Kelsey Wroten

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Christmas Comes but Twice a Year

A Mother Inside

Moms, it turns out, had a lot to do with the legalization of marijuana in Oregon.

On October 17, 2014, a group of cheerful-looking Oregon mothers stood holding their toddlers and elementary-aged children in front of a table covered with signs that read “regulate it,” and explained to the world why they were for cannabis legalization.

The moment, says Yes on 91 campaign manager Peter Zuckerman, represented a tipping point in the campaign.

“In addition to qualifying for the ballot, winning the campaign, and gathering 145,000 signatures, the Moms for Yes on 91 launch was one of the most pivotal moments of the campaign,” he remembers.

Zuckerman and his colleagues organized the press conference, he says, in response to concern from parents quoted in the local media arguing that legalization would be dangerous.

“There were parents on radio stations, big parent press conferences,” he says. “They were making the argument that parents, as a whole, were against legalization.”

In fact, polling had shown that significant numbers of people from all Oregon demographics supported it—though many people were still nervous to be associated with the campaign, to the extent, says Zuckerman, that they didn’t want to use their name or photograph.

“It was like the silent majority,” he says.

The Yes on 91 moms were the perfect revolutionaries to lead the way out of the cannabis closet. Leah Maurer was one of the women in the group that day in front of the cameras. Founder of the Moms for Yes on 91 group and a parent to three boys who attend school in the Parkrose neighborhood, she spends her days like many Portland parents, attending soccer practices and school meetings. Maurer’s voice has been an important one in making the argument that legalization will ultimately lead to more safety precautions and less access for kids.

“As parents our number one priority is keeping our kids safe,” she explains. “Now we will have [cannabis] above ground, tested and sealed and dispensed only to adults. That makes parents—and in particular moms—a lot more comfortable.”

Maurer, who is working to open a dispensary with her husband, says she and other parents in the group endorsed Measure 91 in part because they felt bringing the subject out of the shadows would facilitate conversations between parents and children about marijuana. Parents, she argues, should treat the subject of cannabis more like sex education or alcohol—not one to be avoided, but something to discuss with their children in order to make sure kids understand the risks and consequences.

Beyond the question of better protection for kids, however, there is an unanswered question around moms and cannabis in Oregon: whether they will engage in the market themselves.

“It’s all up to women,” says Russ Belville, Executive Director of the Portland NORML chapter, an organization that does advocacy around the legalization of marijuana. Belville says that among those on the frontlines of marketing cannabis, there’s a theory that once women start using it instead of drinking a glass of pinot noir or a beer at night, the whole cultural narrative around cannabis will shift.

“There’s a perception that generally women don’t use it as much, and a lot of that traces back to being a parent. When it comes to men, there’s a kind of ‘boys will be boys’ attitude,” he says. “Getting to women is the holy grail.”

Maurer agrees.

“Mothers and grandmothers are seen as the gatekeepers, the ones in the family that keep everyone safe and in line,” she says. She thinks that the legalization of marijuana has the potential to change parents’—and in particular mothers’—propensity to use it themselves.

“Just pulling it out of the black market and putting it in a dispensary that’s warm, inviting, and secure is reassuring,” she says. “And then you also have the benefit of consumer education and packaging.”

Maurer says that by supplying information—including potency, strain, recommended dosage, and likely consequences of use—consumers, and in particular those concerned about safety, may be more excited about knowing what they’re getting themselves into.

Until recently it’s been hard to know how many women currently use marijuana compared to men. Anecdotally, many involved with cannabis have observed that “stoner culture” is a male-dominated one, and studies have consistently shown that women poll behind men in supporting its legalization.

But early evidence from states that have legalized cannabis show that may be changing, especially in the medical market; In Illinois a report put forth by the Department of Public Health evaluating the first wave of legal consumers of medical marijuana showed that 60 percent of applicants were female and more than half over 51 years old. The data reflect a similar trend in Colorado.

“We absolutely believe women will become the dominant users of marijuana, once we can help them become more aware of the benefits,” says Jane West, founder of the national group Women Grow, which helps female cannabis entrepreneurs. West adds that in Colorado, some women are now incorporating marijuana use into their daily yoga practice, and dispensaries catering just to women have become a regular part of the market.

Some Oregon entrepreneurs have already started betting on the women and moms demographic. A Hood River-based company called Mia Chocolates has started selling small-batch, single-source, cannabis-infused chocolates, guaranteeing transparency around sourcing of ingredients and potency of THC. Mia Chocolate founder Anita Pluymen said that she started the company when she noticed there were no fine artisan chocolate companies selling this kind of product. She’s hoping to fill that niche.

The question, she says, is not if the female, maternal appetite exists for cannabis, but who can crack the code and get marijuana to moms first.