This article was originally published on Texas Cannabis Report. on March 20th, 2017.
Men have traditionally lead most social movements, but when it comes to prohibition, women cleared mountains previously thought impassable.
As alcohol prohibition finally came to an end in the 1930s, women were at the forefront of legalization. This was despite women being a major force behind making alcohol illegal in the first place. Hard lessons were learned during our nation’s first prohibition. The organized crime, police kicking down doors over a victim-less crime, the black markets, and numerous other dangers which resulted from placing a substance in the dark which was never going away, no matter its legality. As the Great Depression began to set in, tax revenue from the alcohol industry was sorely missed as well.
Less than a decade later, marijuana prohibition kicked off with all new scare tactics. Former President Richard Nixon decided to take prohibition to a new level with his War on Drugs. It would take several more decades for people to learn a lesson which had already been learned during alcohol prohibition.
In 1969 Gallup began its annual poll on national support for marijuana legalization, with support clocking in at 12 percent that year. Fast forward to October of 2016 and support now sits at 60 percent and rising.
Polling earlier this year by University of Texas/Texas Tribune shows that Texans are now in majority support of legalization at 53 percent. There are three groups which still haven’t surpassed the halfway mark however, including those over the age of 65, Republicans, and women.
It may comes as a surprise to many then that one of the leaders to legalize marijuana in Texas is an 87-year-old, life-long Republican woman.
Ann Lee, the Founder and Executive Director of Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition hits the trifecta of groups still opposing legalization. She is also one of the many female leaders in the Texas cannabis movement.
The Marijuana Policy Project, a national cannabis advocacy organization, recently put down roots in Texas. They believe that legalization in the Lone Star State is on the horizon, and once Texas goes, the rest of the southern states will as well. Who heads up that organization’s efforts in Texas? That would be Heather Fazio, who has been a leader on many other political fronts, including working with Texans for Accountable Government.
Another woman who has been involved in activism for quite some time isn’t as big a name, but her contributions have been vast.
Dawn McDowell Brooks, who heads up the Texas NORML Senior Alliance, has been a bright fixture in the cannabis movement. She has dedicated her time to bringing awareness to seniors about how they can medically benefit from marijuana, and has long been a volunteer working many cannabis events around Texas.
“I’ve been involved in some sort of activism for over 40 years,” she says. “I can say that I’ve seen a change in organizational structures, changing from a patriarchal hierarchy, with no women in authority, to a more common situation of having women at the top of the chain of command. I believe that women are embracing the chance to be equal partners on a sometimes not so even playing field.”
One woman embracing that opportunity is Kate Cochran-Morgan, a Navy veteran and realtor living in Lake Dallas. Kate has dove into the movement, traveling to events across the state, and lobbying at the capitol in Austin where she gave a press conference while flanked by a group of veterans who came to speak with legislators about medical cannabis and deliver a petition of veteran signatures to Gov. Greg Abbott.
“The enlightenment cannabis movement is about education and the ability to make the freedom of choice about your healthcare,” she states. “I believe cannabis should be safely and legally accessible for all. As a female leader in this movement, I don’t see it slowing down. Texas women need to get on board and see this as an opportunity to get in on the ground floor. The opportunity is endless and the only way for this to become a reality is to call your senators and start doing your own research.”
Unfortunately women have been both skeptical and afraid of embracing legal marijuana, even as they support medical access. According to the University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll, 48 percent of women support legalization compared to 60 percent of men.
Jax Finkel, the Executive Director of Texas NORML, says that she believes that women are often intimidated when it comes to the subject of cannabis.
“There is a contingency of women that are intimidated about standing up because of the fear of repercussions in their life or their family’s life, the threats of CPS or personal ramifications for being open about the issue,” she says. She adds that women are often worried about their stance being used against them in divorce hearings, and that there is also the stigma of being labeled as a drug user.
Jax has been spending her days at the capitol lately, visiting with legislators and pushing for support of various marijuana related bills. She has worked tirelessly in preparation of the 2017 Texas legislative session. In 2016 she traveled to every region of the state to help train activists to become effective lobbyists. The work paid off when nearly 400 citizens from around Texas converged on the capitol earlier this year and visited the office of every state lawmaker.
She has also been coordinating testimony at committee hearings. Most recently HB 81, one of 20 cannabis related bills, was heard by the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee where only one person showed up to testify against the measure which would make possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a civil fine of $250 with no arrest or criminal record.
“Having women leading the charge in Texas is very empowering to other women,” Jax says. She adds, “When they see other women stepping up to the plate, they feel represented and more empowered to step up. Cannabis law reform is very much about changing hearts and minds while building relationships, something that women typically excel at. We work together collaboratively and with integrity. We fight tenaciously for our children.”
An interesting fact that Jax mentions is that people initially believe that she is a man before meeting her in person due to her name, even going so far as to tell her that she is not who she says she is.
Education is a big factor, especially when it comes to those making laws, as well as medical professionals who tend to have the ear of the public. Kate believes that education will be the key to unlocking support from the next generation of scientists and doctors.
She cites Dr. Michele Ross, a neuroscientist and patient advocate, saying that marijuana can address female issues such as pelvic pain, menopause, and breast cancer. Kate adds that statistics state that menopause by 2020 will affect 50 million American women with post-menopausal issues. Another 25 percent of women have chronic pelvic pain, while 1 in 10 have endometriosis. “As of right now medication and research is limited on women’s health. Cannabis has been proven to help patients live a better healthier life.”
Kate works with Dr. Ross through an organization called Impact Network.
“With education Impact Network is hoping to help lots of women be able to have a productive pain free life. I am proud to be working with Dr. Ross on a couple of education projects coming up. Taking care of our community is vitally important for our families and our women of the world. We need more research on women’s health and to be able to have the right to choose what medication is right for our body.”
There are currently about 46 million Americans over the age of 65, representing 14.5 percent of the population. In 2010 those 65 and older spent about $18,424 per person on personal health care, “about three times more than the average working-age adult and about five times more than the average child,” according to a 2014 study in the journal Health Affairs.
Many believe that cannabis can help offset the need for many medications which make up a large expense of senior medical care. As people like Dawn work to educate seniors, many are finding relief from both their ailments and the side-effects of the medications they either no longer need to take, or take less of.
“Senior women have become more comfortable in participating in cannabis related events,” Dawn says. “Even this year, I’m seeing many more senior women faces at the events and am thrilled that older women are getting in the mix, showing their faces and making their voices heard.”
She adds, “Working within the Texas cannabis movement has allowed me to pursue a passion and commitment to change the cannabis laws in Texas. As a senior woman, I’m hoping to see legalization occur before I hang up my activist shoes for the last time. I’ve been waiting for over 40 years to have cannabis recognized and accepted as a legal alternative to aiding in medical conditions.”
Dawn recognizes that she can’t do this work forever though, and that it’s extremely important that younger women, and people in general, need to come into the movement.
“We, as seasoned women in the movement, need to cultivate and encourage young women to become more involved with the process,” states Dawn. “Those who are just getting involved with the process bring an enthusiasm and energy level that can propel change. Younger women are bringing a level of commitment and insight that is valuable in changing the perspective of why cannabis is such a valuable commodity, both medically and financially.”
Jax is optimistic about the future and the partnerships which have already been, and will be forged.
“Historically, we have seen males being more active and in higher positions within the reform movement. Now, we see many women taking the lead and initiative in reform. We have had enough. We saw that when women got involved in ending alcohol prohibition, things started to accelerate. We are seeing the same regarding cannabis prohibition. Together with our male allies, we will end cannabis prohibition.”