Culture & Conversation Economic Justice

Weed for Period Pain? Yes, But I Want Equity in the Marijuana Industry Too

Jasmine Burnett

It's great that star Whoopi Goldberg and a "canna businesswoman" are making marijuana products to help people who experience menstrual cramps. But their products won't yet make their way to most American consumers—and neither will the profits of the cannabis growing industry, which is leaving Black would-be businesspeople behind.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

Last month, Vanity Fair announced that Whoopi Goldberg is co-launching a line of cannabis (marijuana) products in April that will provide holistic alternatives for menstrual cramps. Yes, you read that correctly.

As a Black woman of reproductive age who uses cannabis daily, I was excited to hear about Goldberg’s venture, especially as someone whose uterus has seen an abortion and a myomectomy (a surgery to remove fibroids), and who currently manages symptomatic fibroids once or twice a month.

But I also have questions.

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How will Goldberg and her business partner help to expand access to all of the people who suffer during menstruation?

And can Goldberg’s influence create more opportunities for other Black people who have always been invested in cannabis but who have struggled against stigma and fear of criminalization?

It is no secret that the cannabis industry is increasingly becoming decriminalized in some cities across the country. At the same time, it is rapidly becoming big business in states where it has been legalized.

However, it is rare that emerging weed entrepreneurs represent the diversity of the people who use it.

Goldberg’s product, for example, could help counter the racial disparities in the business and, at least in a small way, help to shift the health disparities of Black people suffering from debilitating cramps.

What we know about Goldberg’s holistic cannabis business for cramps is that she’s launching it with Maya Elisabeth, a white “canna businesswoman.” Elisabeth founded the Om Grow Collective, an all-woman growing business, and owns Northern California-based OM Edibles. Together, the two women partnered to create Whoopi & Maya, a brand of products including edibles, tinctures, topical rubs, and a “profoundly relaxing” bath soak infused with THC, the chemical responsible for many of marijuana’s properties.

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Goldberg said she wanted to create a product that was discreet, provided relief, and wouldn’t leave us glued to our couches. The Whoopi & Maya brand is launching in California. For those of us who are interested in the product but live in states where cannabis is not decriminalized or legal, we’ll be left without access to it.

Since 2014, Whoopi Goldberg has been outspoken about her use of medical cannabis to deal with glaucoma and headaches without resorting to “eating [handfuls of Advil] every day.” Goldberg also mentioned that her inspiration for this product comes from her grown granddaughters and the way that they suffer from menstrual cramps. What this tells us is that she approached the solution to a health and wellness issue from a position of empathy, unconditional love, generosity, presence, and a willingness to listen. Those characteristics should be central in how the medical establishment addresses the health disparities of Black women and people who suffer from debilitating cramps due to fibroids and endometriosis.

Fibroids are non-cancerous tumors that grow on the uterus and can cause heavy bleeding and cramping, and endometriosis is a condition where cells from inside the uterus are displaced, growing outside the uterus, which can cause scarring and can lead to heavy bleeding and intense abdominal pain. The burden people with these conditions must carry can extend beyond physical pain.

The Burden of Uterine Fibroids for African-American Women study outlines the medical, emotional, and economical challenges faced by this group of women, who are nearly three times more likely to be affected by the condition than other women. The real economic challenges resulting from fibroids are witnessed by African-American women, who are 77 percent more likely to miss work due to the condition than their white counterparts. These effects, among other things, further reduce the already disparate earning potential of Black women and limit opportunities for them to care for their families: We also know that Black women of reproductive age tend to be the heads of households for their immediate and extended families.

In the United States, menstruation starts when girls are, at average, 12 years old and typically ends anywhere between 50 and 55 years old. According to a survey conducted by the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, this means 450 periods averaging two to seven days or more for people who suffer with fibroids and endometriosis. That leaves women, queer, and trans folks who suffer from menstrual pain bloated, moody, irritable, fatigued, angry, and in pain for the duration of their period.

For Whoopi Goldberg’s part, she said in Vanity Fair that her product would help to meet a need among people with a monthly discomfort: “You can put the rub on your lower stomach and lower back at work, and then when you get home you can get in the tub for a soak or make tea.

As MSNBC reported, while Goldberg is not the first celebrity to lend their name to a cannabis product, she is, to date, the most mainstream celebrity who isn’t necessarily associated with drug culture to take the plunge. Her decision to lend her name to these products is also significant because so few people of color have been able to puncture the sellers’ market in this burgeoning industry. BuzzFeed reported that fewer than three dozen of the more than 3,000 legal marijuana dispensaries (or 1 percent) in the United States are owned by Black people.

The reasons behind this phenomenon are diverse. There are documented reports of how people of color are intentionally being shut out of the cannabis business. Black farmers, in particular, are forced to deal with laws that require expensive legal representation and financial resources above their incomes.

Then, there is paranoia about embracing an industry that is still perceived as criminal in many parts of the country. And more religious or conservative members of the Black community still promote the concept of marijuana as a kind of gateway drug to more dangerous substances.

According to Art Way, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance office in Colorado, African-Americans have historically been disproportionately arrested and prosecuted for possessing marijuana. But now that lax laws are spreading in some parts of the country, there has been a palpable change in perceptions surrounding recreational use of the drug.

And so, the questions I started with still need answering: How will Whoopi Goldberg and the industry create more opportunity for all of the people who suffer during menstruation or who are interested in being part of this flourishing industry? For those with answers, I’m ready to go into business, and I know at least a hundred other Black people who are ready to throw down for cannabis wellness and business expansion opportunities.

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