It’s been nearly three years since the first recreational marijuana shop opened just blocks away from my home in Anchorage, Alaska. Once the state went legal, those shops popped up all over town and my options for treating the chronic health condition I’ve been living with for over a decade increased overnight.
Today, I buy my low-dose edibles in a store that looks suspiciously like a J. Crew. I microdose to treat pain and anxiety, and I talk freely about my use because I have absolutely nothing to lose by doing so.
I’m a successful, college-educated white woman, living in a state with legal marijuana, using the drug to treat verifiable medical conditions. No one is going to throw me in jail or take my child away.
It’s because of that privilege that I didn’t think twice about penning a piece for Parents about my marijuana use. “Marijuana Makes Me a Better Mom” (later altered to “Micro-Dosing Marijuana Makes Me a Better Mom”) was the headline my editors attached to that piece, borrowing from the closing line in which I wrote, “It allows me to be the best version of myself for my daughter, and I have no shame at all in admitting that it makes me a better mom.”
It was one of over 20 articles I wrote this past September. One of thousands I’ve written in my seven-year career as a freelance essayist and health journalist. It never occurred to me that these would be the words that would garner me any kind of additional attention.
Until the daytime talk show circuit started calling.
It started with “The Tamron Hall Show,” which offered to fly my daughter and me to New York for what turned out to be a two-minute sound bite. Two days later, “Good Morning America” requested an interview. And just this week, several other news stations have reached out.
These shows have dubbed me “Weed Mom,” coming up with cutesy segment titles like, “Is ‘Weed Mom’ the New ‘Wine Mom’?” They’ve asked me to play up my admission that marijuana makes me a better mother, allowing me to at least expand on why that is (because by treating my pain and anxiety, I’m able to get out of bed every day and actually be present for my little girl).
They’ve shied away completely from any mention of the hypocrisy I’ve constantly tried to discuss wherein my marijuana use is somehow trendy and fun to talk about, while people like Ferrell Scott are serving life sentences for marijuana-related crimes.
“[The talk shows that have featured me have] shied away completely from any mention of the hypocrisy I’ve constantly tried to discuss wherein my marijuana use is somehow trendy and fun to talk about, while people like Ferrell Scott are serving life sentences.”
You read that right. Scott has already served 10 years of a life sentence. The charges against him were one count of conspiracy and three counts of possession of marijuana. He wasn’t a drug kingpin. He was a pot dealer, doing what dispensaries in legal states are building entire business models around today.
Just a quick reminder: Brock Turner was sentenced to just six months in jail for sexually assaulting 22-year-old Chanel Miller behind a dumpster in 2015. He served only three months.
Do we need to review the races of each of these men, or is that obvious enough?
The injustice of all this is maddening. And Scott is not alone. Almost 84% of the more than 2,000 federal marijuana convictions in 2018 were against people of color, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission. This, despite the fact that the ACLU reports marijuana use as roughly equal across racial demographics.
I wrote about my marijuana use and went viral, earning me a free trip to New York and talk show appearances out of the deal. But if a Black man gets caught with marijuana, he has to face the very real potential of spending years of his life in jail for the same thing I’ve been celebrated for — all because of a drug that is infinitely safer than either alcohol or tobacco, both of which are legal, and that has far greater medicinal potential.
I was recently in my local pot shop when an older woman came in, clearly crippled by pain. “My doctor suggested I try this,” she said. “I’ve never used marijuana before. I don’t like smoking, and I was always afraid of breaking the law.”
I watched as the employees of this particular dispensary walked her through the options available. I chimed in when she mentioned that she didn’t want to get high, admitting that I don’t enjoy that, either, and pointing her in the direction of the products I personally use. And I smiled as she left with renewed hope, crossing my fingers that she might be able to find the same relief I have.
Relief I spent years searching for.
If marijuana hadn’t become legal in my state, I’d likely still be searching. And I hate to think of how many more years I would have wasted. I talk publicly about my marijuana use because I truly believe this drug provided me with a solution when nothing else did. I’m open about it because I want so desperately to end the stigma so that other people can feel more comfortable exploring this option for themselves.
But I’m also very privileged in being able to do so without fear.
Not everyone is so lucky.
“I want so desperately to end the stigma so that other people can feel more comfortable exploring this option for themselves… But I’m also very privileged in being able to do so without fear.”
It’s time to push for federal legalization. Right now, under federal law, marijuana is considered a Schedule I drug, placing it in the same category as heroin and LSD. While 11 states have gone against the federal government in allowing for recreational use and 33 have legalized medicinal use, the lack of consistency means a massive disparity between those who can freely seek relief with marijuana and those who may face jail time for doing so.
Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) has introduced the most recent piece of marijuana legislation to Congress. The Marijuana 1-to-3 Act would move marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule III drug, allowing for more research into its benefits and increasing the options businesses have in dispensing it. But with Cory Booker’s (D-N.J.) Marijuana Justice Act seemingly dead in the water, it’s hard to know how far away we might be from true federal legalization.
So while it might be cute and trendy to call me “Weed Mom” or to pit me against the “wine moms” for ratings, doing so really misses the most important aspect of this conversation: the fact that while marijuana can actually make people’s lives better, too many still face the threat of jail time or losing their children for trying it.
Without federal legalization, the disparity between those who can talk openly about their marijuana use and those who might risk jail time for doing so will continue.
And there’s nothing cute or trendy about that.
Leah Campbell is a writer and editor living in Anchorage, Alaska. A single mother by choice after a serendipitous series of events led to the adoption of her daughter, Leah is also the author of the book Single Infertile Female and has written extensively on the topics of infertility, adoption and parenting. You can connect with Leah via Facebook, her website, and Twitter.
Correction: An earlier version of this essay stated that methamphetamine is a Schedule I controlled substance. It is a Schedule II substance.