A quick Instagram hashtag search for #cannabisandpregnancy will show you a feed of over one hundred photos, most of which feature white women posing with joints or cannabis plants. If you search #cannabisandmotherhood, you’ll see similar photos with a comparable ratio of white moms compared to mothers that are Black or women of color. Now if you search #cannamom you’ll see over 80 thousand photos of quotes and cannabis plants juxtaposed with smiling women who are sporadically holding a joint, blunt, or smoking apparatus.
I scrolled through hundreds of photos but decided to stop when I realized I saw fewer than 50 Black moms on the feed and most of the photos were from the same several profiles. I wasn’t surprised. The face of the growing cannabis industry, be it within the realm of beauty products or culinary endeavors, is white. This is particularly interesting given the history of cannabis-related imagery in the United States political imagination.
Consuming cannabis has many different results depending on the strain, method of consumption, and which parts of the cannabis plant are being consumed. When it comes to pregnant and nursing people, many report taking advantage of the plant for things like body pain, nausea, loss of appetite, anxiety, and illnesses like hyperemesis gravidarum.
On social media platforms, many white moms openly discuss their struggles with anxiety and nausea complete with videos of them “toking” or applying topical cannabis products. There are some Black moms on social media who work as doulas or host blogs, but they make up the minority of parents who are vocal about cannabis consumption.
Many cannabis brands, or cannabusinesses, are marketing to pregnant and nursing moms, and women in general, and they are often started by white women and primarily showcase white women in their ad campaigns and online content. Given the ways that class impacts consumer trends, it’s no wonder that there’s a lack of diversity in consumer groups. Further, given the higher rates of arrests and charges faced by Black and Brown women compared to their white counterparts, it makes sense that there are more white women willing to be vocal about their cannabis consumption.
The Afterlife of the War On Drugs
According to organizations like the Drug Policy Alliance and the ACLU, every 25 seconds someone in the United States is arrested for drug possession. Not with the intent to distribute, but for their personal use. Further, more than 1.25 million people are arrested each year for drug possession and that is a higher amount of people than for any other crime. When broken down demographically, the population of incarcerated people who were arrested for drug possession consists predominantly of Black and Brown, mostly youth, offenders.
With respect to pregnant people and mothers, organizations like National Advocates for Pregnant Women report that Black and Brown women are disproportionately imprisoned for cannabis-related offenses even though rates of consumption are comparable to white women. The race-based stigmas and stereotypes that influence implicit biases in law enforcement agents are partially to blame. Outside of jails and prisons, hospitals play a role in the criminalization of pregnant and parenting cannabis consumers as well.
The majority of Black and Brown pregnant people who test positive for cannabis in their system (with or without consent for the test and sometimes without verifying the accuracy of the test) at any stage of their pregnancy are reported. Their unborn child is often then quickly given legal representation to ensure the child is placed into state care after birth. It’s tragic. In some states, this even happens if the person has a medical prescription to consume cannabis.
In some states, this happens even if a doctor warns the person that their test was positive in the first trimester and they were told they just had to have a negative test by the time they give birth. It’s a terrifying and racist practice that further perpetuates the War on Drugs, in a highly racialized and classist way, and turns countless mothers into criminals for, most often, treating pain related to pregnancy or other pre-pregnancy illness (mental or otherwise). Studies show that in most hospitals who do these drug tests, especially without consent, doctors disproportionally test Black mothers more than any other group.
It’s high time that (privileged white people and) those who profit off of the cannabis industry or face no risk of criminalization for usage, advocate for the release from prisons and jails the victims of the War on Drugs, and that they remain vocal about how race impacts the industry. Families have been destroyed, people have been killed, and entire communities have been torn apart thanks to racist drug laws that targeted, and continue to target, Black people and people of color. Seeing that the growing cannabis industry and “legalize it” movement ignore this history perpetuates stigmas and leads to silenced narratives. It is unacceptable to ignore how white supremacy has impacted what could otherwise be a healthy, world-changing, wellness-based movement.
(Disclaimer: The author of this article encourages you to consult a doctor before making any health changes, especially any changes related to a specific diagnosis or condition. No information in this article should be relied upon to determine diet, make a medical diagnosis, or determine treatment for a medical condition. The information in this article is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice.)