Friday, March 8, 2019

On International Women's Day: Why So Many Nonwhites Have a Harder Time with Marijuana

One Day at a Time, the Netflix series that remakes the 1970's sitcom about a single mom with a Latina cast, just tackled marijuana in its new third season (Episode 5: "Nip It in the Bud").

It did a pretty good job, addressing vaping, edibles, youth use, opiate addiction, and racism in the drug war.

In the episode, Penelope (Justina Machado), a military veteran and nurse who suffers from PTSD and anxiety, catches her 15-year-old son Alex vaping marijuana at a "Bud E. Fest." She takes the problem to her therapy group lead by Pam, played by Mackenzie Williams, who starred in the original series and famously had an addiction problem after her father turned her onto drugs while she was still a teen.

When Penelope brings up the subject, some of the women in the group reveal they smoke pot. A vet in a wheelchair notes that cannabis helps her with pain (and more), and that "a lot of veterans were prescribed opiates and couldn't get off of them." Penelope says it happened to her ex-husband (which might explain why he's her ex). A great new film, From Shock to Awe, follows veteran couples who journey with cannabis and ayahuasca to find healing.

"I don't smoke since I'm sober, but boy did I like it," Pam tells the group. She correctly notes that at age 15, the brain is still developing, and Penelope makes this point to her son when he tries to tell her pot is no big deal because it's legal. "It's not legal for you," she counters, comparing it to alcohol, tobacco and gambling.

"Of course I tried it, but Alex can't know that. He needs to think I'm perfect," Penelope tells her group.  But she does admit to him that she used it, telling a story about being arrested for smoking a joint while her white friend was only given a warning. She tells him he needs to be especially careful because he is Latino. Sadly, it's true: in California where the sitcom is set, Hispanics were again the most-arrested demographic in 2016, accounting for 3,066 of the felony arrests, with 2,076 whites arrested and 1,592 blacks.

The black woman in Penelope's group says, "Weed makes me paranoid, like everyone's out to get me. Because when you're black, everyone is." She makes a good a point: the drug war has disproportionately arrested and incarcerated blacks as well as Latinos.

Meanwhile, for comic relief, the episode has Penelope's mom Lydia (played by the still-fabulous Rita Moreno at age 87), inadvertently consuming cannabis lozenges at the opera and gets all the classic symptoms: awareness (pictured) followed by giggles, paranoia, and the munchies.

Interestingly, Lydia only resorts to the lozenges for her cough when she discovers she hasn't brought her faux opera glasses containing rum; Penelope swigs a hit of liquor from binoculars of Schneider's after talking with her son about his sobriety. So booze is still OK to use and joke about. Maybe if alcohol was still illegal it would make people—especially people of color— paranoid about using it, too.

UPDATE: The New York Times calls it "A Very Special Episode." 

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Celebrating Women's Herstory Month

March was declared Women's History Month in 1987 by the United States Congress, after being petitioned by the National Women's History Alliance. This year's theme is "Visionary Women: Champions of Peace & Nonviolence."  

We've got some Visionary Tokin' Women to celebrate!

Let's start with actress/poet Dora Shaw, who was apparently inspired by FitzHugh Ludlow’s writings to try hashish on July 4, 1859 with novelist Marie Stevens Case, who recorded the event in The New York Saturday Press (7/16/59). After a fascinating experience where Case reports, "I was fast becoming a sphinx—my head expanded to the size of the room, and I thought I was an oracle doomed to respond through all Eternity...'Do you not see,' I cried, 'that I am stone....and if you make me laugh, I shall be scattered to the four winds.'" After seemingly having a vision of the Egyptian Goddess Seshat, the women watched a fireworks display. "The effect of the hascheesh was still upon us a little and the rockets seemed the most astonishing and gorgeous things in the universe." So the first recorded use of American women taking cannabis happened with a fireworks show.

In 1869, writer Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, published "Perilous Play," a short story in which a group of young socialites enjoys hashish bon-bons. It ends with the declaration, "Heaven bless hashish if its dreams end like this!" A Modern Mephistopheles, the novel Alcott published anonymously in 1877, contains a much fuller description of hashish's effects on a heroine named Gladys. "I feel as if I could do anything to-night," Gladys announces, and she came to them "with a swift step, an eager air, as if longing to find some outlet for the strange energy which seemed to thrill every nerve and set her heart beating audibly."

