One of the strangest things about our society is how things wax and wane in popularity—and how a tipping point can shift everything. Acceptability politics have always been a tool of the larger network of social function that women barely have access to. The government, religious leaders, and institutions like schools and corporations set the rules. Many just follow.
When it comes to cannabis, the plant is growing its serrated leaves into every crack of the status quo faster than these systems can contain it. But there are clear attempts to funnel this acceptance into streams of capital versus simply relaxing access. And while it’s beautiful and encouraging that cannabis products are reaching the people who need them for a veritable scroll’s worth of reasons, it’s also scary to see people still harmed under its prohibition, particularly people of color, while the rush to monetize reaches a fever pitch.
Intimate care and beauty products have really broken down the taboo of late—they can be life changing—but we must still consider the whole picture and not only look at sales. The power of this second wave of cannabis commerce is moving care products, including beauty and sexual aids, into the hands of women at a stunning rate.
Are these products the key to accessing the ‘everyday’ American woman? And does changing her opinion of cannabis further the cause? I asked three women—Humble Bloom founders Solonje Burnett-Loucas and Danniel Swatosh, and Cannaclusive‘s project lead Kassia Graham—to weigh in. These women are leaders at the budding intersection between culture and commerce.
Do you think beauty products are helping to normalize cannabis legalization?
Kassia Graham: Cannabis infused beauty products are helping to change the perception of the plant. Whether THC- or CBD-based, these products have made cannabis more acceptable and not just for “stoners” anymore. Consumers are finally able to see cannabis has uses beyond getting high.
Danniel Swatosh: Women are the most willing to try new products and especially products marketed for beauty. With cannabis becoming a more common ingredient in beauty care just like aloe or vitamin E, they will become more willing to try it in other products beyond beauty. And after “a woman’s approval” products are golden, everyone in the home or family starts to use them.
Solonje Burnett-Loucas: Yes, of course, American culture has steeped itself in the evil marijuana propaganda and consuming the plant in its original form goes to the policing of certain bodies. In order to control non-white bodies [the plant] was demonized and her benefits hidden. Currently cannabis is being normalized for the sake of consumerism and profiting those with access to capital. As other industries are phasing out, those with money are shifting their investments to this green rush and consumers are playing right into it. They are marketing to luxury, beauty and wellness and the so called conscious consumer who is into organic, all-natural, vegan, gluten-free, healthy products and can’t wait to buy into the latest fad.
How can we educate consumers and potential advocates to seek more than their transactional demands of the cannabis plant, i.e. healing, recreation, etc?
SBL: This will only come with admission that the racism and corporate greed is why the plant was prohibited in the first place. Blocking the hemp industry occurred because several white men (read: Harry Anslinger, William Randolph Hearst, and Robert DuPont) wanted money in their pockets while everything else suffered. We are still stuck in this cycle in paper, textile including cotton, plastics, building materials like lumber and steel, food products and fossil fuels. So much of the pollution in our bodies and the planet could be remedied if corporate interest wasn’t involved. Imagine the positive forward-thinking gains of legalization with regards to sustainability, the economic growth, and the environment. America has a real problem with admitting when it has been on the wrong side of history.
The other thing is that we value individualism and ego to the deficit of growing healthy communities. If we take a hard look at what this culture of being self-involved and self-indulgent (generally just selfish) has actually done to affect our environment, health, and welfare. The final step is taking charge of our stories through media reform. Most in charge of reporting on these stories aren’t educated, informed, or taking an intersectional approach to commenting on the prohibition. Additionally, our storytellers also have skin in the game and so the general public is set up to lose.
DS: So much of our wellness industry focuses on self and self-care and I think that language alone is exclusionary and doesn’t consummate awareness of others reciprocal relationship with the plant, ourselves, our community or the world around us. And rather, it instills the use of this plant as serving us and not what can we do for this plant or the community that has supported the societal evolution of the plant.
I believe you have to help people make these connections consciously and subconsciously through immersive interconnected experiences that have elements of advocacy and education but also are inspired and vital—connecting the dots to our everyday lives—leaving people to feel empowered and able to become advocates for themselves, the plant, and for those who have been criminalized.
KG: It’s especially important for brands—especially those with more reach—to help bridge the knowledge gap as far as education and advocacy goes. There are many brands making a foray into cannabis-based beauty products who are ignoring the ramifications of the War on Drugs, and policies including the Rockefeller drug laws that were used to imprison many Black and Latinx people. Cannabis is legal for medical use in 30 states plus DC, and for recreational use in nine states plus DC. However, many still have cannabis convictions on their record or are serving time, even though they are non-violent offenders.
Do you feel that sex and beauty products have sped up normalization faster than healthcare or social justice causes have?
SBL: It has do with the strength of women’s purchasing power. They are the self-helpers in search of personal relief as well as the caretakers looking after parents, children and other family members. We are constantly pursuing ways to be privately happier and additionally increase our sexual prowess and/or satisfaction. Why care about others when the pursuit of personal happiness is at the forefront?
It’s more than just the patriarchal system, but yes, that is some of it. Most humans don’t activate on human rights, equality, health, and other issues until it affects a population that looks like them. There is this heartbreaking tribe or clan mentality when we should be looking at all things from a humanistic approach. What is best for all of us? We need to put people first. In our current system of oppression and capitalism, why would a white or asian woman care about black and brown bodies being disproportionately imprisoned when it works to her advantage. The fear of losing power or privilege to others is the genesis.
DS: Woman have been the lead advocates in the legalization of cannabis, and it’s not because they want to get stoned or turned on, it’s because they are the main caregivers and providers of wellness in the home to their children, family members and friends. They advocate for this plant, for wellness of those who cannot advocate for themselves. They are also advocating for themselves because the toll that caregiving takes is not just financial. Higher levels of depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges are common among women who care for a child, an older relative, or a friend.
What’s pushing legalization now is the fact that cannabis is a soon-to-be a multi-billion-dollar industry, big corp and pharma is quickly taking over. Your average consumer doesn’t realize that that the legal [cannabis] landscape is shifting in a way that small businesses are being squeezed out or it’s nearly impossible for someone to get in without a couple million.
KG: I don’t believe sex and beauty products did more for legalization. The almighty dollar was the driving factor in the legalization of cannabis for medical and recreational use. Sex and beauty products benefited from the introduction of medical cannabis. Medical marijuana greatly influenced the consumer’s view of cannabis. Many who would normally shy away from using or supporting the drug saw how effective it was with aiding in the treatment of illnesses—especially with the side effects of cancer.
Global legalization is a long ways away. I don’t see it happening in our lifetime. Many countries including US allies are vehemently opposed to cannabis and punish people harshly for even a speck of the drug.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.