Contesting The “Cannabis Closet”

We recently sat down with the Marijuana Policy Project’s Mason Tvert, author of Marijuana is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?. In the following video from Mason, he reveals the size of the cannabis closet and why he thinks people “coming out” about their personal use isn’t enough:

Jeff Winkler thinks we should ditch the term altogether:

‘Cannabis closet’ is an intentionally loaded term. In 2009, Andrew Sullivan, the editor of The Daily Dish blog and a proudly ‘out’ gay man, solicited a series of pot-smoking testimonies from readers under that heading. In the introduction to his subsequent book, Cannabis Closet: First-Hand Accounts of the Marijuana Mainstream (2010), Sullivan wrote:

I wondered whether the humor and laughter around the subject were not some nervous way of coping with the vast discrepancy… Like homosexuality, pot use was … accepted as part of reality, but rarely spoken of in public. It carried a stigma.

Though not quite the same, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) movement has succeeded in equating its cause to that of the civil rights struggle. Sullivan uses the gay middleman to suggest the same for weed. It’s a rhetorical trope increasingly used by weed proponents. However, even if we acknowledge the inherent prejudice of the first pot prohibition laws, it’s still dubious as an argument.

When the former congressman and presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich invoked Martin Luther King Jr at the 2011 Seattle Hempfest, the comparison rankled.

Teacher Bob uses weed to manage his post-traumatic stress syndrome (he is a two-tour Iraq veteran, ‘not some crazy hippie from the hills’) as well as the side effects of some of his prescription medications. But he made it clear he also likes the stuff. I asked why he and the other teachers would risk their livelihood for a hush-hush toke or two behind closed doors. In reply, Teacher Bob cited Henry David Thoreau. ‘It’s an act of civil disobedience,’ he said. …

Choice is great! But it is dishonest to suggest that choosing to ingest a drug is anything more than that. To compare it with ending the persecution of homosexuals or the fight of black activists seems like an insult to those legacies. Why not just come out and say: ‘Weed gets me high and that’s OK’? Or, to borrow more superficially from the LGBT movement: ‘We’re blazed! Unfazed! Get used to it!’

I take the point, and would not want to take these analogies too far. My argument was that, as in the past with illegal sodomy in many states, the illegality of pot-use crippled a public discussion of the pros and cons of the drug – hence the “closet.” My other point was simply to note that both sodomy and pot use – as long as they are by consenting adults – harm no one else, and are about freedom over one’s own body. Of course these movements are not identical. But I don’t regret initiating a new trope of conversation about the issue – even if it leads to a sensible conclusion that we should not conflate distinct causes too glibly.