Women in north Texas work to change marijuana laws
Women as a group have been key players in many civil rights movements, and were instrumental in ending alcohol prohibition. Now a group of women are working to end the prohibition of marijuana.
Elisabeth Rodriguez has been a part of the movement to reform marijuana laws in Texas for several years now, and she heads up a group in the Dallas/Fort Worth area called the NORML Women’s Alliance.
“I think for a lot of women, the message about the importance of legalization is more meaningful coming from other women,” Rodriguez states. “So for the women who are not on board with legalization yet, I think hearing the facts from a group like the Women’s Alliance is very powerful.”
She says that women are affected by cannabis prohibition, sometimes more so than men.
“Cannabis has been shown to help many of the autoimmune disorders that affect women more than men. Women are being incarcerated at a higher rate than men for non violent drug offenses,” Rodriguez says. “There are all sorts of issues surrounding parenting and cannabis use, and parents being able to use cannabis to treat their children.”
Over one million women are enduring some form of the criminal justice system. The female prison population grew by 832 percent from 1977 to 2007. The male prison population grew 416 percent during the same time period.
Of those women, two-thirds are there for non-violent offenses, primarily drug-related crimes.
Nearly two-thirds of women in prison are mothers as well, causing many children to have to grow up without a mother around because of a non-violent drug offense.
On average 77,000 people are arrested for marijuana alone in Texas each year.
A recent study showed that women are twice as likely to see marijuana as risky. The study on the perceived risk of using cannabis and characteristics associated with these perceptions found that non-white, low-income women over 50 were most likely to perceive a risk in consuming marijuana. Least likely were those 12 to 25, with a high school diploma or more, and family income above $75,000.
However, the perceived risk among women decreased from 59 percent in 2002 to 47 percent in 2012.
“It’s a really important time for cannabis legalization. The issue is getting a lot of attention in both state and national media, and pro-marijuana legislation is being introduced every day. Now is the time to really throw everything we have into it and get marijuana legalized,” Rodriguez says. “The women’s alliance is outreach specially targeted to women to bring them into the movement, and to ask them to support legalization. There is a lot of intersectionality between race, gender, and the drug war. Its time to get women’s support for cannabis legalization.”
Nationally, women support legalizing marijuana at lower rates than men. About 58 percent of males support legalization, while about 50 percent of women are in favor or legalizing cannabis. However, support for medical marijuana by both men and women is near 78 percent.
Rodriguez says she wants to empower women, and credits current female activists with recent successes. “Women make up a large and an important part of the movement here in Dallas/Fort Worth and really, Texas as a whole. There are a lot of recognizable, influential women in leadership roles now, and I credit that as part of the reason our movement has grown up so quickly and has become so effective in recent years.”
“I’d like to work to both bring new women into the legalization movement, and have a place to celebrate the women who are already here,” she adds.
Already the group has hosted several seminars on lobbying, and was recently part of a group of 300 who traveled to the state capitol to lobby for changing marijuana laws.
Earlier this year they held a planning session to hear from women around the state about what the group should be doing. It also gave everyone an opportunity to connect with other women.
She says though that men are welcome as part of the group as well.
“I’d like to have a group that is easily accessible to anyone who is interested, and we’re trying to host an equal number of fun get-togethers and educational events,” Rodriguez states. “The women’s alliance focuses on women’s issues, but we welcome people of any gender who are interested in the subject. You certainly don’t have to identify as female to be a part of the group.”
This past weekend the group worked with DFW NORML to help them clean up their adopted street in Fort Worth and had lunch as well.
Rodriguez figures to be actively involved this year as the Texas legislature considers 11 pieces of legislation pertaining to cannabis, including penalty reductions for possession, medical marijuana, and hemp legalization.
By: Stephen Carter
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