Smokey closets are stifling. And suffocating. And probably, ultimately, bad for you. Yet so many people feel compelled to stay inside of one lest everyone find out they’re a…pot user.
National Coming Out Day was a couple of weeks ago on October 11th. I watched my Facebook feed fill up with friends recounting their own coming out experiences being LGBTQ and encouraging others to share who they really are with their friends and family. I commented on a particularly moving post from a friend that detailed repercussions and conquered angst, and was gifted with a return comment of “Thanks. I’m sure yours was hard too.”
Wait. What? I don’t recall coming out to anyone – and then it hit me. I did. My coming out had absolutely nothing to do with my sexuality – it had to do with my use of marijuana. My friend was equating the stigma that has sadly surrounded the gay community for years with the rising stigma of pot use. And it made me stop and think about what that stigma looks like in a state where legalization has been around a while. While I don’t think that the majority of marijuana users will EVER face the kinds of stigmas that gay people do, there’s definitely some to contend with when you go public with your usage.
I didn’t really plan a coming out. I just wrote my welcome post to this blog on September 8th and went on about my business. I posted it to my personal Facebook page and sent the link to a few friends. And then waited to hear about it. I didn’t prep people. I didn’t warn my parents. I just put it out there in the world with no idea how it would be received by the various parts of my life.
Mostly the responses were laced with surprise and delight. I lost a couple of friends on Facebook with no explanation. Alright. Not a huge deal. It’s more than made up for by the number of Facebook friends who now are sending me links to all sorts of fun articles and products. What was interesting was the responses from people I saw over the next few weeks in professional settings. Some would slyly refer to the post when we talked. Some would very quietly share stories or ask for recommendations to help with one symptom or another. And some had some pretty strong statements:
“I never would have guessed you got stoned.”
“You just screwed your chances of ever getting a job with a big company again.”
“Your business is going to take a hit. No one thinks pot smokers are reliable.”
“I can’t believe you would risk custody of your daughter like that!”
Whoa. There’s a whole lot of stuff to unpack there. But it’s indicative of the kinds of things professionals face when open about their usage. It’s frustrating to hear but it provides a good opportunity to educate people about the normalcy of pot in a legal state. Hell, it’s fairly normal in states that aren’t legal yet. There are a number of organizations (pro and con) that put the number of Americans who have used marijuana at least once at around 100 million people. There are currently 325 million people in the USA. If you do some (very) rough math and take out kids under 12, we can pretty accurately state that in a group of 3 people, one of you has at least tried weed.
Based on numbers, and straight up experience, if you were to strap a truth teller to a significant part of the workforce, you’d find a good number of your co-workers smoke up too. They just don’t talk about it because they’re not willing to deal with statements like these or any potential fallout to their careers or social standing. You may not guess people get stoned, but it’s a good bet that a few of the people you know actually do. We still manage to carry on and get things done.
And astoundingly enough – if for some reason I decide I want to get back into the corporate world where drug tests are required – I simply stop using it. It’s not any different than quitting cigarettes. Or alcohol. Except it’s MUCH easier and has no withdrawals. Unlike nicotine and alcohol. But no one has ever suggested to me that my crafting complex cocktails would prevent me from working a corporate job. And honestly, in some companies I worked for, alcohol consumption was socially required, despite the fact that it has no redeeming benefits to consumption.
The joy in working for yourself is that you get to pick your own clients. So my business isn’t going to take a hit because I came out. I wasn’t doing business with people who would care to begin with. What I can say is that it has opened up a number of doors that I hadn’t even thought to knock on. Marijuana is becoming very big business and the industry is looking for people that support it.
But it’s the last one that actually makes me angry. There’s at least one rant post that hit the trash bin before this one got written. Responsible parents who consume weed aren’t putting their children at risk. I could make comparisons to alcoholism, or opioid use, or some other thing. But that’s not really what’s at the heart of statements like this. Because deep down this statement is about if marijuana users can actually be responsible, productive adults that provide a stable and loving environment. Most of us are. And always have been. But until more and more of us come out of the closet and talk about it, the stigma will remain as a dark edge in our happy clouds.