STIGMAS UP IN SMOKE: Lauren Yoshiko & Dee Morgan have a conversation about cannabis

It’s undeniable that drugs are becoming part of the mainstream. Our latest content series set about uncovering the most progressive and exciting emerging voices on the topic, sitting down with them to understand their perceptions and opinions of drug culture in Ireland, and the world today.

This is Truth on Drugs. Future thinking on drugs and society.

In a world where acceptance around the medicinal benefits of cannabis has been vastly explored and accepted, Ireland and our closest neighbours in the UK still lag behind when it comes to embracing the often maligned plant. While North America’s relaxing of cannabis laws is well-documented, across the globe from Thailand to Luxembourg, are also reconsidering their outlook on weed. Planet Earth is becoming increasingly green…

Yet, despite our leaders’ reluctance to change with the times, weed is widely consumed on this island. The most recent survey, 2019–20 National Drug and Alcohol Survey (NDAS), found that 20.7% of respondents had used cannabis in their lifetime, corresponding to 809,000 of the general population in Ireland aged 15 years and older. Although there is a spark of hope.

Improvement was made in 2019 through medical cannabis being legalised in certain medical Instances through the Medical Cannabis Access Program (MCAP). However, the program is said to be limited in scope and access. The Irish government is currently in the process of potentially making a significant change to its prohibitionist model with the Introduction of the Misuse of Drugs (Cannabis Regulation) Bill to amend the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977, under which it would become legal for people 18 and over to be in possession of cannabis for personal use. The bill is currently before Dáil Éireann in the second stage.

For this piece, which was recorded last year, we wanted to facilitate a conversation with two people leading in their fields in weed culture, but doing so in totally juxtaposing environments. Designer Dee Morgan is at the frontline for normalising cannabis in Ireland, through her considered approach to design and a passion for weed culture led to her starting High Minds. It’s an independent Irish company that houses a curated selection of objects and experiences focused on weed.

Lauren Yoshiko is a writer, editor and creative based in Portland (ground zero for cannabis innovation and acceptance in the USA) who has been covering the weed scene since 2014. She is a contributing editor to Broccoli, an international magazine for cannabis lovers. She runs their bi-weekly newsletter, The Broccoli Report and co-hosts Broccoli Talk: A Podcast For Cannabis Lovers.

Image: Lauren Yoshiko

LAUREN: I was a college graduate with a literature degree with ideas of writing, but absolutely zero connections, or any understanding of how the editorial world worked. It wasn’t until I went into dispensaries in Portland with a medical card that I noticed there was a pretty prominent paper running a weekly weed column. It was insane to see something in print that was being taken seriously.

In 2014, there was so much conversation around representation in America. It was being talked about everywhere. Because of that, I felt I had the right to email them and say, “If you guys want a more rounded voice, I’m a woman with a card who would love to contribute”. Weed gave me the confidence to email editors for the first time. But it worked!

Being that early in the game, I was able to wrap my head around our very simple medical laws, because weed wasn’t yet legalised in the recreational sense. They were pretty loosely run medical programmes and a lot of states.

That was my introduction to weed writing, being like, I’m an incredible weed writer; I can do this. I was answering insane policy questions because the policy was barely freaking existent. And so, when things were legalised, I had the foundation to observe, critique, and comment on the growth of the recreational system.

Oregon’s timing was fortunate for me as a writer because, when California went legal, I was this resource for the community and the brands, and it’s just grown from there. I was fortunate enough to meet the founder of Broccoli right before she started it. Being involved with that publication gave me a pathway towards where I am now.

DEE: My story originated in Portland, too, funnily enough. I am a designer by trade and went to design conferences in the US for two years in a row. It was basically my introduction to a legal weed market. I was blown away at the creativity of how wonderful people were looking at this thing that was so not spoken about in Ireland. I was completely inspired. I came home from both those trips feeling like I could do something here like this. I wanted to be able to design and to put my stamp on it.