Our former first lady Mary Todd Lincoln, the daughter of a Kentucky hemp farmer, was confined for four months in 1875 at a sanitarium where patients "were routinely given popular drugs of the era." Typical treatments for her mental symptoms included chloral hydrate, bromide of potassium, opium, and cannabis, or various combinations of these. Thus as with her contemporary Queen Victoria, we know that doctors who treated her prescribed cannabis, but don't have specific proof that she was given the treatment.

In the 1920s and beyond, singers Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday used marijuana, as did dancer Josephine Baker and actress Tallulah Bankhead. Jazz singer Anita O'Day and actress Lila Leeds were targeted for arrest for their marijuana use in the 1940s.

Author Maya Angelou wrote vividly about her experiences with cannabis circa 1946 in Gather Together in My Name, the sequel to I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. "The food was the best I'd ever tasted. Every morsel was an experience of sheer delight. I lost myself in a haze of sensual pleasure, enjoying not only the tastes but the feel of the food in my mouth, the smells, and the sound of my jaws chewing......I decided to dance for my hostesses. The music dipped and swayed, pulling and pushing. I let my body rest on the sound and turned and bowed in the tiny room. The shapes and forms melted until I felt I was in a charcoal sketch, or a sepia watercolor."

The hashish fudge recipe published in The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook (1954) has made Toklas a beloved figure to Tokin' Women everywhere (although she disavowed knowledge of it). Her lover Gertrude Stein published a play in 1947 with a character named Jenny Reefer. An episode called "Tabitha's Weekend" that aired on TV's Bewitched on March 6, 1969 has this interesting exchange: Endora (the grandmother witch played by Agnes Moorehead) is offered cookies by Darrin's (straight) mother. "They're not by chance from an Alice B. Toklas recipe?" Endora asks. When told they were not, "Then I think I'll pass," is her answer.

In the 1960s, musicians Grace Slick, Janis Joplin and "Mama" Cass Elliot enjoyed marijuana and sang about it, and about social justice. Anthropologist Margaret Mead testified before Congress in 1969 in favor of marijuana legalization, and said that she had tried it herself.

And for a visionary activist, Karen Silkwood was carrying a manilla envelope carrying documents about corruption at the Kerr-McGee plutonium processing plant where she worked when her car suspiciously ran off the road in 1974. The documents were never found afterwards, but investigators did find marijuana cigarettes in the pocket of her coat.

Read about more Tokin' Women at, and in the book Tokin' Women: A 4000-Year Herstory

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Mrs. Maisel and the Golden Glow

As talent agent Susie Myerson in Season 2 of the Netflix series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel—the role for which she won an Emmy last year and just scored her second Golden Globe nom—the very funny Alex Borstein finds, smells, and smokes a joint...and then takes a glowingly stoned bubble bath.

Another memorable character of Borstein's, Ms. Swan, smuggled in "the medicinal kine" on MadTV, where she liked to be "just a little bit stone" in a skit where she outwits a protection racketeer.

Rachel Brosnahan, who just picked up her second consecutive Golden Globe for her lead role in the series, puffed in Season 1 with none other than Lenny Bruce (a stoner gal's dream date; at least one known Tokin' Woman, Annie Ross, did so).

Mrs. Maisel leads a charmed, wildly unrealistic life, but since Brosnahan's last Netflix appearance was as a call girl on House of Cards who becomes the obsession of powerful politico—leading to an end almost worse than the subway slaying of another female character—it's nice and notable that the matriarchal village behind Mrs. Maisel, which Brosnahan thanked in her acceptance speech, gave her a more positive role to play.

The plot of the series plays into just what Glenn Close—who toked onscreen herself in The Big Chill—got a standing ovation for at the Globes, when she spoke of her mother sublimating her own needs to her family's. Mrs. Maisel, who wears a cocktail dress and pearls as did Tokin' Woman Joan Rivers, is also said to be based on housewives-turned-comics Phyllis Diller (whose hair has inspired a marijuana strain) and Totie Fields.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

2018 Tokey Awards


We've got to give this year's honor to former First Lady Michelle Obama who, in her new memoir, candidly wrote about smoking pot with a high school boyfriend in his car (where they also fooled around).

