The truth is, over the last several decades both men and women have become more supportive of medical and recreational marijuana, at roughly the same pace. Yet, the difference in support among the genders persists. So what’s going on here?
Women generally prefer “safer” policies. Surprisingly, this isn’t just a “Mom” thing. Old studies showed that sheltering children from society’s downfall may have been part of the legalization debate decades ago, but the latest analysis shows that parenthood doesn’t explain the gender gap in support for marijuana legalization at all. In fact, neither mothers nor fathers are more likely to oppose legalization than those who don’t have children. Women’s tendency to vote “safer,” in general, explains the gender gap on a number of other issues though, like the environment,health, and science—such as global warming and nuclear power. But can this really be the full story?
Women are more religious than men. Some look to religiosity to explain the gender gap when it comes to legalization support. Though women are generally more liberal, studies show that women attend church more frequently, and are more likely to identify as Christian over men (specifically “Born Again”— a sect that draws a pretty hard line when it comes to illegal drugs). Several other studies have shown that religion can make one more disapproving of marijuana and less open to trying drugs (a logic that might also explain why more women are opposed to extramarital sex and pornography, too). But still, this reasoning feels like it falls a little flat, too.
More men use marijuana than women. The simplest and most obvious explanation—and therefore by the rules of Occam’s razor, the most likely—is that men use cannabis in greater numbers and with more frequency than women do. Roughly three-quarters of marijuana smokers are men. And it works: once marijuana use is taken into account, the gender gap for legalization all but disappears. It seems that exposure and experience with cannabis breeds not only familiarity (of the benefits and negatives of cannabis use)—but also, political favor.
Why Do More Men Use Marijuana than Women?
There could be a couple reasons for this gender disparity (and both might sound familiar):
Men are more tolerant of risk. Although scholars like to debate why this is, researchers have shown that men have a higher tolerance for risk taking behavior than women. In other words, using the same reasoning as “women prefer the safer option” — at the end of the day, however risky legalization is or isn’t, currently more men seem comfortable moving forward on policy than women.
Women have been left out of cannabis research. Most of the quality research in humans has looked at cannabis and pain relief—but very few of these studies have investigated differences based on sex. Yet, we’re finding out that cannabis is likely a medicine that triggers different responses depending on hormone levels—including our sex hormones. Research suggests women may have more adverse side effects to cannabis than men, while men may experience greater pain relief. Given that the number of women using cannabis is growing, it’s important to look at these gender differences—when conducting research, when writing policy, and when educating the public.
As new marijuana policies spread throughout the country, cannabis will continue to lose its stigma. And as gender consumption rates equalize, most likely the legalization gender gap will close. Because like so many civil movements in our history, regardless of color or gender: with exposure, education, and cultural acceptance, comes political support.
About the Author
Sarah A. Lybrand is a writer specializing in lifestyle, health, finance—and fun. She’s written for Bust, Juno, Yahoo, MarketSmiths and Toast Media, among many others.