Originally published on Canlio

A 16-year old girl was raped by 30 men in Brazil. It happened at a street party in an area (favela) which is run by drug gang(s). Does prohibition harm women? You bet it does. Does cannabis prohibition harm women disproportionately? Yes it does, but not for the reasons we would typically consider. I read a very good article some time ago about how women in a region in the US well known for cannabis cultivation were less likely to call 911 if they were in an abusive situation.

“She and her partner had moved into a small cabin without power in the hills above Garberville. “The woman wanted to be living a happy, healthy, organic lifestyle…” but the partner began drinking, abusing her, and leaving her at home alone with the kids for extended periods. One day, he went to town in their only vehicle and stayed on a binge for several days, leaving her trapped without enough food to feed the kids or enough clean clothes. The woman was afraid to leave (and had no vehicle anyway). What little money they had came from marijuana sales. She knew she would be unable to get a share of it at harvest if she left now. How would she care for her kids if she left? How could she afford a home for them?”
– Closing Ranks, by Kym Kemp

This is reality. What is happening on a national level and in fact worldwide to women in the home and the workplace is almost certainly just as big a problem for women who are on the periphery of the cannabis industry. The statistics with respect to the national average and women who are abused and assaulted and even killed are staggering.

There is no real data available on google with respect to women in the cannabis space. A google search of women/domestic violence/cannabis reveals plenty of articles about how the consumption of cannabis decreases the likelihood of domestic violence but none relating to women who work in the industry who are victims of harassment or violence. There is however anecdotal evidence. There is a direct correlation between women who have experienced some sort of harassment and those who seek their own space in the industry. It is not a coincidence that women are creating safe space by opening their own dispensaries, their own women-only groups and gaining strength by sharing stories. The current prohibition of cannabis creates an isolating environment to begin with, and if abuse is added to this it is undeniable that women are at greater risk as an indirect result of prohibition.

The anecdotes are hushed up and whispered, and sometimes exposed online in a wild flurry, and then just as quickly forgotten or dismissed. Women who have experienced sexual harassment on the job in the cannabis space are probably the most known, acknowledged and vocal of any of the other sub-sets of harms. Many of these women have talked about their experiences online and are both supported and vilified. It is the same as with any other workplace harassment and possibly not more prevalent, but that certainly does not mean it is not a huge problem.

There is stigma attached to the industry, and although the Human Rights Tribunal does not shy away from stigmas, other government agencies do. Feeling judged by the establishment is not comfortable for anyone, but add the component of criminality to the judgement and it’s almost a non-starter.

It is also possible that the individuals who are most attracted to the risks of working or living in the illegal/grey markets are coming from an anti-establishment/authority mindset that positions them perfectly as victims of predatory behaviour. Such individuals are much less likely to seek help from the police, support agencies, and their families.

Abuse comes in many forms. One of the most prevalent forms that applies to employees and partners, is financial abuse. Once again the nature of the industry lends itself to a complete lack of accountability. A mother with children who intends to leave her partner will have a very hard time verifying his income. She will not be able to demand child support in a court of law if the income is not verifiable. Does she leave? It is less likely.

Likewise, if an employer cannot pay the employees of an illegal grow-op what redress is there? Women are less likely to collect unpaid wages than men. If a dispensary owner chooses to pay the rent before paying the employees, but the employees are reliant on the income as they may be subsidising their low-income with a high-risk job, what is the re-dress? Although this is not necessarily gender specific I know of at least one case in which it has occurred and the employees were women.

Physical, emotional and financial abuse is not gender specific, and it is not necessarily more prevalent in the cannabis space at all. It is however a problem and one that will be handled with transparency and without fear once prohibition ends.

Does prohibition HURT women? Yes, it absolutely does…it hurts us all.

“A young mother I knew showed up at the preschool to drop off her child. She was sporting a huge shiner. Her “partner” .. had punched her during an argument. I was appalled. “Did you call the cops?” I asked. She said, “I can’t. He has a scene.”
“These things have always bothered me about the industry. Social ills surround it. And children grow to adulthood while solutions never even get discussed, much less set into place. Families can’t turn to the authorities for assistance because of the taboo on anything that even remotely resembles snitching. The taboo against snitching is, apparently, bigger than the one against beating your wife.”
Karol Andersson, assistant editor at the McKinleyville Press

Republished with permission from Canlio.