The Unbearable Whiteness of the Marijuana Moms

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Last week, the TODAY Show ran a segment about a group of California women, thirty-somethings who self-style themselves as the “marijuana moms.” The segment touched off a week of righteous indignation—and justifiably!—but not for anything having to do with child welfare.

No: These pot-smoking mommies are paragons of the white privilege that’s stuck to cannabis use in the age of legalization like scissor hash.

The phenomenon of parents opening up about responsible marijuana use isn’t new—NORML has had a Women’s Alliance for many years, a group called “Moms for Marijuana” has been active for a while, Jezebel ran a story about “mommy’s little helper” way back in 2012 and you can see High Times’s own version of this story, centered around mothers in Beverly Hills, published in 2014—but what is new is coverage in a major coast-to-coast news outlet, even if it the outlet is one of daytime TV’s milquetoast soporifics.

Some mothers-for-marijuana groups, such as autism activists in Texas, advocate marijuana as an indispensable medicine for their children’s ailments. Moms like these have proven vital players in the struggle toward marijuana legalization. And they run a great risk, as many parents living in Trump Country could tell you.

A cannabis-using mother in Texas was convicted of felony charges for breastfeeding her children—the irony, of course, is that breast milk contains endocannabinoids, chemicals similar to those found in the cannabis plant, but produced naturally by the human body—and in Kansas, the ordeal of Shona Banda, whose home was raided and son taken away from her after the son, then 11-years-old, piped up in school to contradict a teacher’s Reefer Madness-level propaganda, is still ongoing.

These TODAY Show marijuana moms, however, are all about the good times.

They are able to use cannabis responsibly, in a manner that in no way hinders their ability to effectively parent—and if other moms can sit around chugging Chardonnay, like all the other suburban-dwelling parents at soccer practice, why should they be subjected to double-standard moralizing?

“Mommy needs a joint just as much as mommy needs a glass of wine,” mother-of-four Kaycee Bawdon told TODAY’s Maria Shriver (who happens to be California’s former first lady). “You can still be a good parent and use marijuana at the same time.”

In some ways, this is an important topic.

One of Bawdon’s child’s friends has been banned from her home, after her mom found out that Bawdon smoked weed and flipped out. Still, TODAY’s take is embarrassingly dated—they refer to smoking weed as taking “herbal refreshment,” a line lifted from 1994’s unforgettable bildungsroman Clueless; the segment begins with the pearl-clutching “these moms smoke marijuana every day, even at play dates!”—and, as multiple observers pointed out, it is incredibly tone deaf. 

Going on TV to talk about your pot habit is “something that’s OK for white people” only, as one reaction published in the Miami Herald put it.

Because, you see, all the parents in the segment are white.

And smoking weed without any hassle from authorities is a thing for white people, even in the marijuana legalization era. Arrest rates for black and Latino people still far outpace arrests for whites everywhere police and cannabis are found, regardless of whether the drug is legal or not. And all the wild economic opportunities in the cannabis industry are still almost entirely reserved for white people.

Worst and most clueless of all is the missing context of what happened in Minnesota to Philando Castile, the black man shot to death by police during a routine traffic stop—with his partner and child watching. Castile was killed, the police officer who pulled the trigger later claimed, because the smell of marijuana in the car made the cop “fear for his life.”

The TODAY Show will never be mistaken for 60 Minutes, or even an article on this hallowed website. It’s not in the business of presenting hard-hitting thought provokers. It’s daytime television—it’s meant to be inoffensive background noise.

But even by those low standards, this is bad content.

It’s a missed opportunity to even hint at some of the real systemic concerns around parenting and pot use. And it also shows how far we still have to go, if the producers of daytime television still believe that the concept of toking mamas is exotic enough to make respectable Americans stop and gawk.

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