Asked by Robin Roberts of ABC's 20/20 why she didn't leave out the marijuana mention, Obama replied, "That was what I did. It's part of the 'Becoming' story....Why would I hide that from the next generation?"

Obviously her youthful dalliance with weed didn't turn Michelle into a worthless pothead. It may even have encouraged her interest in organic fruits and vegetables.


Other famous women who outed themselves this year include Kristen Bell, who said on the podcast WTF with Mark Aaron, “I like my vape pen quite a bit," adding that it doesn't bother her sober hubby Dax Shepard when she uses it occasionally. Her admission stirred some controversy, leading to Shepard tweeting in support.

Charlize Theron, while promoting her marijuana-themed movie Gringo, told E! Magazine, "I was a wake-and-baker for most of my life" and said to Jimmy Kimmel that she had "a good solid eight years on the marijuana." Now, she and her mom share edibles they use for sleep.

Fran Drescher, who wrote about her battle with ovarian cancer in Cancer Schmancer, keynoted a medical marijuana conference in Portland this year. Not only did cannabis help with her own recovery, she reports her father is using it to deal with his Parkinson's disease.

Gayle King, guesting on The Ellen Show, mimed smoking pot while talking about Ellen's recent birthday party, where Amy Schumer told King that she wants to get her high. King says she's planning to try it, and that her friend Oprah Winfrey "has smoked a little marijuana too." In a separate interview on Ellen, Oprah declared the pot-infused birthday party "the most fun I ever had. I don't even know what happened to me." I wonder if she got a contact high (at least).

In other outings, Liz Phair talked about smoking weed with Joe Rogan. Miley Cyrus promised she'd be back to smoking someday, and now says her mom got her back to smokingCarly Simon said she uses CBD oil on her knee, and Toni Braxton embraced CBD as a treatment for lupus. Chelsea Handler,  Kathy Ireland and Gwynneth Paltrow announced cannabis products or brands, as did Estée Lauder.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Mary Todd Lincoln, A Hemp Farmer's Daughter

Last week, the Mary Todd Lincoln House in Lexington, Kentucky celebrated the 200th birthday of our former first lady. It's fitting that the celebration came as Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell signed off on language for a farm bill that will legalize hemp cultivation in the US, should President Trump choose to sign it.

Mary Todd was a Southern Belle from a prominent, founding family of Fayette county, Kentucky. According to the Kentucky Office in Lexington:

Hemp was introduced at an early date [in Fayette]. Nathan Burrowes, a county resident, invented a machine for cleaning it [in 1796]. The soil produced fine hemp and in 1870 the county grew 4.3 million pounds. The crop declined in the 1890s because of increased demand for tobacco and competition from imported hemp from the Philippines. In 1941, when the federal government saw a possible shortage of manila rope from the Philippines, farmers were encouraged to grow hemp once again for use in World War II. The crop declined again in 1945.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Film Review: "Weed the People"

Weed the People, the Ricki Lake–produced film about the journey parents and their children with cancer are taking with cannabis, could be the best documentary I've seen on marijuana, possibly because it's a film made by women and largely depicting women.

The film follows several children undergoing cancer therapy, who are able to stop using powerful opiate painkillers and sometimes see their tumors shrink while using cannabinoids. The intimate stories of the families are exceptionally powerful, and the film goes further to interview doctors, researchers, and activists, presenting a historical perspective on the war on marijuana that has put patients in jeopardy by the illegality of cannabis, and the roadblocks to research on its uses in the US.

One mother summed it up well when she said, "I just find it staggering to accept that with the billions of dollars spend on cancer research, that the medicine we're relying on is made is somebody's kitchen."

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Michelle Obama Writes About Using Marijuana in New Memoir

Michelle Obama's memoir Becoming, released today, contains a passage about her high school days when she and a boyfriend named David “fooled around and smoked pot in his car.”

Asked by Robin Roberts of ABC's 20/20 why she didn't leave out the marijuana mention, Obama replied, "That was what I did. It's part of the 'Becoming' story....Why would I hide that from the next generation?"

Obviously her youthful dalliance with weed didn't turn Michelle into a worthless pothead. She graduated from Princeton and Harvard Law School, and met her future husband Barack Obama when he interned for her at a law firm.