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The History of Women and Weed

3 minute Read

It’s Women’s History Month! Marijuana and the matriarchy actually go way back. Call em’ pot princesses, ganja goddesses, stiletto stoners, cannabis queens, or merely women who like weed.

“Stigma has created this idea of the lazy stoner, of people being irresponsible and not productive, but if women can take that back, it shows all the ways cannabis continues to help people,” says Natalie Ginsberg, policy and advocacy manager at the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.

Both women and cannabis have a shared reputation for healing. “Women have a history of being caretakers,” says Ginsberg. The medical cannabis movement that grew out of Santa Cruz, California, in the early Nineties was in large part led by women, she points out.

The country’s oldest, continuously operating medical cannabis collective, the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana, for instance, was co-founded in Santa Cruz by Mike and Valerie Corral, after Valerie discovered that cannabis stopped her epileptic seizures. Her 95-year-old mother, Aurora Leveroni, a.k.a. Nonna Marijuana, spent the past several decades cooking gourmet Italian edibles to treat her daughter’s illness.

In her book Tokin’ Women: A 4,000 Year Herstory, Ellen Komp, deputy director of California NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law), begins the tale of women and weed in the third millennium BC when both goddesses and plants were exalted for their healing powers. The Sumerian goddess Ishtar, for example, was associated with cannabis — such as when when people would burn kaneh bosm {cannabis} incense in her honor.

Of course, among all the reefer’s medicinal properties for men and women alike, pot for periods is a no brainer. Back in 1890, Queen Victoria used a cannabis tincture to ease the pain of her cramps. And way before that, eleventh century European women used a cannabis ointment to “disperse the swelling” from premenstrual swollen breasts (weed is known to have anti-inflammatory properties). Meanwhile, Mayan and Aztec women took baths full of medicinal herbs, including cannabis, for menstrual relief.

Today, pot for PMS is a growing market. The Whoopi & Maya line of cannabis period products includes everything from medicated hot cocoa to rubbing salves to herbal bath salts, while Foria medicated suppositories provide topical relief straight to the uterine region where cramps originate. Foria’s cannabis lubricant also helps women achieve orgasm during sex.

Periods aren’t the only reason women like weed. While the use of cannabis during pregnancy is controversial, it’s also been an effective pain reliever during childbirth. In the nineteenth century, cannabis was listed as a medicinal aid in the Dispensary of the United States for labor contractions, and was used in ancient Egypt as topical for birthing pangs.

However, despite many of weed’s female-specific applications, the cannabis industry and movement have been historically dominated by men. One reason for that may have been women’s fear of Child Protective Services taking their children away on account of the mother’s involvement with marijuana, Komp, suggested in an interview with VICE. Also, in various states, women are drug-tested right after giving birth.

Moreover, the longtime underground weed market may have posed a danger to women, let alone anyone else, involved in “drug dealing” or covert ganja cultivation under constant threat of getting raided.

Today organizations like Women Grow are helping women carve out a space for themselves in America’s fastest growing above-ground business. Women comprise 36 percent of executive positions in the cannabis industry, compared with 22 percent in other industries.

That said, not all women have the privilege of coming out of the cannabis closet. People of color who have been disproportionately targeted by the Drug War have may be more reticent to get involved in an industry surrounding a still federally illegal substance.

For those who can be more open about their involvement with ganja, being vocal about it can move things forward for everyone in regard to changing public perceptions about cannabis users, Ginsberg says. “Also, the idea of women smoking cannabis together is really powerful,” she says. “That’s so often been a male thing, guys sitting around and smoking together to bond {but} the special connections and conversations that using cannabis in all female spaces can create is really important.”

Komp’s favorite ganja ladies are those who describe their experiences “broadly and unapologetically.” Rita Marley, for instance, embraced Rastafarianism and cannabis when neither were well accepted in Jamaica, she says. In 2014, Marley described ganja as an herb that occasions “serenity and insight” when used properly. Her restaurant in Kingston is named The Queen of Sheba, after another historical character linked with cannabis, Komp says.

“So that’s an instance of a modern woman reconnecting to our ancient past that has been so buried in our modern patriarchal times,” she tells Jane Street. “In the future, I think more women will begin to reconnect with the healing and enlightening energy of the cannabis plant, and help transform more than just our cannabis industry, but our whole planet.”

The History of Women and Weed