March is Women’s History Month, or as President Cheeto calls it, “The who what now? Really? A whole month, huh?”
Women’s contributions to cannabis—past and present—have been (brace yourself) overlooked, ignored, and forgotten. This is a plant that 99.5 percent of us actively seek out in its female form, so that really needs to change.
In her book Tokin’ Women: A 4,000 Year Herstory, author Nola Evangelista (AKA California NORML’s Deputy Director Ellen Komp) looks at 50 women connected in some form to cannabis, from ancient to modern. She starts with the Sumerian Goddess Ishtar, who was associated with cannabis in the third millennium BC, which, as Komp said in a 2016 interview with Vice, was “a time when both goddesses and plants were revered as healers... and up until the Semitic invasion in 2600 BC, women practiced the healing arts without restriction.”
Women in ancient Egypt were also hip to the herb, with the Ebers Papyrus telling of an age-old medicine made of a mixture of ground cannabis and honey that, according to translations, was introduced into a woman’s vagina during childbirth to cool down the uterus. (History’s great and all, but if you’re looking for someone to recommend actually trying this, look elsewhere.)
Fast forward to 1890, when Queen Victoria was prescribed cannabis by her personal physician to treat menstrual cramps. There are now a number of cannabis products available to help women with PMS and other recurring pains, in addition to the vast number of cannabis-infused “sensual lubes” on the market.
Cannabis has also historically been used by women for creativity and pleasure. In her 1869 short story “Perilous Play,” Louisa May Alcott has a character exclaim, “Heaven bless hashish, if its dreams end like this!” after eating too many hash infused edibles. Speaking of women authors, Gertrude Stein’s partner, Alice B. Toklas, was well known for her pot brownies, and there is good reason to believe they were shared with notable guests when the women hosted their salons.
Pot brownies were also the speciality of San Francisco resident Mary Jane Rathbun, AKA Brownie Mary, who was arrested several times for her (really) baked goods in the 1970s. Her clients were primarily gay men, and when AIDS began impacting these same men in the early ’80s, she began giving them out for free to the afflicted to treat wasting syndrome, along with people undergoing chemotherapy. In 1992, she helped Dennis Peron open the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club, the first medical cannabis dispensary in the United States.
Women are still making history with cannabis, as shown last year by a joint survey from New Frontier Data and Women Grow. They surveyed 1,700 people in the weed industry and found that 57 percent of cannabis industry workers claimed they worked for companies where 50 percent or more of the ownership was female. Furthermore, 30 percent said that women held full ownership. It’s crucial to note that most of these roles were not held by women of color, so we still have a long way to go with representation on that front. But it’s a great step forward from 2015, when a Pew research study showed that only 36 percent of women held executive roles in the cannabis industry.
These numbers are important for a variety of reasons, in that cannabis is an emerging industry which, unlike the majority of established industries, is not yet owned and controlled by men. So while sexism, mansplaining, and other lame trends are still present in the cannabis scene, it does seem as though women have a more level playing field in which to start and grow a business.
Finally, cannabis use may also have helped these women reach such positions. In December, Herb.co reported on a study by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health that looked at 800 female cannabis users, and compiled data on their intelligence, schooling level, smoking habits, and lifestyle. The journal concluded that women who consumed cannabis had higher IQs than nonusers, and “women who were 50 percent smarter than the average woman were more likely to consume cannabis.”
So, happy Women’s History Month to all the stiletto sister stoners, along with those favoring flats.