Courtesy of Lift Magazine
Recently, an advertisement for a new wine festival in Toronto circulated social media: “MomsTO Wine Festival.” With the tagline, “Baby on the hips, wine on the lips” and over 500 expected attendees, cannabis advocates were quick to point out the hypocrisy and social acceptability of a festival geared at the normative ‘mommy juice.’ The festival is capitalizing on the fact that being a mom is hard work and that moms still need time to have fun, go out and socialize with friends.
We’ve all heard the jokes that “mommy needs a drink to get through the day,” but why is this so socially acceptable? One reason might be that it really hits a hard truth about motherhood, and something I’ve seen in my friends who are new mothers as well: it’s hard work. A majority of the responsibility often falls on women, and it can be very isolating. MomsTO Wine Festival draws on all these things. It’s about having some wine with friends, kids in tow, and enjoying the afternoon in the city. Good, harmless fun?
While I’m all for dismantling patriarchal ideals of motherhood and outdated ideals of what it means to be a ‘good mom,’ criticism on social media really stems from the double standard in how we treat parents who use cannabis. This criticism often neglects that alcohol is still a drug, despite being a socially accepted one. Close your eyes, substitute the name, and a “MomsTO Cannabis Festival” would trigger ample outrage.
We’re seeing more attention being drawn to the harms of alcohol, and more conversations about how our social norms around this particular drug don’t quite line up with the risks alcohol poses to individuals, communities and society at large. For example, this normalized culture around alcohol consumption tends to ignore the mounting evidence, where we know alcohol is responsible for roughly 5% of the global burden of disease and injury, and results in over 3.3 million deaths from its harmful use . A comprehensive study in Canada demonstrated that in 2002, the total cost of alcohol related harm to Canadians alone was 14.6 billion dollars per year, and it continues to lead in substance-related hospitalizations .
Most recently, experts were quick to point out that the newly released “Lower Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines”  include abstinence as the first recommendation, while the equivalent guidelines for alcohol have no mention of abstinence to avoid its risks (except if pregnant). Even Andre Picard, a well-known health columnist, recently dedicated an entire column to how we need to stop ‘romanticizing’ alcohol, saying that “the guidelines for alcohol use are far more lax than for cannabis… that doesn’t make sense” . This is part of an ongoing discourse that has been picking up traction in major media outlets that uses laws and norms around alcohol to point out the disjuncture in how we treat cannabis.
But it isn’t always a neat comparison when it comes to parenting. As one user pointed out, the effects of secondhand smoke around children is a valid concern, and so there may be other (different) reasons cannabis use and parenting may spark suspicion, and these are absolutely valid. Others thought consuming any substance in front of children is inappropriate, and the skepticism is often rooted in the assumption that parents who use cannabis do so in front of their children, while they are ‘on duty,’ or that they consume to the point of inebriation. That’s perhaps what is a bit unsettling about “MomTO Wine Festival”—simply encouraging the consumption of an intoxicating substance while parents have their “kids on the hip.” Getting caught up in the fun means over consumption is possible, perhaps even encouraged, and reinforced through this ‘wine-as-reward’ culture for moms.
Much of what’s at play here is that we have established norms around what it means to drink responsibly, but not what it means to use cannabis responsibly, particularly in the context of parenting. Just like when we consume wine, cannabis can also be consumed in moderation. With this wine festival in particular, there is an implicit assumption that their target audience, moms, are going to consume alcohol responsibly at the event despite having their kids with them, and no one questions that.
Not to mention the many parents who use cannabis medically with a physician’s authorization to manage a host of symptoms, arguably making them better equipped to deal with the realities of everyday life. Some are quick to think of cannabis-using parents as lazy, neglectful or absent, when in practice this often isn’t the case. It remains a contentious issue, and it will take time for norms to really catch up with the realities of (soon to be legal) cannabis use, particularly as it concerns parenting.
I’m not arguing that cannabis consumption should be a free-for-all when it comes to parenting, but rather that the hypocrisy in how we treat the two substances is becoming even more evident, and is most pronounced when it comes to parenting. This is also bound in the growing awareness of the harms of alcohol, coupled more generally with this attempt by advocates to shift 100-year-old social norms around two commonly used substances in opposite directions. It won’t happen overnight.
I’m also not here to argue that cannabis is harmless, but it is less harmful than alcohol, and even still, I don’t believe this is a winning argument. People who claim cannabis is absolutely harmless are also wrong, but those harms depend on frequency, methods of use and context (among other things). For some, the harms of cannabis can be serious, but far more people use cannabis occasionally and non-problematically. What is important to consider is that we’ve legally regulated alcohol, a far worse substance across almost all indicators (except, of course, the harms of criminalization), and we seem to be doing okay with some social and individual costs and no signs of clawing back alcohol regulation. The better argument might be in support of comprehensive, fact-based education around all substances—particularly alcohol and cannabis, and supporting people’s individual freedom, drug literacy, and their ability to exercise discretion and responsibility around these choices.
Featured image by Flickr user David.
 This figure includes the following annual costs: $7.1 billion in lost productivity due to disability and premature death; $3.3 billion for direct healthcare costs; and $3.1 billion for direct enforcement costs. Taken from http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/CCSA-Canadian-Drug-Summary-Alcohol-2014-en.pdf