What Happened Next? The Good, the Weird and the Ugly of Coming Out of the Pot Closet

The moment we admit we toke up, there are a whole slew of assumptions and images based on stereotypes. If we call ourselves potheads, then the term loses power and legitimacy.
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As far as I know, no one had done it before -- declared to the world that they smoke pot, practically daily, that they're also in charge of raising children and that they're not going to be ashamed anymore.

But I did.

Naturally, there have been a lot of questions along the lines of "Sooo? What Happened Next? We're dying to know! Does your mother-in-law still love you?"

I'd like to think that these come from folks who genuinely want to avoid the land mines and labels that may accompany coming out of their own "pot closets."* So, with the hope that more of us begin to speak up about the role that marijuana plays in our lives, I share the story of what happened after I wrote this blog and hundreds of thousands of people around the world read it.

THE GOOD: 90% of the feedback I saw in the comments was positive. Folks who do, and folks who do not smoke marijuana chimed in to agree that despite their personal choices around pot, given the changing legal landscape, we need to have open conversations with our kids about it. This was, first and foremost, a parenting blog.

Some folks, conversely, called me a drug addict and predicted that I will have a drug-addicted kid one day... but then again, some parents believe that not talking to their kids about sex is an effective way to prevent teen pregnancy (despite alarming new statistics proving the opposite), so that didn't surprise me much.

My mom, who has been put through the paces during my work in war zones, plus a short stint in Chinese prison, had a predictable response: "What's all the fuss?"

My dad was concerned that I felt shame from the terrible choice parents in his time had to make: Either hide their occasional pot use or make their children complicit in illegal activity (a choice many parents must still face today).

My extended family is still speaking to me, though weeks of uncomfortable silence can be expected. Change is rarely comfy, and it can be painful to adjust the sails on one's thinking. Also, I experienced a layer of judgment for smoking pot and a layer for "airing dirty laundry" in public, so I suppose it depends how you come out. I expect some family felt tainted by public association... there's that stigma again.

It affected a lot of my close friends as well, and my personal message boxes were flooded with notes supporting me privately while wishing they could do so publicly (but they work with kids, they practice law, they enforce the law, they've already had trouble with the law or they still face very real consequences where they live).

I like to think that the days after prohibition were a little similar, as the wine bottles slowly made their way onto the dinner table. It takes time to change culture...

...Or cultures? After my blog went viral in the U.S., The Huffington Post sent my blog to HuffPost Germany and El HuffPost, the Spanish version. Suddenly, the conversation was global and I was having Twitter convos with parents in Andalucía, Berlin and Chile. It seems my suspicions about there being a lot more of us were right and I've made some fun new e-friends in the process.

I've also received dozens of requests to smoke and while I'm flattered, for the record, if I don't know you, I'm not gonna get stoned with you. In fact, I usually smoke alone at the end of my day, between the time my daughter sleeps and my husband gets home from work, and most of the time I fall asleep from exhaustion shortly after. I mainly use pot to help me sleep and to work through some serious PTSD (and if I have to wake up at 3 a.m. to a crying child, I am stone cold sober, which wasn't the case when I tried over-the-counter sleeping pills).

And lastly, a teenager made a YouTube video about my blog, commending me for having the courage to start the conversation, and admitting that when her dad switched from alcohol to pot, "it was like night and day." This was the cherry on top for me and I hope that one day, my daughter is just as smart and brave.

THE WEIRD: I have been blogging on HuffPost for more than five years. Most of my pieces have been well-received, shared around a few hundred times and then faded away into the white noise of the Internet. In my naiveté, I didn't realize that there is an entire world of mainstream media that picks up on popular blogs to take the topics further onto TV.

Imagine my surprise when my husband's cell phone rings at 9 a.m. the next morning with Muriel, a producer at ABC's "20/20" asking for "an exclusive" (An exclusive to what? I wonder, it's all pretty much in the blog). This is particularly shocking to hubby, considering he doesn't even have an email address and thinks Facebook is the world's biggest waste of time (we are still not sure how they got the number). In addition, we haven't watched mainstream TV in a decade and we both think Barbara Walters is still anchoring "20/20." I happily grant them an exclusive (I love Barbara Walters!) though I'm still wondering what more they're looking for? Luckily for me, I get to hide behind this "exclusive" when FOX News gets in touch and my Twitter feed blows up with media requests.

