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  • Writer's pictureElucidation Strategies

Secrets about Stigma

We know a secret or two about cannabis. If you’re someone that already uses cannabis, you likely already know. If you’re not, this might change how you view your circles - your family, friends, colleagues, and beyond. You ready for it?

You know *quite* a few cannabis users. We can 100% guarantee it. And you’ll likely be surprised if/when you find out who some of them are. When many think about who uses cannabis, the image in their heads doesn’t actually align with reality.

In Matt Reid’s 2020 Journal of Cannabis Research literature review, “A qualitative review of cannabis stigmas at the twilight of prohibition,” he examines the concept of stigma and “suggests claims of normalization may be premature.” His suggestion is spot on; we’re far from normalization. Some of his concluding remarks are particularly insightful:

In his exploration of the deep history of cannabis throughout the world, John Charles Chasteen concludes it has been a substance associated with outsiders in every society. Until the latter part of the twentieth century, cannabis was “used by the poor, by the marginal, by the chronically ill, by the artistically and philosophically and spiritually inclined, by seekers after the meaning of life, and by social and religious nonconformists of various stripes” (Chasteen 2016). Stated otherwise, the deviant status of cannabis may be universal as groups associated with the plant are traditionally positioned apart from respectable society. The degree of this deviance varies over time and space, but considering this historical constant, scholars should be careful of claiming cannabis normalized unless the body of evidence thoroughly supports such a claim. As has been demonstrated in this qualitative review of cannabis stigmas, the deviant status of cannabis in American society still appears to hold true. Even today with cannabis, the “worst consequences, social and individual, seem to arise from how nonusers react to users” (Becker 1973/1963).

Despite one-by-0ne state legalization and more prevalent and open messaging about it, cannabis remains associated with “outsiders” and “deviant behavior” for a large chunk of the population. That’s why you “know” many that use cannabis for wellness, but you don’t “know” it for certain.

Interested in another secret? Even if federal prohibition ended tomorrow and a dispensary opened in every town in America, the stigma would still remain. Would it eventually subside? Yes. It would take awhile, though. In the U.S., the stigma was intentionally created and amplified across many channels and information sources…for well over 100 years. It was by design; those that pushed propaganda were furthering a means of oppression and control. The stigma is the product of decades of self-serving agendas and unethical behavior. That’s how the commitment to an undeserved cannabis stigma has been passed down through families, through media, through human resource policies...the list could go on and on. Those that fabricated a crooked war invested over a century in preaching the tall tale of marijuana as the ultimate life-ruiner. Why should we expect that stigma to simply disappear?

Plus, it’s all very complicated. Reid identified different types of stigma, compounding the complexities inherent to cannabis. He described several:

  • Structural stigmas operate on the macro level and include cultural norms, state policies, and institutionalized procedures that oppress non-normal people.

  • Social stigmas work on the meso level and describe how organizations and groups endorse cultural messages that disadvantage stigmatized people.

  • Felt stigma (micro stigma) results from the awareness that an identity is culturally devalued and can result in anticipatory behavior to avoid negative interactions.

Identifying distinct areas under the big umbrella of stigma (explained by Reid as a part of the self that is socially devalued to where it becomes morally offensive), spotlights just how layered our (individual and societal) views are about the plant and the people that use it.

How do we address it?

Ready for the last secret?

We talk about it. We replace untruths with truths. We encourage the consideration of how our attitudes, beliefs, and values formed and then focus on data and evidence to undo the misinformation. We amplify the voices that have been marginalized and fight for opportunities despite the fact that it will never be enough. We offer unbiased education to chip away at the years of miseducation.

As Reid suggests, we’re far from normalization, but we’re getting a little closer every day. Elucidation Strategies helps canna-businesses promote truth, wellness, and education to their current and potential stakeholders through thoughtful communications and open and genuine invitations to get involved in the conversation. Change only happens at the speed of trust.

Contact Elucidation Strategies for cannabis consulting services.


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