Two years after the legalization of medical marijuana in Arizona, the use of the plant is still taboo for many members of a group that makes up half of the population: women.
Only 27.1% of medical marijuana cardholders are women, according to statistics released by the Arizona Department of Health Services. Several factors, including the system the DHS has set up and certain aspects of marijuana culture, may explain this disproportionate number.
Ashley and Rachel Beeder are sisters who co-own Green Dignity Medical Center in Tempe, a clinic that helps patients with qualifying medical conditions become cardholders. The Beeders employ three naturopathic doctors, all of whom are women. Most of the patients that go in to get their cards, however, are men, Ashley Beeder said.
She believes a large reason why women are hesitant to become patients is that they’re afraid.
“It’s fear, fear of being labeled as a ‘druggie’,” Ashley Beeder said. “Guys put themselves in risky situations, they’re not scared of pot. But even women who have smoked don’t want their name in a database.”
Ashley Beeder said she has only seen two women go in to get their cards, although women go in quite often just to ask questions.
Dr. Kristi Norris also said that many women are afraid of the social stigmas that surround marijuana use.
“Women are supposed to be the caregivers, we hold ourselves to a higher standard,” Norris said. “The fact that marijuana is still [thought of] as a ‘drug’ makes it unacceptable for women to be using it.”
Ashley Beeder thinks this disproportion may also be caused by the types of medical conditions that qualify people to become cardholders. While the DHS accepts 13 debilitating conditions, including cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, chronic pain, severe nausea, and severe muscle spasms, the lack of any mental illnesses on that list eliminates the possibility of becoming a cardholder for many women.
“Depression is a condition in California but not here. If it’s approved somewhere else why isn’t it approved here?” Ashley Beeder said.
Depression is a mental illness that affects one in eight women at some point in their lifetime, and twice as many women as men, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The California Department of Public Health gives room in their list of qualifying conditions to allow for mental illnesses such as depression. The DHS, on the other hand, only accepts requests for adding conditions in January and July and requires applicants to provide scientific research that proves marijuana can treat that condition.
Rachel Beeder believes that another reason for this is the way medical marijuana is marketed.
“They use a hot girl in a bikini [as advertising] to bring in men,” Rachel Beeder said. “The whole medical marijuana industry is marketed towards men.”
However, there are several health benefits that marijuana can have for women, Norris said.
“It helps people with their appetite if they’re going through chemotherapy. Even if it wasn’t approved by the state for anxiety, it helps with that,” Norris said.
Recent scientific studies have found that cannabidiol, a compound found in cannabis, was able to stop the spread of aggressive breast cancer cells, according to an article published in the UK Daily Mail on Sept. 20. The study was published by a team of doctors at the California Pacific Medical Center, and is based on five years of research.
Norris said she has offered to hold classes through Phoenix March, an organization of women who advocate for marijuana as a safe alternative to prescription drugs, in order to educate women about not only marijuana but other alternative medicines as well.
“When it comes to pain, doctors prescribe people oxycodon and morphine and that’s acceptable…pretty soon you’re taking a handful of medications and you still have the pain,” Norris said. “The whole idea is to get rid of their pain, not just to drug them.”
The Green Dignity team believe that it’s important to inform and educate women about the benefits of marijuana. They are all members of Phoenix March, and participate in their bi-weekly lunches.
“I think [women] are closed-minded about it, especially older women.” Rachel Beeder said. “We need to band together and spread knowledge and truth.”