Embrace the Stigma

Can we, as users, influence it?

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Photo by Chris Ensey on Unsplash

What are we so scared of? And, is the cannabis stigma something we, as the stigmatized, can influence?

If we are truly committed to ending the stigma all cannabis consumers deal with, there is only one way to do so: as a community. A community we are all representatives of. The actions of each and every one of us will determine how we are perceived. Thus, the two-word summary of this essay is: be nice.

We may have changed (some of) the laws, and…that’s just the start. Overcoming a stigma that has been baked into the culture through a long and well-funded campaign will be hard and will take time. And everything we do counts.

We already know how to tread the road to normalization. Several subcultures are in the process of it today. Thus, both recent history and current events show us what’s needed to walk this path successfully, and just what a treacherous a path it is; full of false starts, backsliding, and slow progress.

At an individual level, at any particular encounter, you’re unlikely to change anyone’s mind about cannabis (or anything meaningful, for that matter). Changing a mind is a long process requiring a willingness on the part of the person changing (unless you’re in the NSA…).

If we are going to change stigmatization, we have to change. We have to embrace it, allow its truths to stand so that the myths can be chipped away.

Truths? That’s what we’re scared of, isn’t it? (one of the things, at least)

Yes, like many myths, this one has truth at its core.

We are consumers of an incredibly complex, mildly psychoactive chemistry sourced from a plant. That chemistry works through our body’s endocannabinoid system, which keeps important parts of our bodies running stably. The complexity of the plant’s chemistry combined with the complexity of our own bodies makes for a range of reactions.

As consumers (or “friends of consumers”), we know that many of these reactions are good, healthy, and yes, pleasurable.

And sometimes it turns people into rutabagas.

That’s the truth that’s hard to take, because it is a truth. It’s what’s at the core of why a political agenda, greed, and racism (lies, lies, and more lies) were able to turn this plant into a pariah.

Over the long run, these kinds of lies are almost always exposed and dismantled under the glare of truth.

And that same glare will leave the rutabaga issue in place, because it’s true. And we, as a community, need to own that. Yes, cannabis is a substance that people can overuse and become stupid on.

The only way, the only way to effectively counter this is to prove, as a community, that while the rutabaga effect may be real, so is the entire rest of the spectrum of positive benefits.

In other words, we need to continue to be the vibrant, eclectic, curious, creative, responsible, fun-loving, inclusive community we are, AND we need to be authentic about cannabis being a part of how we get there.

And thus, the stigma’s catch-22: the stigma makes it hard to come out and not coming out reinforces the stigma.

I use cannabis to manage my depression (along with an antidepressant and exercise and meditation). And yes, I have come out to many people about both my mental health and my treatment of it.

I was the guy who — respectfully — brought out a pen at Thanksgiving dinner (a number of people were thrilled).

It was definitely a move that trod the edges of the acceptable; something I knew I would have to be responsible for had it gone south. And those are the kinds of risks that we’ll need to brave individually to show, as a community, not that the stigma is wrong, but that it’s a small part of the story. And the rest of the story is pretty great.

We are the ones who can change this. We are the proof that it’s wrong. All we need to do is to be authentically us. Not that that’s easy; it takes real bravery to come out and, in the moment, stand up for what we know to be right, in the face of power or of a social or personal disturbance in the force.

And that’s fine. The time will come when each of us is ready to acknowledge our consumption. We need to be braver and the environment needs to get safer. With sustained effort, we’ll make it happen.

We need to stay mindful that, whether we like this or not, as well as being a business and inchoate industry, cannabis has become a movement for social change.

History has already shown us that social movements (as opposed to revolutions) take time, that continued (respectful) pressure over time does change the world. That a group of committed people is what it takes. They make a safe space to be authentic and are unwilling to be shamed.

And every respectful open consumer adds to the momentum.

So, in those moments, make the right choice for you, while staying under the general guidance of don’t be an ahole. And, until you’re ready to be openly green, know that community is here. Once you green, you’ll be joining and supporting a community that has your back and the backs of thousands of others. And you’ll be able to support our peers still struggling.

And we’ll all be that much closer to putting the stigma into the rearview.

Storyteller, seeker, always curious, work-in-progress

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