The Underground, Part 3: Conclusions from Non-Scholarly Literature & the Gender Gap in Cannabis Culture

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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 article in the series can be viewed here,  and the second installment can be viewed here.

Framing men as the risk taking gender is problematic and simply not true. Throughout history, there have been women of all kinds who are “risk takers.” Furthermore, a woman with children that grows weed is in fact a risk taker. A single mother, a business women, any woman doing anything that someone else may deem inappropriate is taking a risk. Applying an antiquated ideology of men as risk takers into a field of research that is lacking in objective research is severely problematic.

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Toni Fox of 3D Cannabis Center in Denver with Charlo Greene this past year when Greene was still employed by KTVA.
Photo credit: Diane Fornbacher/Ladybud Magazine

If literature continues to operate with gendered expectations from the inception of research then, yes, exploitation is what will be found. In order to accurately quantify what is being seen in a network or surroundings, that is unfamiliar to one, that person must be aware that they will only be allowed to see what is afforded to them by members of that group. Outsiders must be aware that they have extremely limited access and making judgments based on that can and will be flawed.

An article in ELLE magazine discusses how dispensaries are where change is happening in closing the gender gap in the marijuana economy. They do this by trying to villainize men by stating that they show off their new bongs in a sort of penis measuring contest.

The shaft of a bong may indeed be elegant design, but if you’ve ever seen a guy show off his new smoking apparatus, the penis-measuring metaphor is hard to resist. Meanwhile, the stereotypical woman in cannabis culture looks like High Times’ wanton weed nymph. (The magazine publishes Miss High Times centerfolds and runs articles like “Stoner Girls Rock!” featuring pictures of women holding dildo-like glassware or lounging around in lingerie while they get stoned.

At no point is showing off the artwork that is a new bong a male thing, nor is even defined as male or a penis measuring contest. Bongs are a tool used in the ritual of smoking marijuana, and that tool is not afforded men only. I can see how one can say a bong looks phallic but to then relate it to penis measuring is hugely misconstrued and severely problematic.

Many women use bongs, and they show them off just as much because it is artwork and part of the ritual. Furthermore, I have never heard nor seen that a bong is related to male dominance in any of the economies. This is a glaring example of outsiders exploiting a space in society simply to increase sales of their publication. This is just one more example of how mainstream journalism is getting it all wrong. This is derogatory to both genders and is a value judgment. Articles like these should not be considered anything but an opinion piece, or even less, a tabloid piece.

ELLE also attempts to show that dispensaries are the true source of change, as shown in the following quote:

Thanks to legalization—as of January 1, you can buy weed from state-regulated storefront in Colorado—the real women of the weed industry are finally rising to prominence. They are business executives running large dispensary operations, the policy wonks influencing top levels of government, and the impassioned advocates championing the cause.

The assumptions and twisted manipulations of the existing knowledge by mainstream media are not founded on any true knowledge of the underground economy. Moreover they have no concept of its true nature of functioning and in fact are hurting the pseudo-legitimate economy as well as the underground economy. By continuing to present non-research-based ideas of how the marijuana economy functions in relation to gender, they subject the entire scope of their readers to their very outside perspective on what is being done in the underground economy. This is simply sensationalistic journalism and should not be used for any type of reference. Pieces like these should cause a reader to seek out answers to questions similar to these: how do they know this is the place that change has started? By what means have they come to this conclusion?

Dispensaries are very important to the legalization movement but not just because this is where women are allowed to work at higher levels of the industry. It is because dispensaries are the link between the two economies, and this is where we publicly see women in the marijuana economy. This publicity will lend to a larger acceptance by women. An article in High Times states:

Ultimately, it may take the legalization of pot – and its inclusion in mainstream culture – for women to accept it on a mass scale. But it will require women who tacitly support the legal use of marijuana to start using their voices – loudly.

This quote does not negate the importance of the underground economy nor does it dismiss all of the women and men working within the underground economy for change.

I have interviewed one woman who is the director of a dispensary in our local community. This dispensary gets good remarks from the majority of people whom I have talked with about it. The Humboldt Marijuana Resource Patient Center (HMRPC) in Arcata is one of a few dispensaries in Northern California that operates with respect when dealing with patients and suppliers. Patient health is a priority in HMRPC. Part of the quality control efforts utilized by HMRPC in regards to testing their product are to test for potency levels and to look for mold or other issues that may negatively affect a patient. HMRPC also gives hospice patients their medication for free. This is a very large portion of what helps the HMRPC maintain good standing in regard to their business practices and serving the local community.

On the other hand, dispensaries are not without issue. An article in the LA Times entitled Veteran Emerald Triangle pot growers see their way of life ending discusses a man and woman who are small farmers in Northern California. This husband and wife are from the back to the land generation of marijuana growers. It is the belief of these two and many other growers that dispensaries are hurting the small business growers, “…because dispensaries generally prefer the more potent weed grown indoors, they still sell mostly to the black market, where mom-and-pop growers now struggle to compete.”These two and many other small farmers are directly and negatively affected by dispensaries.

Much of what our local dispensaries do could be considered best practices in regard to the relationship between patient, dispensary and grower. Dispensaries that are being run in a professional manner, similar to that of the HMRPC, will help begin to repair the torn relationships between growers and dispensaries.

When the majority of the needs of each group are met, the overlap of the legal and underground markets will prove to be a better business environment. It will assist in most people getting their needs met and paying taxes for their access to medication. It will ensure fair pay, and will keep the community that the growers work in safe. Building a good relationship between all of these groups is a very crucial part to legalization that does not destroy communities. Both the underground and legitimate economy are built on the underground production of marijuana.

The gender gap is not addressed by HMRPC. In fact, women are not generally hired to work in HMRPC. The director is a woman, but in an interview with her she discussed that she tends to not hire women because they usually have too much drama.

The interviews and research contained within this article was complied nearly a year ago and since then I am happy to announce many positive changes when it comes to women and weed. The changes I speak of are the representation of women in weed industry and with in the media. Also the gender representations depicted in the interview with HRPC have taking a 180-degree turn. They now employ numerous women and continue to play an important part within our community. I understand that I myself may be bias due to the fact that at times I find it hard to separate my passion for women’s rights and my research, but I hope that this bias doesn’t distort the importance of my research.

For previous Ladybud Magazine articles about the underground cannabis economy, click here.
Photo Credit: C.P. Storm under (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr