Allison of Her Highness | 09.09.21

Allison Krongard runs Her Highness with her friend and business partner Laura Eisman in New York, where they sell a lifestyle collection of ‘THC and CBD products designed to increase joy in women’s lives & remove the stigma of cannabis use’. They sell stylish high end products across three channels, to accommodate different regions with varying degrees of legal weed: hemp-CBD, high design paraphernalia, and THC (to expand as legalisation spreads). Their product range includes accessories like the Thigh High stash jar, pre-rolls, vape pens and highly orgasmic pleasure oils. While their THC products were initially available in California only, they have since expanded this range across several US states. Recently, Her Highness announced plans to begin launching products in the Canadian and Mexican markets.

When did a women-oriented cannabis company come up first, in conversation with Laura? How did she initially pitch the idea to you? Both of us came from businesses – where she created a website, I created products for women. So we both came from the standpoint of creating luxury female products. But she came to me with an idea to do cannabis accessories. As cannabis was becoming more and more popular, she was looking for some beautiful rolling papers and ashtrays and accessories for people who like to smoke; female-oriented, design-oriented. I, being a cannabis user for 30 years, have collected beautiful ashtrays and things from my cannabis use over the years, coming from design and interior design. And I totally agreed, there’s a real gap there. But really, my passion was to make cannabis products and touch them; really get in there, and feminise them. Which she loved too. So when we got together, we both did this really beautiful paraphernalia collection; marble rolling trays and ashtrays, the stash box, our fun lips ashtray… They definitely stand out compared to typical accessories, they’re very unique. Yeah, so for her that was what was driving her and I of course loved that. So I jumped right on board with that.

But then we took it further to design beautiful pre-roll boxes. We really feminised that, like our pre-roll with the extra long crutch, so you don’t melt your eyelashes and ruin your nail polish. Once we got together, we knew we were gonna do something for women. We then developed a bigger idea, with the mission of creating a CBD version of every THC product, as well as the paraphernalia. That really allowed us to enter many markets and talk about THC while we’re talking about CBD. Mainstream media would not profile our THC business, but they would profile our CBD business. And when they’re asking questions, we can always answer with something that includes this concept of normalising something that contains THC. If we can get it on that type of magazine and on that type of media, we can accomplish that. So that’s where we came from and how we started this company.

You’ve said in previous interviews that Her Highness is keen to eradicate stigma associated with cannabis use and sex. Have you noticed a significant cultural shift away from the stigmatisation of both in America? Yes. I would say that, especially during Covid, when things like Only Fans became mainstream, but there’s still a long way to go. But even when things like sex and cannabis become less stigmatised for women, it always takes longer. To accelerate that process, we’re making accessories that you want to display in your home and creating cannabis products that are designed for gifting. For example, a pre-roll and lighter set. On the back it has a ‘to’ and ‘from’, so it’s like a postcard. It’s a very cool feature, actually. Yeah, it’s just fun. It reminds people that this is not only a gift to ourselves, but if you’re meeting a bunch of friends for dinner instead of picking up a little candle for everyone or whatever, this is really a super fun gift, and something to be shared. And that’s sort of a very female characteristic. When we find something really good that we love, we love to share it with our friends.

In terms of destigmatising cannabis through products meant for sharing and gifting, another example of that would be our Get Lit Kit *Richard laughs*. It’s just a lighter, ashtray and grinder, meant for hostess gifting. Instead of bringing wine, to bring cannabis. To bring actual cannabis, we have another gift set (which we also do in CBD), where you get your box of pre-rolls, an ashtray, and a lighter. We’re really trying to encourage people to gift cannabis instead of alcohol, or with alcohol, but instead of it always being the go-to to bring a bottle of wine or something to a party, to make cannabis gift-able. To answer your question about sex as well, there’s not just sex stigmatised, but female pleasure stigmatised.

The idea of prioritising women’s orgasms when sex in popular media is so much about the male orgasm. And by really shining a light on the importance of a female orgasm, and creating a product that we feel really enhances the depth and size of a female orgasm. The Pleasure Oil is a product that is so shared and so gifted because when women discover that, it’s like: ‘Oh I’ve gotta tell my best friend about this, this is major!’ Game changer. Game changer! And then we’ve created this product around it, these packs. They’re called Cum on the Go packs. With the idea that if you’re going to your boyfriend’s overnight, women typically will bring heels and lingerie. But you know, it’s like you’re thinking about planning for them, but you’re not planning for your own orgasm. Right, so you’ve got little handy sachets to bring with. Exactly, right! And it’s subtle, and each one is ‘one orgasm amount’. They’re also gift-able and it’s such a fun thing to share. And in making things that are kind of fun, you know it’s silly but it’s not silly, it’s actually useful. We’re just trying to stimulate conversation and make it something that people want to tell their friends about and share.

For our full bottle of Pleasure Oil, we tried to make it beautiful. And we tried to make the experience of using it beautiful. We don’t want you to hide it. If you leave it out on your bedside, you’re gonna use it. If it’s something that looks weird or ugly, you’re gonna hide it and use it less. So you’ve designed it kind of like a designer perfume box. Exactly, yeah. Your packaging designs are fantastic, I have to say. The Thigh High ashtray, the way it’s got the marble and the legs sticking out, it’s really cool. Thank you. In an interview with the Cannabinoid Connect podcast, you credited weed as being a consistent source of inspiration to you in previous ventures, whenever you were designing products. Why do you think many people continue to perceive cannabis as being detrimental to productivity? I think many people are stuck in that Nancy Reagan Just Say No moment, ‘cannabis is bad’. Rationally, people know that cannabis is ancient medicine. It’s such a clean product. I don’t know any young people who are stuck in that mindset. Yeah.

It seems like that generation that was raised on ‘cannabis is a drug and it’s bad’ and ‘alcohol is not a drug and it’s okay’.. Rationale is out the window and those are just accepted as facts and it’s really hard to break that. Although, what’s interesting is something I learned with my father, who is certainly a very conservative person. What happened, when he got cancer and he started using cannabis medicinally, it helped him for a long time. Now he’s better, but during that time he realised that it actually was a great healer. So I think there are a lot of older people who are starting to use it for arthritis and sleep and other reasons, and they’re starting to see it. Yeah. Slowly but surely. Right, slowly but surely. It’s just old tech, old thinking. Everyone I know who uses cannabis regularly is athletic, works out regularly. For me, I find it gives me access to my creativity in a way that when I’m not stoned, I still get the ideas, but it’s like I shoot it down before I develop it. But when I’m stoned, it’s like the idea flows and keeps going to fruition, I get to a place where I can use it. It gets you in the zone more. Yeah, yeah.

I saw you mention before that Her Highness tries to avoid cannabis that causes ‘couch lock’, and that you display rankings for the strength of each product’s high and so on, to keep your customers informed. Now, you already gave me the example of the way your pre-rolls are designed to bear nails and lashes in mind. Do you have another example of tailoring your products to your customers’ needs? Yes. Our vape, which you mentioned, sort of looks like a Tiffany pen, looks like a piece of jewellery. It doesn’t look like drugs and there are two formulas inside. Giggle, which is perma-smile energy with extra humulene to kill off ‘the munchies’. Okay. And High Priestess, which is pure euphoria, it’s 93% THC..Oh wow..With extra humulene to kill off ‘the munchies’. And the reason why we developed these two is because we were speaking to the two most prevalent, distinctive, memorable highs that women tend to like. It’s ‘going out with your friends and laughing so hard your face hurts. And then not going home and having twelve bowls of macaroni and cheese.’

