Misogyny and Marijuana – a mighty big problem within our own industry

I recently wrote about a mighty big problem we are faced with in the cannabis industry – misogyny for Big Buds Magazine.

With all the news of the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault, I started to consider how this has impacted the cannabis industry, and decided to share a related story about my own experience. But before that, let’s start at the begining, with the very definition of “misogyny,” a word many are only now becoming familiar with.

Merriam-Webster offers the definition as “a hatred of women,” while the Oxford Dictionary describes a “dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.” Both these clear explanations of the word misogyny beg the questions: How can one simply hate women? How does this affect our cannabis community? And what can we do to fight back?

Sadly, this type of negative behavior is by no means new to women working or volunteering within our community. However, considering that the #MeToo movement has given more women the platform to speak honestly about how they are treated and start holding perpetrators accountable for their words and actions, this is an important subject that needs to be discussed within our own cannabis industry.

Writing for the Washington City Paper, in 2010 Amanda Hess detailed a culture of sexual harassment going back years at the Marijuana Policy Project, perpetrated by then-executive director Rob Kampia. Hess gives a brief history of Kampia’s behavior, including:

  • In 2008, Kampia dated a 19-year-old MPP intern.
  • “How was the NORML Conference?” a staffer asked Kampia one year. Kampia replied, “I got laid.”
  • At a staff happy hour, Kampia guessed a female employee’s breast size and told her that she would be “hotter with a boob job.” (Kampia denies the conversation occurred).
  • Kampia made it known that a female employee’s dress had “made an impression on him.” Later, he directed her to leave some room in his schedule for “bone-girl,” a woman he was “trying to bone.” He also repeatedly informed her of his intentions to perform a “breast massage” on another woman.
  • At the conclusion of a staff happy hour last August, Kampia escorted a subordinate back to his home. The woman was so upset by what happened next that she refused to return to work at MPP ever again.

Sadly, Kampia is not alone is his treatment of women in the cannabis industry. As a cannabis columnist, I tend to avoid writing personal stories. However, for the purpose of this piece, I am going to recount a story about a couple of fellas at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), who I’ll refer to as Mr. A and Mr. B.

Back in about 2010, I wanted to become more involved in the Utah movement to legalize cannabis where I lived. Being a newbie and with limited resources at my disposal, I reached out to the first organization that came to mind, NORML, which I believed would be the answer to all of Utah’s cannabis woes (yes, I really was that naive at the time).

Recovering from a brain injury and having to relearn how to read, spell and type, I tentatively reached out online and asked permission from the NORML board to form SLC NORML, a group focused on reforming cannabis laws in Salt Lake City. I was able to generate interest via social media and through word of mouth, enough to hold a couple of loosely organized meetings. It was clear the interest was there, but the amount of work we faced was a mountain.

I was unfamiliar with how nonprofit organizations work, having never set one up or ever having been in the position to ask for or collect donations, so I didn’t know what to expect. Prior to accepting any type of formal agreement with the NORML board, I was told by Mr. A, a cannabis activist for NORML’s Portland chapter, and Mr. B, the group’s then-executive director, that not only would I need a board member of the same “status” (that is, no president or vice-president — they had to be of equal power) to be approved for a chapter license “for financial consideration,” it had to also be a man.

Had to also be a man?

I pointed out that I had earned a business degree, had worked full time for 20 years, and managed a family as a single mother, and felt I was completely qualified. (Up until then, there had been no job description or any information to speak of about starting a chapter of NORML.) Their response? They felt that a man’s help and opinion would be a “wise choice.”

Keep in mind, I had years of professional experience organizing massive all-staff meetings for major hospitals, taking attendance and minutes, collecting fees, writing and distributing HR policies and many other business basics, none of which appeared to have been considered by NORML board members, as I was never even asked for a résumé or references. It was more, “What is your social media presence?” and, “How many people can you get to join and pay membership dues?”

There did not appear to be any type of position application or vetting process put in place by NORML. Rather, it felt more like a typical push by the Mormon missionaries I had been avoiding all my life, which were all about the memberships and the money, honey. Only just embarking on my journey into cannabis advocacy, I felt I did not have much of a voice.

I was dismayed, disappointed and defeated by the attitude of NORML staff, but not for long. I declined their offer to start the SLC NORML chapter as an “equal partner” (which felt weird, especially since I had done all the preliminary work), never signed a contract or received any type of financial consideration, and to this day there is no NORML presence in Salt Lake City or Utah, and for good reason. Rather, many advocates for both a decent medical system, as well as whole-plant reform, have chosen to form their own groups and raise awareness and money that goes to actual activism.

My advice to fledgling activists is to take a moment to explore organizations and do your due diligence prior to making any donations of your precious time or your hard-earned money. And ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What are the organization’s policies regarding cannabis? Do they have specific provisions for employees and/or volunteers for medicinal, on-the-job consumption?
  2. Check out the organization on LinkedIn. What type of jobs and benefits do they offer? Do you have any contacts who work there? When conducting research, word of mouth goes a long way.
  3. Is it a qualified, registered nonprofit? The IRS Tax Exempt Organization Searchwill help you unearth information about the group in question.
  4. Does this organization support its employees or volunteers equally? Google the organization, making sure to check Yelp for customer reviews as well as Glassdoor for employee reviews.
  5. Is it inclusive? Open to all genders and binaries, colors, races, and are they LGBTQ friendly?
  6. Does the organization support a specific political agenda, aside from cannabis?
  7. What do your donations do and where do they go? Are they used for lobbying or legislation or to pay salaries? The free online resource Nonprofit Expert has useful information about understanding donations and how they’re managed.

