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Tokin' Women: A shout-out to women in cannabis

Josh Jardine Mar 8, 2018 1:00 AM

March is Women's History Month, or as Presidente Cheetolini might ask, "The who what now? Really? A whole month, huh?"

Women's contributions to cannabis, past and present, are—brace yourself—often overlooked, ignored or forgotten. And as this is a plant that 99.5 percent of us will actively seek out in its female form, that's not acceptable. (Also making it not acceptable: patriarchy, misogyny, double standards regarding gender and many other things needing our attention.)

In her book, "Tokin' Women: A 4,000-Year Herstory of Women and Marijuana," author Nola Evangelista (aka Cal NORML 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 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 hip to cannabis as a medicinal plant, with records of ancient medicine containing a mixture of ground cannabis and honey and "introduced" into a woman's vagina during childbirth to "cool the uterus and eliminate its heat." (That said, if you're looking for me to suggest trying this, look elsewhere.)

Fast forward to 1890, when Queen Victoria was prescribed cannabis by her personal physician to treat her menstrual cramps—so thank Queen V for that. There are now a number of cannabis products available to help women with PMS and painful menstrual cycles, in addition to cannabis infused "sensual lubes."

Cannabis was used for creativity and pleasure as well. In 1869, 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. Toklis, was well known for her pot brownies, and there's good reason to believe they shared with guests such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso when the women hosted their salons.

Pot brownies were also the specialty 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 those men in the early 1980s, she began giving them out for free to help those afflicted treat their 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 a new survey by New Frontier Data and Women Grow shows. After surveying 1,700 people in the weed industry, they found "57 percent of people working in the industry said that they worked for companies where at least half the ownership were women. Furthermore, 30 percent of the survey participants said that in their companies, women were in all ownership positions." 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 on that front. But it's a great step forward from 2015, when a Pew research study showed that 36 percent of women held executive roles in the cannabis industry.

These numbers are important for a number of reasons—none more so than this is an emerging industry which, unlike the majority of established industries, is not yet owned and controlled by men. So while there's still sexism, mansplaining and other swell trends at work, 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. Herb.co tells of a study by The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, looking at 800 female cannabis users and compiling data on their intelligence, schooling level, smoking habits and lifestyle. The researchers 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.