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05/11/2018 16:46 EDT | Updated 05/11/2018 16:47 EDT

Mothers Have A Right To Enjoy Cannabis Without Judgment

Stigma only works if we all agree that it does. And allow it to.

I grew up in Virginia. In college, my summer job took me to the Pacific Northwest, where I was first introduced to B.C. bud. In that moment, I suddenly realized why Canadians were rumoured to be so earnest in their positive outlook towards cannabis.

Canada is now on the brink of adult-use legalization, and feelings about the plant and its use read — to me as an American, looking to our progressive and tolerant neighbour for signs of hope — as bittersweet.

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On one hand, many Canadian citizens — 43 per cent, in fact, favour legalization (and another 23 per cent neither support nor oppose it). Great news? You bet — but you should also consider this: in a study my brand, Van der Pop, conducted last fall, almost 25 per cent of the Canadian women we spoke to said they refrain from consuming cannabis because the people in their social circles also abstain. To me, this is an unfortunate inconsistency with the laid-back, friendly attitude we've come to equate with being Canadian.

I say this because in order for that many people to feel the need to conceal their cannabis consumption — not considering respect with regards to smoking in someone else's space — that the primary inhibitor would be fear. Fear of judgement. Fear of reproach. And for many women, things much, much worse.

Unless you're a mother yourself, you can't fully know what that's like. The struggle is definitely real.

Even though I started a cannabis brand and live in an adult-use legal state, being a discreet consumer who is also a mother is one thing. Being a mother who publicly promotes cannabis — makes a living from it, even — is something much different. I launched my brand as a mom to young boys, our family living just blocks from my in-laws. The reality ahead was clear that it was not just a mere career decision at that point.

When I started my business in 2015, it was with the intention of helping to erode the decades-old stigma women of certain generations — myself included — have had to live with. If you're wondering what that number of women would be, think about this; in our survey, we found that 20 per cent of the Canadian women we spoke to said that the impact of anti-drug campaigns were the reason behind them never trying cannabis. "Just Say No" had us convinced.

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Today, women who consume — even those in adult-use U.S. states — are subject to the same stigma as the women in decades before them. But now we're also tasked with different responsibilities like juggling a career, caring for children and HAVING A LIFE simultaneously, and all with a smile on our face.

Unless you're a mother yourself, you can't fully know what that's like. The struggle is definitely real. And although there are methods we employ, and that temporarily take the edge off, wouldn't it just be nice to find balance? To practice self-care that's also in the interest of others (namely those around you every day)?

Where we're used to coping with wine, cannabis offers an alternative that's unique, complex and virtually customizable. Oh, and over a third of the Canadian mothers we spoke to said they felt more playful and patient after consuming. A pretty amazing fact — so why should we keep it hidden?

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Stigma only works if we all agree that it does. And allow it to. Because it's not just the people who create and enforce a negative belief who allow a stigma to be perpetuated. It's everyone else who believes the opposite to be true, but never speaks up. We owe it to mothers — to ourselves! — to cultivate, facilitate and engage in informed and responsible conversations about cannabis.

I have started doing my part in this new narrative, and Canadian legalization is an opportunity to add more voices to the story. One that teaches my sons to stand up for what they believe in. Teaches them that holding one's own self-care in the highest regard is essential to a life well-lived. And teaches them that their mother — and every mother's — pursuit of health and happiness is not subject to admonishment. It's a right.

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