And the other one is when you’ve sort of passed from mildly stoned into super stoned and it becomes more about the body high and this introspective feeling.. Mindfulness. Yeah. That is the perfect sex high, it’s the perfect yoga high, I think. For me, it’s also the perfect ‘walking down 5th Avenue and window shopping and looking at people’ high. That’s that other feeling that’s sort of like the high when you want to be by yourself more. Yeah. Taking it all in. Yeah. It’s that other kind of high that’s so great and so useful. A great example would be our High Heels, which are trans-dermal pads that go in your shoes when you’re wearing high heels. Because that’s when women need pain relief. And so many trans-dermals, it’s all about back pain, which is great, and boring. *Richard laughs* But women have foot pain. We all have shoes in our closet, where every woman sort of has a mental checklist of how many hours they can go in that pair before it’s too unbearable. So, judging the evening ahead gives you a selection of what’s possible. So this really extends that time. I must say, I think that’s a particularly clever item to sell. Because that’s a major annoyance for a lot of women out there. It’s a real issue, so I’m sure they’ll be eager to pick that up. Yeah, it is.

That’s sort of the premise of our company: ‘How can we bend cannabis to suit women?’ There’s such a rich, amazing assortment of cannabis products out there. But they’re often either delivered in a way that doesn’t suit women, or dosed, or… A million things that give us the opportunity to tweak them to make them more female-friendly.

In that same interview with Cannabinoid Connect, mentioned earlier, you said that at one time in the past you used cannabis to help you combat depression. And you noticed that many women were self-medicating with pills and alcohol, and you felt that more of them should know about the benefits of weed. Did this take place long before you had that discussion with Laura that led to Her Highness? It did. It happened after my previous venture was acquired, and the deal was I had to work for them for two years. And I went from running my own business and being in a very creative, positive-spirited environment, to a sort of Wall Street, 100-year-old company. A really, really corporate environment where the people.. It was like a job. Before that, we went to work because it was more fun than being home. *Richard laughs* And I moved into a company where it was hard to get out the door, really hard to get out the door. And I think a lot of people suffer with that. Plenty of people hate their job and they really look forward to that after-work drink.

I really felt like there was a better way and I wanted to do something. Initially, I was thinking after I sold my last company that I wanted to do something in cannabis. But it was just too early on the East coast and I was just worried about federal laws. And I’m a single mom, the last thing I need is to get in trouble. But then more time passed and Laura came. This idea of being in the cannabis industry and being part of cannabis has really been a part of my life forever. When I was eighteen years old in New York City, when I could finally register to vote, I picked the Cannabis Party. And I didn’t even smoke cannabis, but I just thought it was so stupid that it wasn’t legal that I wanted to support it. I didn’t even get into cannabis for many years after that. But I guess I was just meant to do this. It seems like it! *Allison laughs* How do you market your brand towards women who don’t know much about weed or its effects, or who only have a vague interest in learning more about cannabis? How do you get them on-side?

Through low-dose products and non-psychoactive products. By making the CBD foot pads, even if you’re not sure about cannabis, that’s a great on-ramp product. We have low-dose mints. Even if you wanna mix it with alcohol, a 2.5g mint just takes the edge off, if your body’s completely clean (for me I could eat the whole bottle). But for an on-ramp or canna-curious person, just one will give you the idea that it’s safe, it’s small, but it’s noticeable. So between low-dose products, non-psychoactive products, the packaging and the accessories (‘cause it’s still a great gift), we’re trying to open up all these doors for women to just come in and take a look without getting stoned. Do you believe Her Highness is getting much closer to that original aim of being able to bring cannabis to women everywhere? Well, yeah! I mean, we started in California. And then we added Nevada, and Massachusetts, and we’re gonna add Ohio and Pennsylvania. Colorado, Canada, working on Mexico, starting to talk to someone in Venezuela. Oh. Yeah!

I think between the CBD that we can ship legally, the smoking accessories that we can ship internationally anywhere, and getting THC licences in any state and country that we can, licensing our brand so that it can be done locally, as laws allow… that’s how we’re gonna do it. We’re about five years ahead of anyone who’s specifically targeting women. It’s like all the other companies split it down the middle and are targeting just everyone, but make some female products.