So, I launched High Minds. We design in-house products, such as pipes, bongs, and more. We don’t have any legalisation in Ireland yet, so High Minds led me down a path of not only designing products but being a spokesperson for weed in Ireland. It has also led me to opportunities working in a high end design company here in Ireland called J. Hill Standard, which works with some of the best designers in the world who are featured in MoMA and all these wonderful places. I run their smokeware line of the company, and it’s just amazing. There’s so much exciting stuff ahead of us, especially in Europe and America. You are lightyears ahead, but we still have a long way to go. But I’m excited to be a part of that journey.

Image: High Minds

Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed an emergency bill declaring marijuana sales legal to recreational users from dispensaries starting October 1, 2015. Since then, Portland has become one of the world’s biggest cannabis hubs, with a thriving weed scene. By contrast, it is an offence to cultivate, import, export, produce, supply and possess cannabis in Ireland. Dee and Lauren discuss the differences in their respective cities.

L: When I first entered the scene, there were around 350 dispensaries in Portland. There are only so many people over the age of 21 who smoke weed. So it makes no sense why our market works this hard because there’s not an immense amount of money to be made. But people really care here. I think it’s just part of the Portland culture, like farmer’s market culture, farm to table culture, artisan ingredients, and nature. There’s a lot of pride there for the legacy market and so much creativity and the experiences in dispensaries. I’m kind of shocked that Oregon maintains such a unique creativity, and I’m proud of it.

D: Portland and Ireland are the exact same, with our history steeped in agriculture and growing things on the farm to table. We are so passionate about food and agriculture as a whole. So I think that’s why it resonated with me so much, even the craft growers. I come from an agricultural background, and my family are apple growers with orchards up north in Ireland. Seeing the graft and the pride people put into growing cannabis, even on the craft side of things, which I’m much more interested in, is beautiful and resonated with me as well.

L: I love hearing about people coming from agricultural backgrounds because I think that’s the most helpful perspective to the average person trying to understand this new world. If people are intimidated or confused, it’s like, this is just a plant that has a shit tonne of things going on inside it. And our bodies seem to have had a really interesting relationship with it for thousands of years.

Image: Lauren Yoshiko

I believe it is about re-educating people that [cannabis] is a plant and not a drug. The way we talk about consuming it and the shame we have; is that how we talk about green tea? No matter what your degree of experience or stigma, we all have relearning to do.

D: I would say my relationship with the plant is very much formed from my father. He passed away, unfortunately, but we are apple growers, and he was a hippy in the 70s. He travelled from Ireland to San Francisco, and he obviously was a stoner. I feel this is my connection to him in a way. For me, weed is all about connection. Connection with ourselves, with the plant, with anything external. It opens up this world of beauty that I hadn’t seen before I smoked it.

He passed away when I was really young, but it’s all the stories that I hear about him in the past and how that circled back around is me being energised through his experiences. It’s carrying that energy on.

L: That is something that you are sharing with him! That is very special. I attended a school in Santa Cruz, California where weed was very normalised. It was like weed was an unofficial commodity at the school. It was just this beautiful, otherworldly place in the woods. You’re walking through redwood forests to get to class and taking a moment underneath the branches to take a little stuff and pass it to whoever is also taking a moment out of the rain. It was such a safe space, and it was the first time I bonded with women. It was like, oh, friendships can feel like this. I was meeting other introspective women that maybe never felt like they fit into certain crowds in their hometowns. Weed helped me meet these smart, funny, sassy women who had what society would deem as some boy-ish habits.

Also, in Santa Cruz, there is a 420 celebration that will turn anyone into an absolute weed evangelist!

D: That sounds definitely a lot different to the pilgrimages that are all around in Ireland. Our 420 is less about that and more about skateparks around Dublin.

The conversation then moves on to Dee and Lauren discussing the complexities, positive and negative, of being a woman working in the cannabis industry.

L: On one hand, yes, absolutely, there’s a lot of really cool women in the industry. On the other hand, when you actually look at the numbers, and you zoom out, the same 20 women are getting talked about and there’s still a huge pay gap. There’s a huge inequity, especially with executives and CEOs. There’s actually probably around five out of the hundreds of Portland dispensaries that are owned by women.

