Girls Get Stoned, Too: Why We Need More Pot-Smoking Female Stars Like Rihanna and Lady Gaga

Female stoners face additional stigma for the choices they make with their bodies.


This fall, Lady Gaga and Rihanna’s Halloween costumes shared a common theme: weed. Dressed as Princess High the Cannabis Queen (Gaga) and the Bride of Mary Jane (Rihanna), the heiresses of pop culture were unashamed to sport their appreciation for the marijuana plant, and perhaps for good reason: The majority of Americans now support full-fledged legalization of marijuana.
The New York Times credits this cultural shift with the claim that female pot-pop stars are not only crashing a weed culture that was once limited to men like Snoop Dogg and Willie Nelson, but going even further by “seamlessly integrating it into their endorsement deals.” But outspoken weed-loving female celebrities, from Foxy Brown to Lil’ Kim and Kirsten Dunst have always existed. And they have always been an important minority, albeit one that may be growing. Nonetheless, the politics of female pot smokers are different from those of society at-large. Where men are often given a free pass, women face additional stigma (that Rihanna and Gaga actively reject). And the consequences of female pot smoking can go far beyond shame.
A look at the data on marijuana use and support for policy reform reveals interesting gender dynamics indicative of different sets of standards for men and women. A 2010 survey found boys aged 12-17 were more likely than girls to be marijuana users (8.3 vs. 6.4 percent). The gender gap here is small, but widens when we consider marijuana use in public arenas like medical dispensaries. In Colorado, for example, a stunning 70 percent of medical marijuana registrants are males. There is a similar trend in California, where 73 percent of people applying for medical marijuana cards are men.
The gender gap expands, too, when it comes to support for marijuana policy reform. While a Gallup polls shows a 14 point rise (from 2005-2011) in marijuana legalization across genders, the average support for marijuana legalization by gender (between the latest Angus Reid, Quinnipac and Public Policy Polling analyses) shows female support at 50% and male support at 57%.
Sabrina Fendrick of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) Women’s Alliance (NWA) says these gender gaps may arise because women “tend to be closet consumers” and may “think it's still taboo to speak about.” Fendrick adds that “women have more to lose — kids, social/community standing, etc,” and may therefore be more ambivalent about supporting or publicly engaging in a controversial issue. Moreover, men are much more likely than women to be arrested for pot, but that doesn't mean women don't feel the sting of harsh consequences of getting "caught."
To be fair, the gender roles available in the pot policy reform movement are not always pro-women, to say the least. Female models dressed as scantily clad “420 nurses” are regulars at pro-pot events and spectacles.
Moreover, marijuana use has historically been associated with risky sex and promiscuous women. In the 1949 Reefer Madness-esque film She Shoulda Said 'No'!, the film’s leading character, Anne Lester, smokes marijuana for the first time and takes a journey of reckless inhibition that includes a scene exhibiting her escalated “sexual promiscuity.” It ran on the tagline, "How bad can a good girl get ... without losing her virtue or respect???”
We saw this same rhetoric this fall, when Staten Island Borough president James Molinaro called Lady Gaga a sexist slur after she smoked a joint and proclaimed her love for pot on stage in Amsterdam. "Stop glorifying the drug use,” he said at September’s Tackling Youth Substance Abuse Initiative program at Borough Hall. Then, pointing to a photo of Gaga, Molinaro added, "This slut is influencing many, many children.”
Just as Molinaro would probably not have called Snoop Dogg a slut, it seems unlikely that MTV would tweet “Yikes” at a photo of Wiz Khalifa rolling a joint, especially if he were awesomely poised to roll it on the head of a bald man. But that’s exactly what MTV tweeted at Rihanna:
"Yikes. @rihanna's marijuana photos from Coachella spark controversy," MTV tweeted.
"@MTV Yikes... @rihanna ran out of f***s to give," she tweeted back.
While society casts more blame and shame on women who smoke weed, women suspected of getting stoned while pregnant face the harshest condemnation. As Canadian researcher Peter Fried said in a 2009 affidavit published on the National Advocates for Pregnant Women Web site, “Based on my 30 plus years of experience examining the newborn, infants, toddlers, children, adolescents and young adults born to women who used marijuana during pregnancy it is important to emphasize that to characterize an infant born to a woman who used marijuana during pregnancy as being ‘physically abused’ and/or ‘neglected’ is contrary to all scientific evidence.” He added, “The use of marijuana during pregnancy (in the absence of other factors that may put a child at risk for physical abuse and/or neglect) has not been shown by any objective research to result in abuse or neglect.”
Despite insufficient research suggesting pot use during pregnancy is harmful, pot tests are regularly performed on some infants. Moreover, some pregnant women have it worse than others. As Paul Armentano recently reported for AlterNet, there is no standard other than stereotypes to determine which mothers might have used drugs while pregnant. Thus, race and class are big factors in selecting which babies are screened for pot.
Making matters worse, testing newborns for pot doesn’t really work. Popular products like baby washes can cloud the results and produce false positives. Though rare in adult urine samples, false positives are 57 times more likely to occur in infant samples. What’s more, a recent study found that when reevaluating positive infant urine tests, 47 percent of positive samples could not be confirmed. When infants do test positive for marijuana (erroneously or not), their mothers are subjected to “intrusive, threatening and counterproductive welfare interventions” that may include supervised custody, enrollment in addiction therapy and parenting classes, even if the home is perfectly functional.
The prevalence of high-profile female pot smokers means more than just endorsement deals and a challenge to negative pot stereotypes. Women who use marijuana are unfairly judged because society’s gender roles maintain that the ideal woman is docile and submissive, with motherhood her highest priority. Women who use marijuana are deviating from this expectation by engaging in a so-called “risky” (and illegal) behavior. Not only are they poisoning their temples, so to speak, but they are also using a substance drug war messaging links to promiscuity, sex and even rape.  
To stop the stereotypes that lead to horrors like the unjust drug testing of infants and subsequent consequences for mothers, perhaps we need more female celebrity stoners to come out of the greenhouse. Women like Rihanna and Gaga may not appeal to women at-large when it comes to marijuana policy because their identities are firmly rooted in their sexualities and envelope-pushing personas. What may encourage more women to come full-circle on marijuana policy is a larger variety of out female pot smokers. Roseanne Barr -- who once warnedObama, “You’ll get my joint when you pry it out of my cold dead fingers” -- is an example of an out female pot smoker who not only made her money breaking gender stereotypes by being funny, but whose body does not conform to society's stick-thin demands.
Still, for women to really change how they feel about pot and policy, we need to see even more high-profile females from a variety of artistic mediums and genres come out to say that they smoke weed, though smoking pot doesn't define them as sexually adventurous risk-takers. Rather, they just like to get stoned.

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