Even if you do thoroughly vet an organization, you may very well experience misogyny or other types of discrimination.

When I organized The Utah Cannabis Coalition (UCC) as an attempt to advocate for the concept of whole-plant reform in response to Utah’s CBD-only laws, I asked for assistance with logo design from a man (I’ll just refer to him as Mr. C), who had been involved in the Utah cannabis scene for years — a guy I had bought a couple of baggies from during desperate times when my regular source had run dry. He was agreeable with designing the logo and was very excited to become involved with the UCC, so we agreed he could act as a vice president of sorts.

However, before we could create a nonprofit and officially kick off the organization, we ran into issues. Issues of control, which seems to be a running theme when it comes to a lot of men in Utah who do not want to concede any control to a woman. He demanded more and more involvement and wanted to start collecting donations in earnest. In the 10 years that I spent advocating for Utah cannabis reform, I never took a salary or accepted a donation as I did not feel comfortable doing so prior to the establishment of a nonprofit.

I informed Mr. C that I did not approve of soliciting for donations of any type, which did not please him. He became huffy, insisting the Utah cannabis supporters would be more than happy to “throw money at the cause” (and by “cause,” I am sure he meant his own pockets). I declined, and cut off all communication, including texts and Facebook contact. The group never took off as a nonprofit, until I left the state of Utah for Washington, due to this and many other complex issues, and to this day the Mormon stronghold state continues to struggle for a decent medical marijuana law.

Admittedly, my experiences are not as harmful as many #MeToo stories. There was no sexual assault. There was not even outright sexual harassment. But the feeling. The vibe. The sheer knowing that these men were going to choose how I would be able to participate in their club felt like a violation. I know it is a common experience for many people around the world.

Misogyny and much worse can be found in any sector, not just marijuana, as evidenced by Seattle businessman and Tacoma cannabis dispensary owner Dave Meinert, who earlier this year was accused by 11 women of sexual misconduct from 2001 to 2015, including allegations of assault and rape. According to The Seattle Times:

Five women told their stories anonymously in a story published in July. Another six women, all but one named, told their stories in KUOW’s report on Thursday, including Seattle Times food writer Bethany Jean Clement.

Meinert, who owns the Torch Northwest dispensary, has acknowledged crossing the line with women by being “pushy or handsy,” but has denied the accusations of sexual assault and rape.

Unfortunately, misogyny and predatory behavior aren’t limited to in-person exchanges, with frequent instances of online harassment and inappropriate behavior also being unearthed. Cannabis advocate and podcast host Kristen Yoderfound herself at the receiving end of a vitriolic verbal attack from Bruce Pisetzner, CEO and founder of Spectrum CBD Products, via job networking site LinkedIn. Disregarding any legitimate business that women might be conducting during networking situations, Pisetzner sent a message to Yoder in which he referred to women CEOs who network as nothing more than a “‘girl power’ thingy” in which they are “sitting around at bitch-fests,” which “doesn’t help you build businesses.”

Another cannabis advocate, Dianna Donnelly, shares her story: “Because I’m from an area that is still in the dark ages as far as cannabis is concerned, so much of my activism has been online on my couch and not in interaction with potential misogynists. But I did feel it a few weeks ago at the Lift [& Co. Cannabis Business] Conference [in Toronto]. I was speaking to a rep selling special planters who wasn’t really engaging with me at all. Then when a male grower came along, he got the whole spiel and a free planter!”

Donnelly says the experience made her feel disregarded and disrespected by the sales rep. Is this really how we want to treat people in our industry? To make them feel uncomfortable and excluded, based on how they look or on their gender?

How we respond to these situations is at the crux of the issue, and I have spoken to several women in our community who have the ability to clap back by thoroughly expressing themselves and making their point heard loud and clear, without stooping to the level of the offender or perpetrator.

CoralReefer420 is not only a well-known cannabis advocate, she is also an awesome glass artist, vocal feminist and supporter of LGBTQ rights. Coral has had to deal with her fair share of ignorance and misogyny via social media, but her measured responses, particularly to those people operating within the cannabis community, shows how a strong woman can get her point across without engaging in a degrading back-and-forth. She makes her point, backs it up with facts, and doesn’t back down. Below are some examples of Coral’s Twitter responses:

(Image courtesy of @coralreefer420)

(Image courtesy of @coralreefer420)

Calling people out within our community for their misogyny and sexism, and holding them accountable via social media, is an important tool that demonstrates not only that their behavior is unacceptable, but also gives others examples on how to respond without having to lower oneself to that level.

Sadly, we as women will likely always deal with misogyny, but rather than maintaining that feeling of anger and disdain, I have chosen to forgive and learn from the experience — to share the information, educate and support other people who may have experienced a similar situation. Learn and lead by example. I encourage anyone who has ever felt violated to speak up and share that experience through whatever source you feel most comfortable with. You never know, you could help someone else and will likely also help to heal and empower yourself.

Supporting one another in our cannabis community is the best way for us to continue to make positive strides while acknowledging the work and ideas of all people, regardless of their gender or sexuality, which is critical for the entire cannabis industry. We need to respect one another and maintain a safe, inclusive space in which we can all coexist and grow.

If you or someone you know needs assistance, there is always help available, so please don’t be afraid to reach out. Call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline on 800-656-HOPE.

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