Why do we need to talk about gender in the social movement for cannabis, which fights for the rights of users and their freedoms?
When you fill in the membership form, when you’re backed by a male or female member, it’s because you’ve made the decision that you want this place to be your safe space, your space for ease and convenience when using cannabis, and because you expect that as peers you will be treated in the best possible way and that you and your needs will be taken into account just as if you were a man. As in many other areas where there is gender discrimination, in global substance use, and more specifically in associations, there are still huge disparities between the social perception of a man using cannabis and a woman doing exactly the same thing, and this is what we are going to unpack below.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Gender Equality guide provides the following definitions:
Gender refers to the socio-cultural constructions that distinguish and shape the roles, perceptions and status of women and men in a given society.
Gender equality refers to the existence of equal opportunities and rights between women and men across both private and public spheres, which allow and ensure that they can pursue the life they wish to lead.
In other words, the gender perspective is the tool we use to ensure that women and men have equal opportunities in any field, programme or action.
Cannabis associations as venues for use, relationships and information
As many of you already know, cannabis associations are private venues for the immediate consumption of cannabis by their members. They are democratic and assembly-based organisations providing safe access to the substance with guaranteed quality.
You have to be a member to enter them, and it is at this point that we can begin to talk about the gender perspective. When you fill in the membership form, when you’re backed by a male or female member, it’s because you’ve made the decision that you want this place to be your safe space, your space for ease and convenience when using cannabis, and because you expect that as peers you will be treated in the best possible way and that you and your needs will be taken into account just as if you were a man.
An association that embraces the gender perspective in the way it works, for example, will not tolerate sexist attitudes, harassment, abuse, violence or humiliation in any form against any person belonging to a vulnerable group (women and LGBTIQ+) who is, for whatever reason, on the premises or not and will envisage penalties for people who perpetrate it. It will use inclusive language when addressing its members (whether electronically, verbally, on paper, etc.) and will not use any kind of incentives (gifts, discounts or others) to ensure there are more women and thus get more men to become members or attend its events. It will not use the physical appearance of its female staff (objectification) to attract more members to its premises. It will have premises tailored to the needs of any person regardless of gender, thus fostering natural and spontaneous relationships between its members (not forced through obviously stereotyped appeals). It will conduct inclusive activities in which any person feels at ease and is not rejected because they are a woman. And there are many more examples, but I think that at this point the issue we are on about is pretty clear: equality.
It is essential that as women cannabis users we do not follow the same usage patterns in associations as when we gain access through other better known channels such as alternative markets (informal market), i.e. confine our use to the utmost privacy, to being alone, so as not to feel judged or uncomfortable about making our use more public or visible. The operating principle of an association is that the amount we take is consumed immediately in the venue itself, and hence it is crucial that we all feel good so that we can consume with every safeguard. As women members you have the right to be heard, and if you think that the association is not operating under the principle of equality between members, you should report this to its leaders.
Whatever the case, it is crucial that the association has full information and resources available so that when a woman has a real need in the association, the best possible solution is provided.
Women and cannabis
Cannabis use is by no means a trivial issue and as with any substance it involves potential risks and harm to health which should always be borne in mind. However, if we explore a little further we should be aware that in this case cannabis does not affect all people, whether they are women or men, in the same way.
It is important to grasp that it is not gender per se that influences the physiological effects of cannabis use (although it does in the behavioural patterns concerning cannabis use: what motivates a woman to want to use cannabis?), but rather issues such as our sex, metabolism, muscle mass, fat, diet and even the mental and personal state we are in at the time of use (in this latter case there might be gender-related factors since if the venue is not designed to make a woman feel at ease, if she feels forced to engage in this immediate consumption and outside factors do not help to ensure that it takes place with full safeguards, it could well lead to a bad trip, so be careful!). However, the association can provide information on the substance from a gender perspective. This means how a strain may affect women and men in one way or another, which strains are good for mitigating pain associated with women’s menstrual cycle (for example), which consumption routes may be the most appropriate in different circumstances for women and men and so on. There is not much information about this, although there are seed banks that describe the effects of the strains by sex, thus making the work of dispensers easier, and increasing numbers of articles and studies about women and drugs are also being brought out.
There are several studies published in the US National Library of Medicine (National Institutes of Health) which examine these differences in the effects of cannabis by sex and gender and seek to shed light on the information about the risks and benefits of using cannabis if you are a woman or a man.
There is also the question of reproductive health, i.e. motherhood. This is where we venture on to shifting sands. First of all, you need to grasp that as soon as you become pregnant, you are no longer just one person but two (or more). At that very time, Law 26/2015 of 28 July amending the system for protecting children and adolescents grants absolute protection to minors. This means that if you are found to be using cannabis during pregnancy, breastfeeding and even childcare, you jeopardise the guardianship of your children and could even have the custody of your child taken away from you.
Even so, there are women who decide to use cannabis and it is critical that they can get hold of objective information about the consequences (negative or positive) this may entail. The association and the people who work in it are best placed to help you and provide you with information, resources, programmes and professionals who can mentor you and explain this issue. Most of all it is important you do not go into hiding to use on your own and with no safeguards, as the consequences might be extremely dire if something were to happen to you and you were unable to quickly access assistance and help.
To recap, the association should be your friend and provide you with complete information and resources about your use.
Below are some scientific articles and resources which both associations and cannabis users might find useful.
- Motherhood and cannabis:
Torres CA, Medina-Kirchner C, O’Malley KY, CL Hart. Totality of the evidence suggests prenatal cannabis exposure does not lead to cognitive impairments: a systematic and critical review. Front Psychol. 8 May 2020. Available from: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00816/full
- Sex, gender and cannabis use:
Fattore L, Fratta W. How important are sex differences in cannabinoid action? Br J Pharmacol. June 2010; 160(3): 544-8. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2931555/
Cuttler C, Mishley LK, Sexton M. Sex differences in cannabis use and effects: a cross-sectional survey of cannabis users. Cannabis Cannabinoid Res. 1 July 2016;1(1):166-75. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5576608/
Websites, resources and materials:
Mujeres y drogas. Energy Control material developed by women (professionals and users) for women]. Available from: https://energycontrol.org/files/pdfs/Mujeres_y_Drogas_en_la_Fiesta.pdf
REMA – Red Estatal de Mujeres Antiprohibicionistas. It is made up of several projects including Mujeres Cannábicas who strive to raise women’s profile and give them a voice in the cannabis movement in Spain, which is built on heteropatriarchal foundations.
Asociación de Mujeres Antiprohibicionistas. Available from:: http://www.asociacionrema.es/
Encuentro de Mujeres Cannábicas. Available from: https://www.facebook.com/encuentromujerescannabicas/
Mujeres Cannábicas. Available from: https://www.mujerescannabicas.org/encuentro/
Proyecto Malva. [Mainstreaming the gender perspective in the prevention, care and treatment of drug abuse/dependence]. Available from: https://www.drogasgenero.info/malva/que-es-malva/
Noct@mbulas. Observatorio sobre las violencias sexuales en entornos de ocio nocturno y consume de drogas. Available from: https://www.drogasgenero.info/noctambulas/
016 – Helpline for legal advice and information about gender violence.