or it will never happen, period.