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Women, Cannabis, Canada

The weed with a thousand names is undergoing a radical re-evaluation, right down to the words we use to identify and describe it. “Cannabis” is neutral, Linnaean, medicinal. It’s used by, well, cannabis users. Not stoners or potheads or any other labels you might apply.

Using new language is a simple step to stamp out the plant’s social and legal stigma. We are starting a new conversation, one that is inclusive of women.

“As cannabis users, women are not fully represented,” says Alison Gordon, CEO of 48North. “There are so many socioeconomic and cultural factors that have traditionally made it more difficult for women to be open about their cannabis use. They are facing threats of having their children taken away, and often they are not able to take the same risks as men in regards to their jobs and careers. By removing the stigma of cannabis we hope to be able to show real women’s lives and represent them more fully.”

The good news is that the stigma removal is already under way. After all, millions of users of all walks and ages have already come to cannabis for therapeutic reasons on the advice of their doctors. That was certainly true for Kyla Killackey, Alison’s executive assistant. Five years ago, at age 18, she started using medical cannabis during her first year at university. She had been suffering from ulcerative colitis and severe insomnia. Kyla’s mother had suggested the visit to the doctor that led to her prescription.

“She was amazing,” Kyla says. “I find with a lot of kids my age, cannabis is a taboo with parents.”

Like Kyla, Sarah Sunday first came to cannabis to address a health issue, severe migraines. Looking for an alternative to over the counter painkillers, but also put off by the high price of cannabis, she learned how to grow her own medicine. The experience was life changing.

For her, the operative word to normalize cannabis is “pride.” Sarah wants to build pride around choosing, growing, smoking, and living with a relationship to cannabis. “I want cannabis consumers to come out of the closet,” she says. “We’re normal people attempting to live our lives.” As stigmas go, Kyla says, the bias can be subtle. “When most people smoke weed it is in university. Then they get a job and it peters out,” she adds. “For me it was the opposite. I use it more now. I don’t want people to think I’m not serious about my job or that I’m not as motivated or ambitious. People don’t think there’s a stigma, but they also look down on it.”

Sarah is optimistic that perceptions will shift. “I’ve noticed huge changes in how Canadians view cannabis in the last decade,” she says. “A decade ago, people were disgusted by my role as a medical patient and a cannabis cultivator. Now I receive many business opportunities weekly. I just want others to have the same access that I’ve had. Cannabis has enabled me to go to work, to live a better life. It brought me to myself again.”