But when you split it down the middle, it’s not 100% for women, it’s like, ‘Oh this is the best thing I could find’, but it’s not 100% there. Yeah, you do strike me as being considerably ahead of the curve there. Having a lifestyle collection, rather than just having a single product, really sets us apart. And our mission, where we raise money for female cannabis prisoners. The idea is to shine a light on female prisoners, because as an industry, we all do a pretty good job of talking about cannabis prisoners and raising money for them. But it mostly goes to men, because they’re the most known and vocal and the largest population. But when a woman goes to prison, a family falls apart, typically. It’s very destructive. We have a mission with The Last Prisoner Project, where we ‘Help our sisters doing time for cannabis crime’. Where we feature an actual former cannabis prisoner, and 50% of our proceeds go to these women and to a fund to help more women. That’s fantastic. Yeah.

Our mission as a company is ‘to reach all women through cannabis’. So, to your point, through our product, which is obviously bent towards women… Through our mission helping the women in the cannabis industry who came before us, pre-legalisation, who are in prison. And also, future women coming into cannabis. I end every presentation with buyers by reminding them that with our lifestyle collection, you can anchor a female section in your store and finally have room for those single-product women-owned companies, ‘cause there are a lot of them. But it’s hard for them to get shelf space, because it’s just one product. If we can make buyers mindful, in every meaning, that ‘I should have a female section’, we hope that we’re helping future female entrepreneurs in this space to find shelf space more easily. Are there any New York-based personalities you and Laura look up to, in terms of people who have had a significantly positive influence on society’s attitude towards cannabis? Hmm. It’s funny, because in terms of consumption, New York is the largest consumption state in the country, and has been.

So, I’m sure there’s tonnes of fabulous celebrity New York stoners, but I can’t really think about a specific New Yorker who’s influenced us. Really, we’re most driven by the love of the plant. Yeah. I believe in its benefits. I can’t even think of a single person. I would say, we both come from design so our inspiration is probably designers. Florence Knoll said: ‘Form follows function and good design is good business’. Those words really are integrated into our products. If the product is beautiful and not comfortable, if it’s beautiful and not perfectly functional, it’s a ‘fail’. It has to be both. According to Filter magazine, New York marijuana possession arrests fell from 3,700 in the first quarter of this year, to just eight in the second quarter, although there were still ‘racial disparities’ in those eight arrests. The legislation in New York for legal weed expunges the criminal records of anyone previously convicted of actions involving cannabis that are no longer considered criminal.What more do you feel can be done in New York to have a more equitable legal cannabis market? That’s a good question.

The regulations haven’t really been rolled out yet, so we don’t really know. But what we are hearing is that they’re very heavily weighted to people that have been heavily impacted by the war on drugs, to women and minorities. I think New York is really making a grand effort to tilt the scales, and we’ll see. A lot of people are trying to get licences. We’re gonna try and get a retail licence in New York, to have our flagship store. So, I would love to answer that question once I get intimately involved in that process of getting a licence and then I’ll really learn. Because it’s still early in the market. To your point about cannabis arrests and racial disparities, that is something that I’ve certainly seen growing up in New York City and smoking pot in New York City my whole life. I’ve seen that so much and I’m so happy to see that arrests are down and that that time is over. It’s just so disgusting and unfair. It must be an amazing feeling to know that your state has changed for the better, at last. At last, I know!

I mean, I cannot believe how long it took. I cannot believe how many conservative states legalised before New York. Right, yeah! *Richard laughs* Ireland is definitely taking its sweet time with legalisation. I know, the slowest, right? It’s painful. Here’s hoping we’ll get somewhere within a year or so, if we’re lucky! Well, I hope so. Speaking of Ireland, if you could present your elevator pitch to the Irish government about the benefits of legalising weed, what would you say to win them over? Certainly, the Irish government is okay with alcohol at high levels. Yeah. I would say, we know that alcohol overdoses happen. Alcohol causes violence, deaths, car accidents. The amount of suffering caused by alcohol compared to cannabis, really makes the argument. And the fact that it has antidepressant, calming, anti-anxiety attributes, as well as natural medicinal attributes, like anti-inflammatory.

