Marijuana, cannabis, weed, pot, and a whole host of other names is not a gateway drug. Stigmatization and demonizing of the plant and quite frankly the racism surrounding its usage, can be a primary reason why conversations about cannabis are difficult to have or downright silenced. History has proven that when people are silenced all are harmed either directly or indirectly. The harm comes from discriminatory laws that are still being passed or remain on the books from the hold over practices of the “war on drugs” era.
For many countries the legalization of cannabis is still being tested. The United States is a prime example. Some states have full legalization (adult and medical use allowed), some states have partial legalization (medical use only). However, the federal government still classifies cannabis as federally illegal. This alone causes confusion and deteriorates the general conversation from there. Ending confusion, removing shame, championing for equal access to products and opportunity in the cannabis are all reasons why more conversations are vital.
Advocates tirelessly fight to deliver messages about the benefits the plant, but this can sometimes exist in an echo chamber of like-minded people. Countless restrictions are placed on companies and brands when it comes to using traditional wide-ranging channels of messaging. Cannabis brands, companies and advocacy organizations build followings on social media only to be taken down at random. This practice is a hit to the need for open dialogue because much of the information consumption of our time happens on social media. Traditional mass communication routes, such as major advertising methods, are too stifled and off limits most cannabis brands and advocates.
As support for full legalization grows advocates continue to steal pages out of the playbook from political organizers. Talking about cannabis in small groups and community spaces is akin to getting out the vote during election cycles. Canvasing with groups and organizations that may have questions is an effective method to reach the curious. Addressing issues of legalization, state and federal laws, the difference between THC and CBD benefits, and warnings is a solid foundation for the first-time or novice audience. There is a bustling conference circuit where many in the cannabis industry make their rounds; these conferences come at a cost due to entry fees and travel expenses. Townhalls and community board meetings are usually free. Getting the conversation on the agenda for public comment may be challenging but it is a powerful and engaging way to be heard.
During election season, some candidates tout their support for legalization however after elected officials quickly become too busy to remember their stomp speeches. It is crucial that stakeholders hold legislative bodies to our legalization and their social equity commitments by not letting these promises just be line items promises for votes. The administrators of social equity programs should be fulfilling their duty to speak with the public as well. This brings weight to the conversation. Anecdotal advocacy along with administrative advocacy weakens the stronghold of stigmatization. How long will it take to completely bust up the judgment surrounding cannabis conversations, that timeline is unknown and a distraction. What is known is the more voices and information helps.
Some of the easiest starter conversations surrounding cannabis is anecdotal. The talking points usually have to do with examples of how plant has assisted or changed someone’s medical trajectory for the better. Cannabis products may have moved someone closer to pain-free living or help regulated a negative mood state. Most can buy into these stories. The question is, does a personal story always have to be offered up to have approval from the skeptical or fearful? Maybe. Sharing personal stories should be up to the speaker, and in safe environment to do so.
When speaking to small groups of personal circles people find out that family, friends, and acquaintances have already cannabis practice but keep quiet because of their own worry about being judged. Conversations like this may open the door to compare notes, common practices, and pros/cons. This is a place of healing and growth. When approached by friends or family because own curiosity or need, try to keep cartwheels to a minimum. New things make most people nervous especially ones with stakes as big as cannabis. Don’t make grandiose promises. Provide as much vetted research as possible. Tell your own story with authenticity. Talk about various types of products on the market so people know the traditional smokable products aren’t their only option. Let people sit with the information and decide what they want to do in their own time.
One conversation at a time could breakdown a lot of barriers and the one that seem insurmountable. We find another way to tackle them or go around them. But it starts with speaking up.