Starting this month, Chelsea Handler will embark on a cross-Canada tour to participate in a series of discussions on women and weed. The press release announcing the tour, which kicks off Thursday in Calgary, calls it a “civilized conversation” with the comedian and late-night TV host (indeed, the tour itself is called “A Civilized Conversation With Chelsea Handler"). This isn’t Handler’s first dip into the world of weed, the recreational use of which will be legal in Canada come October 17: she’s also been busy visiting grow-ops to educate herself in preparation for launching her own line of low-dose cannabis products for women. “I feel very comfortable about helping women make their lives less reliant on the pharmaceutical industry, and being involved and empowered,” she recently told the Ottawa Citizen. “This is not a man’s world, and we should get our equality in this regard.”
Handler’s tour and forthcoming business are only a small part of a larger trend: the so-called “pinkification” of pot, an immense commercial effort to connect women, weed, and wellness. Chatelaine tackled this marketing push in 2016, smartly arguing that savvy business owners would understand that “appealing to 30-plus women is the surest path to legitimizing the business and normalizing cannabis within the broader culture.” More recently, in its women-and-weed editorial package this year, women’s magazine The Kit invited its readers to “Join us on the most fascinating trip of 2018, as grass goes from green to pink.” One article detailed “11 of the chicest pot smoking accessories on the market,” while another asked, “Is pot the new rosé?”
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Companies are certainly trying to make it so. Take, for instance, Fleurish, perhaps Canada’s first women-focused weed company. Its website is aesthetically cool, greeting visitors with a trendy marbleized blue backdrop. Its Instagram feed is edgy-aspirational — Urban Outfitters meets Goop. In a section called “Our Roots,” the company’s founder tells her brand story: “I’m proud to have a brand that is about empowering women so they can make informed decisions about their use of cannabis and to help them feel supported on their path towards well-being.”
It’s easy to be skeptical of all this. There is no push to connect male pot-smoking to wellness. It’s just assumed that men are cool or rebellious enough to see the attraction of cannabis — that they don’t need a marketing department to convince them of it. Men smoke weed, this line of thinking goes, to get high, whereas women, apparently, are meant to smoke weed to get better. It’s marketed to us the same way everything else is marketed to us: as a way of fixing our supposed inadequacies, of buying our way into more appealing versions of ourselves. Women, after all, have long been expected to buy our way to equality (see, for instance, the proliferation of feminist-branded everything). I’m not the first to note that the marketing of weed to women dovetails neatly with the broader wellness market, which has turned pseudo-science into a highly profitable commodity and brought us everything from pricey jade face-rollers and vaginal steamers (do not own, have not tried) to healing crystals and tarot cards (do, have).
But it’s worth noting that, in many cases, women have turned to these sometimes bizarre products and so-called treatments precisely because traditional medicine has often been inadequate or too insensitive to address our needs. It’s been widely reported that women in pain are much more likely than men to receive sedatives rather than pain medication for their, well, pain. Another study showed that women who’d received coronary-bypass surgery were, compared to men who’d undergone the same procedure, half as likely to have been administered painkillers afterwards. In U.S. emergency rooms, women wait, on average, 16 minutes longer than men to receive an analgesic for acute abdominal pain. We also know that women-specific ailments, such as endometriosis, are grossly underdiagnosed. And women are also twice as likely as men to experience anxiety disorders. It’s little wonder they’re responding to companies that, at least, take their pain seriously.
I don’t use marijuana. Truthfully, I’ve never really used it. But a few months ago, I went the non-traditional treatment route for my anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder: I took CBD oil, a cannabinoid without psychoactive properties. With the support of my therapist, I’d already tried non-pharmaceutical treatments such as vitamins and herbal mixes. It’s not that I advocate root chakras over science-based options (and there is, of course, a growing body of reputable research on the effectiveness of CBD), but I do believe our mental-health system is not always sensitive to women’s trauma. The thought of having to tell doctor after doctor about the worst moments in my life made me uneasy. I figured, why not try CBD?
I don’t know whether the pinkification of weed will be good for women. Too often, female-focused marketing only pigeonholes women, playing into stereotypes about what we care about, how we should look, and what we must do to be our best selves. But if this pink-pot push drives more women to get the care they need, that’s a good thing — and even, perhaps, a step toward equality. So bring on the pink bongs.
Lauren McKeon is the digital editor of The Walrus. She's the author of F-Bomb: Dispatches from the War on Feminism, published by Goose Lane Editions.