The Underground Part 2: A Review of Non-Scholarly Literature about Women in Weed

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Editor’s note: This article is a continuation of Brandie Wilson’s series, The Underground. It is a sociological analysis of the role of women in the underground cannabis economy of Humboldt County and Northern California. The first installment in the series can be read here.

The majority of publicized information, discussion, and research regarding marijuana is usually by men and discussed in masculine terms. The marijuana economy has been portrayed as severely male dominated, with only a little hope for women in the fields of cooking and trimming or as a potstitute*, but this representation is not an accurate one. During my first year in the economy, I believed I had not encountered many women at high levels. I did, however, see many women: workers, managers, and trimmers, but at first it was a bit difficult to gain access to them. It was not until I began to ask, “where are all the women?” that I began to find them.

The vast majority of non-scholarly literature is centered on two topics of discussion. First, scholarly literature has been attempting to place dispensaries as the inception point of change regarding gender in the underground economy. Second, there is a focus on the hyper-sexualization of women combined with the demonization of men in the publicity and advertising of marijuana.

An article in The Seattle Times by Bob Young discusses how women are breaking into the historically male-dominated world of marijuana through dispensaries. “’Few women have wanted to venture into the outlaw world of illegal dealing, with its guns and aggressive competition,’ said Carter, a grandmother, retired from a career in banking.”

His piece attempts to shows that dispensaries are the link for women into the marijuana economy. I disagree, as I have seen, heard and experienced something very different. Dispensaries are employing women, but this is not where the influx of women into the economy began. Dispensaries are not the largest industry representation of women owners, managers, and workers. Instead, we see women as directing, trimming, selling and baking, which by definition of the jobs have little to no contact with the process of growing. If this were truly the place for change regarding women, there would be countless women master gardeners and owners. Dispensaries may be pseudo-legal and provide easier access for a researcher, but do not provide an accurate view of the underground marijuana economy.

Women have been working in the underground marijuana economy for decades making the needed changes regarding gendered work throughout the economy. The changes that we have been seeing are not due to the presence of dispensaries. The role dispensaries play is very small for bridging the gender gap in the marijuana economy, but very large in gaining momentum for legalization. Taking the progress that has been made and giving credit to the creation of dispensaries, these actions negate all the work done by both genders within the underground economy.

If we are only looking at the women of the legalization movement as the key to change, then research is disregarding all of the people that have prompted change and supported those women during their rise to the top. We must remember that marijuana is still federally illegal. Most women in the legal sector are the face of dispensaries owned by men, which puts them at legal risk. Having women be the face of dispensaries is a smart move for legalization but could also be viewed as a move of risk management for men. When women are the majority of master gardeners at dispensaries, then and only then should we accept that the pseudo-legitimate areas of dispensaries are progressive and accepting of women at the top.

Another severely problematic idea found in many articles including Young’s is the notion that Craigslist will give some type of meaningful insight into the underground economy. Craigslist is not a normal means to find workers. In his article Young writes,

“Women are relegated to supporting roles and sometimes blatantly viewed as sex objects, according to a study published this year. One Craigslist ad for pot trimmers posted by a grower in California sought a ‘good-looking girl’ willing to have sex.”

Printed want ads are not a reputable source of information regarding the operations of the underground economy. The majority of the underground network does not operate this way, and in fact using an ad such as the one above shows to anyone truly in the economy, that the research citing it is flawed.

In the marijuana economy there are networks in which people operate, and these networks serve as the source for finding workers. It is not until a person has been kicked out of well-functioning networks that they resort to places like Craigslist for work or workers. A person who is trusted and entrenched in the underground network has no need to post on Craigslist for workers. Any article that uses these type of ads to show gender disparity in the economy can be almost immediately dismissed. People within the network know it is only those who have lost most or all network access who resort to those means. This loss of access can generally be attributed to a lack of ethics on their part. I do know of one example where a man used Craigslist to move some marijuana. He did not post or answer an ad that in any way discusses women. This man did however lose much of his networking, but not due to his ethics or any type of wrong doing his part. At one point this man’s house was televised as being a grow operation. He has not and did not use Craigslist to find workers and certainly did not advertise on Craigslist that he needed workers.

Outside perspectives are defining the underground marijuana economy as testosterone-driven, which only furthers the misconception that women are not present and that men are victimizing the women within the economy.

As Young’s interviewee noted in The Seattle Times article, ““The industry is ‘heavily testosterone-driven, no question about it,’ said Carter, who owns a Seattle medical-marijuana clinic and plans to seek a state license to grow and process recreational pot. ‘Men are risk-takers.‘”

Statements similar to the one above are part of the problem. Not having a clear understanding of the work, change, and functioning of the underground economy, only furthers the bias, and misinformation. Historically and still somewhat today the marijuana economy is testosterone-drive, but to not acknowledge the true change that is happening only further invalidates all of the work done within the economy. To most, the gender of the people who wish to be involved is very reductionist way of viewing them.

Check back soon for the conclusion of Brandie Wilson’s analysis of non-scholarly representations of women in weed, the third installment in The Underground.

*”Potstitute” is a derogatory term local to Northern California used to describe attractive women who only date professional growers, usually those with larger (10 or more lights) grow operations. It is not one Ladybud uses in terminology, but a term the author is citing at part of the vernacular in the aforementioned locale.

For previous Ladybud Magazine articles about the women of weed, click here.

Photo Credit: By Andrew Smith from Salt Lake City, UT, USA (CC-BY-SA-2.0) via Wikimedia Commons