There’s this special common bond between women who work in the industry. They’re still working so hard to get funding, and they’re working so hard to be taken seriously. There’s rampant harassment happening. There’s a shared experience in knowing that it’s actually not any easier for us. Yeah, it’s fun to be in this new space where we can stake our claim and progress faster than we would in an established industry. But it also means that most of your peers are way less professional and not as experienced as they are in other industries. You have to just be ready to work in, oftentimes, a HR-free environment.

D: In Europe, there are younger women who have seen what the women have done in the US and Canada and are just like, why the fuck can’t we do it? I would say there’s a younger demographic of women following the lead of the amazing women who have paved the way and want to stamp their mission in Europe.

L: You can’t be what you can’t see! I’m really stoked to hear that. I didn’t really have weed media figures to look up to because no one was doing that other than Doug Benson. I now get those emails from girls saying “I want to do what you’re doing.” It’s kind of intimidating because, on the one hand, I’m still figuring this out.

While the majority of countries still classify marijuana as an illegal drug, many jurisdictions are creating exceptions. Medical marijuana is being trialled and researched for a number of conditions, including chronic pain. Dee and Lauren discuss the medicinal aspect of the plant.

D: My younger sister had pretty bad epilepsy. She couldn’t seek the advantages of cannabis due to the amount of drugs she was prescribed. But you know, if there was a kid or an adult who had epilepsy who could benefit from the medicinal advantages of this plant.. I wish there was any way I could get it into the hands of the people who really need it. There are people that fucking need it to have a better quality of life to survive. It could change their lives forever. If we as a group can play a small part in that, then that’s so much more powerful.

L: If anything I write gets through to one person that hasn’t thought about cannabis in that light before, that is a great day at work.

D: I am just going to say this here because of how passionate I am about it. I’ll try and say this without crying. My younger sister, who had severe epilepsy, passed away ten days ago. She was on about 11 anticonvulsants. And if there’s one reason for me to even step in here and do this conversation today, it’s to try and change the view on cannabis. I want to do this in memory of her. Because her life could have been so much different. She was 24; she was so young. And you know, this is why we’re doing it. We’re doing it because we can benefit from it too. Right? Cannabis is going to help me in the next couple of months.

L: It’s incredible that you’re even talking to us today, Dee. You’re damn right, she deserved more. She deserved to try something that could have worked. She deserved to feel better.

D: It’s about access. We’re not talking about missing out on a life changing surgery that could have kept her alive. We are asking for a very tiny window of access to just see if this could change someone’s life and actually make them healthier in the long run. People just deserve the chance to try it. Because the mainstream media here in Ireland, or in Europe, don’t do a great job of trying to highlight cannabis in the best way.

L: You’re completely right. Media affects doctors’ perceptions because right now, the onus is completely on the doctors to get curious. To start reading and start talking to their patients about it, because they are not getting that in medical school yet. They are not getting delivered cannabis education.

D: People do not know what this plant is capable of and how much learning we have to do about it. That is where the most exciting part lies, right?

Finally, Dee and Lauren reflect on the remarkable impact cannabis has had on their lives and careers.

L: I would say the most profound way it’s affected my life has been just validating that things can be different; that I can be different. My work, dynamics, conversations and healthcare can be different.

Image: High Minds

D: How something so simple like a plant could change you from the inside out. It can heighten everything in your body that is sometimes scared to come out, but will come out eventually. I’m just so excited for the future and the possibilities that it holds.

L: This is such an important conversation between us about the future of international weed culture. It’s very cool. I really enjoyed this.

Follow Lauren at @laurenyoshiko

Follow Dee at @deemorgan_ and @highminds__

Truth is the Tenth Man’s Research & Strategy division. We dedicate ourselves to understanding culture; immersing ourselves with the communities and the people we want to win with, to identify the unseen, underlying and unifying insights that we can leverage to enable great brands to grow further.

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