Legalization ‘won’t happen without women’

If Dale Sky Jones had taken the wrong advice, her marijuana legalization career would have ended in the same way many women’s professional aspirations have halted.

With a pregnancy.

It’s 2010, and Jones, the Oaksterdam University executive chancellor, is in the inner circle of advocates working on legalization effort Prop. 19. The campaign is barely beginning when she and her soon-to-be husband Jeff Jones find out they’re expecting.

The reaction was swift.

“People told me, ‘You gotta quit the campaign — a pregnant woman can’t talk about this!’” she recalled recently.

She almost listened. After all, the risk was enormous — and not for the campaign’s image.

“I thought about it: Is this going to be their excuse to come take my baby?” she said.

She didn’t quit. Far from it. So, a pregnant woman served as the spokeswoman and public face for marijuana legalization. And while Prop. 19 failed, it was the first serious effort by a state to end cannabis prohibition — and absolutely paved the way for Colorado and Washington to legalize marijuana two years later.

Today, as chairwoman of the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform (CCPR), Jones is one of the main figures in the statewide legalization movement. To end California’s war on weed, Jones and other leaders like Amanda Reiman, manager of marijuana law and policy reform for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), know they’ll need votes from women.

That won’t be easy. Women have historically had the most to lose by involving themselves with marijuana. Be it the specter of losing kids to Child Protective Services for using marijuana or the danger of acquiring drugs on the black market, women have traditionally viewed cannabis use as “risky behavior,” according to studies.

As a result, legalization’s hardest sell is often among mothers who fear that recreational cannabis will lead to easier access to pot for children.

In a twist, mothers may also be legalization’s best salespeople. There are now dozens of stories of women uprooting families to access cannabis-based medicines to soothe childhood seizures.

“Women are vitally important to this in California,” Reiman said. “It won’t happen without women.”

There are several legalization initiatives already filed in the state that hope to appear on the November 2016 ballot. None appear poised to command the kind of resources that the initiative that will come from CCPR and DPA.

Language is not yet finalized, but Jones stresses that “we must, must ensure the law that we write encourages women and minorities to enter the marketplace. That means low financial barriers for entry. If the threshold to enter the lottery to get a permit is $100,000, that will exclude a lot of people.”

And, at a time where stories about sexism in technology are rampant and venture capitalist Ellen Pao’s gender discrimination lawsuit is still fresh in the public’s mind, the cannabis industry is providing a rare breath of fresh air: Women have a prominent place at the decision-makers’ table.

“This is the first time a major industry can be built for women and by women,” Jones said. “We’re finally getting somewhere.”

Photo by Gabrielle Lurie