How to Come Out of the Cannabis Closet: Easy Steps for 420 Advocacy

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PHOTO: Trevauhn Grant

A lot has changed in my life since I wrote this piece last year following 4/20. First and foremost, I am proud to say I am finally fully out of the cannabis closet!

I first became involved in advocacy in 2011, when I was diagnosed with cancer and used cannabis illegally during chemotherapy. I refused to accept the federal government’s scheduling of cannabis as a substance with “no medicinal value” and a “high potential for abuse.” The legislative obstacles for scientific research on cannabinoids in the treatment of cancer pissed me off royally. I got mad, and then I got involved. The rest, as they say, is history.

Me with chemo-hair holding the first sign I ever made at the first press conference I ever attended.  Photo: Diane Fornbacher

Me with chemo-hair holding the first sign I ever made at the first press conference I attended.
Photo: Diane Fornbacher

But back when I started advocating – as much as I’m ashamed to admit it – I was seriously concerned about what people would think. When activist friends posted something on my facebook page, I sometimes deleted it because I didn’t want to be seen as a pothead. Yes, sounds lame, I know, but just like lots of other people (maybe you?), I was somewhat reluctant to step fully out of the closet, and so I started off my activism tentatively, with fear and reticence tempering my anger and passion on the topic.

Fortunately, coming out of the cannabis closet doesn’t have to involve an extreme or instant life transformation. The first step can be as simple as a conversation.

As cannabis gets more mainstream media coverage, it’s easier than ever to engage in a conversation about it. The more we talk about it in sensible terms, the more acceptable it becomes.

You might not even have to be the one to start the conversation – the next time someone you know mentions Colorado or Washington, or cancer or epilepsy, or yes, even Doritos, that’s an opportunity for you to bring up cannabis. It’s that simple – and it’s advocacy anyone can participate in. Maybe you’re not ready to speak at a 4/20 rally or even attend one, but 4/20 is the PERFECT opportunity to broach the topic with anyone in your life. It could go something like this:

You: Hey, it’s 4/20 today.
Your friend/family member/colleague/person ahead of you in line at the grocery store: Yes, it is…
You: 4/20 is a marijuana holiday. Did you know that there are people sentenced to life in prison for non-violent marijuana offenses? Isn’t that crazy?

It’s that easy to start talking about it. You don’t even have to admit you smoke weed (and hey, maybe you don’t! As non-toking cannabis reformer Barney Frank famously explained, one doesn’t have to be a woman to believe in abortion rights either. And you don’t have to be gay to support marriage equality, and so on and so forth.)

The more you start those conversations about cannabis (or marijuana or herb or weed or ganja or the chronic or the sticky-icky-icky), the more people start talking about it, and the more it’s on people’s minds. And the more it becomes okay to talk about it. Normalizing it in conversation is a critical step toward normalizing it in society.

There are lots of reasons people are afraid to come out of the cannabis closet: what will my family think? Will my kids’ friends’ parents still let them come play at my house? Will I lose my job? Is CPS going to come investigate me?

Sadly, these are all still possibilities. But this is EXACTLY why people need to take the first steps and let their voices be heard, because if enough people join in the reform movement, it does not have to be this way.

Cannabis can be funny. But cannabis prohibition isn't funny at all.

Cannabis can be funny. But cannabis prohibition isn’t funny at all.

And back to that Doritos thing: it’s common for people to joke about cannabis reform. Yes, cannabis can be funny – I get it. In addition to appreciating its medicinal effects while I underwent chemotherapy and radiation and surgery after surgery, I thoroughly enjoyed feeling silly and happy and getting the munchies. It was quite a nice change from the pharmaceuticals that made me depressed and nauseated and exhausted and did all kinds of shitty things to my internal organs.

But honestly, there’s nothing funny about people being incarcerated for a plant. There’s nothing funny about property being seized and assets being frozen. And children being removed from the homes of their medical cannabis patient parents is about as un-freaking-funny as it gets. So the next time someone you know makes a Dorito joke, feel free to quote me on just how not funny cannabis laws can be, and get a conversation started.

I know some folks – and you likely do too – who believe marijuana is pretty okay, but no one should be using it because it’s illegal. Fortunately, there are a lot of talking points you can use in conversations with these folks. For starters, you can gently remind them of Thomas Jefferson’s words: “If a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so.” Even those who aren’t willing to take Jefferson’s suggestion in the literal sense can surely understand that when a law is unjust, people should work to change it.

We often take the way the world is today for granted, but it wasn’t so long ago that other unjust laws were overturned..And laws don’t overturn themselves, compadres. “Liking” something on facebook or signing a petition is cool and all, but if you truly want change, take a baby step out of the closet and start a conversation. Opportunity for that abounds, and the more you talk about it, the more comfortable it becomes, until you eventually find yourself holding a microphone at a 4/20 event…or not. Advocacy comes in many forms, and all of them are valuable pieces of a movement that will someday overturn unjust laws. The more people like you and like me speak up and get involved, the sooner we’ll live in a country where no one goes to jail over a plant.

I hope I live to see the day when cannabis prohibition is just a shameful memory in our country’s history. And any little thing you can do to help that day arrive sooner? Why not take the opportunity? Every little bit of advocacy helps.