Muriel didn't care much about my doing Canadian press, and I love Canada, so I then went on a live call-in radio show out of Vancouver. They sent producers to the streets asking folks to read my blog and provide comments, as a way of setting the stage for the overall debate (all I could think was wow, you sent people to the streets of Vancouver and asked them to read my writing? That's incredible!). One caller couldn't help but compare me to a crack addict, smoking crack in front of a child... an image out of her sheer imagination that provided the perfect opportunity to discuss all of the fear that still exists around weed, the extent of the stigma and the entire reason I very consciously used the word "pothead" in my title.

Several folks disagreed with the use of that word. It struck a chord down to the very shame and stigma I wrote about. For many regular marijuana users, the term "pothead" is a pejorative that speaks more to one's character than to one's use, and it's a label they've worked hard to transcend.

My experience tells me, however, that the only way to dismantle harmful stereotypes is to own them and redefine them by exposing how baseless they are. The moment we admit we toke up, there are a whole slew of assumptions and images based on stereotypes and scare campaigns. If we call ourselves potheads, then the term loses power and legitimacy. In fact, the week after my blog got attention, an anonymous piece popped up full of lawyers, doctors, youth pastors and police officers admitting to regular marijuana use.

This is the stigma we must begin to erase. We are all sober when we are sober and we can make safe choices around Cannabis use, just as we have learned to do around alcohol, without our entire character being called in to question night and day.

THE UGLY: I set a Google alert for the title of my blog and took my own voyeuristic journey through the land of the Internet. This was fun at first, as I watched the debate unfold and deepen on every major parenting website (which was the entire point). More blogs on the topic emerged, saying much of what I didn't have the space to say. But then the commentary took a dark turn and my stomach lurched as the misogyny emerged, (out came the words B*tch and C*nt and calls for violence). I suddenly felt like a target and started watching my back, my PTSD from being kidnapped in Sri Lanka flaring up like a bad rash. How does admitting to smoking pot warrant a call for rape? It's a leap that can only come from a place of hatred for "uppity" women who create change. It's antiquated and abhorrent and instead of responding to you trolls individually, I'll just take this chance to say GROW UP and GET A LIFE OFFLINE.

In the end, I decided not to go on "20/20" either. I set three restrictions with Muriel:

1. My daughter is too young to be on national TV around this issue.

2. Given the violent comments, please don't show my home or my neighborhood.

3. I'm not going to smoke pot on camera (because I do not believe we can simultaneously break down stereotypes while upholding them, and strong images have a way of being edited and reprinted in nefarious ways).

Apparently, that was enough to make my story less compelling. I was hoping they wanted to have a serious conversation or debate on the issue and they were hoping to film "a day in the life of pothead mom" (which I can tell you would make for some pretty boring TV... there's that stigma again).

I began to wonder if any media producers actually read my blog or if NPR is right? One thing was certain: I didn't write this for 15 minutes of TV fame and I'm nobody's dancing monkey.

So, I decided to limit further public commentary to this keyboard and to control the follow-up story myself. Instead of being framed and edited into "The Pothead Mom," I like to picture myself as a brave woman who is delicately navigating the line between motherhood and a career, all while modeling honesty and self-acceptance. I am pretty sure that wouldn't have been the headline on "20/20."

To echo the sentiments of the latest pot-smoking mom blogger to come forward, smoking weed is only one thing about me in a pool of a million talents. And in that vein, for those who read my writing on more serious topics, I promise this will be my last blog about marijuana... because my mom is right, "what's all the fuss?"


Kiri Westby

*I want to add something here about my use of the closet metaphor. If it weren't for the queer rights movement and the sacrifice of millions of gays and lesbians to live honestly, we wouldn't have this term. It has become colloquial, and is being used more and more to describe the process of living one's truth... and I agree with my fellow Boulderite Ash Beckham that "coming out of any closet is hard... and we need to stop comparing our hards." But I also believe that if we don't know where we've come from, we won't know where we're going. My choice to come clean about how I choose to relax is fundamentally different than someone's choice to be honest about who they were born to be; I may face social or professional rejection, but LGBTQ folks often face violence or death for being honest about their sexuality. By no means do I mean to make light of that.