People who use cannabis regularly have a lower BMI [Body Mass Index] than the rest of the population. I mean, that is an amazing thing, despite ‘the munchies’. Yeah. I just don’t understand people saying that it should be illegal now, and there’s so much evidence pointing to it (being beneficial). To the Irish government, I would say, when you compare the death and destruction statistics of alcohol to cannabis, to not want your population to have this safer, healing, more human-friendly alternative available is just unconscionable. That’s about as good of an answer as I could’ve wished for! Thank you so much for sparing your time, I wish you and Laura all the best with Your Highness! Take care, Allison! A pleasure, thank you so much.

Weed of Wonder | Review

Weed of Wonder is a stylish coffee table book released earlier this year by The Hash, Marijuana & Hemp Museum of Amsterdam and Barcelona. It was mostly written by Jules Marshall (Ken Tarant wrote chapter 13), with photography by Floris Leeuwenberg and input from Ben Dronkers, the museum founder, and Gerbrand Korevaar, the museum curator, who served as the book’s Editor-in-Chief.

‘Why use up the forests, which were centuries in the making, and the mines, which required ages to lay down, if we can get the equivalent of forest and mineral products in the annual growth of the hemp fields?’Henry Ford

The book kicks off with a foreword from Ben Dronkers, where he states that the role of his museum (which houses over 9,000 artifacts) is to safeguard the history of cannabis, and to be ‘a source of information, inspiration and wonder for generations to come.’ He summarises some of the changes that have come about since he opened the Amsterdam site in 1987, and how attitudes and knowledge about the plant have changed with the ebb and flow of time. One fascinating and likely surprising example of this is credited as being renowned activist Jack Herer‘s archival discovery; a 1938 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine, in which industrial hemp is touted to be the next big thing in America, beneath the headline: ‘New Billion Dollar Crop’. The second opening passage in Weed of Wonder comes courtesy of former Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Dries Van Agt, who says: ‘The demonstrable danger [of cannabis] to society is much smaller than those of alcohol and tobacco, which cause much more human suffering.‘ He proudly recalls the 1976 amendment to The Netherlands’ Opium Act, causing their revised approach to cannabis sales to become internationally known as ‘the Dutch toleration policy’.

The book’s introduction laments the beginning of the twentieth century, when ‘just as it seemed cannabis would be an equally useful crop in the era of internal combustion and petrochemicals, it was plunged quite deliberately into a veritable dark age.’ One remarkable discovery (among others) by Professor Raphael Michoulam and his team in Israel is highlighted by the book. Naturally occurring cannabinoids, and receptors for them, are produced inside the brains and bodies of all multicellular animals. Such receptors ‘boost or dampen processes that operate in nearly every part of the body’, regulating pain relief among other crucial functions. This is truly remarkable when you consider that cannabis itself is the only plant which produces cannabinoids. Because of this, cannabis is thought to be at least as old as the last common ancestor of all vertebrates and invertebrates, dating back over 500 million years ago. Aside from helping our bodies maintain homeostasis, the plant has countless industrial uses. Towards the end of the book, author Jules Marshall reminds us that hemp is ‘capable of producing paper, textiles, building materials, food, medicine, paint, detergent, varnish, oil, ink, plastics, and fuel‘.

Formal discoveries and classifications of the Indica, Sativa, and Ruderalis plant species are covered, alongside some general history and information in chapter one. The next chapter covers the early history of cannabis around the world, starting around 12,000 years ago with the first traces of domestication in what is now Mongolia and southern Siberia. This fascinating historical tour takes in Japan, Central Asia, India, Egypt, China, Greece and the Roman Empire. The Indian Sanskrit poem, Atharva Veda, lists cannabis as one of five sacred plants. A Hindu work called the Raja Valabba claims that the gods provided cannabis for the human race to ‘attain delight, lose all fear and have their sexual desires excited‘. China’s name for itself was once ‘the land of mulberry and hemp’. Cannabis and silk (produced in part by feeding silkworms mulberries) were both commonly traded on the famous Silk Road routes, stretching from China to the Mediterranean.

Exodus 30 of The Bible describes an anointing or sanctifying oil for people such as kings and priests, which includes the ingredient q’neh bosm. It’s believed this is probably derived from the word ‘cannabis’. The oil Jesus used to heal sick people is thought to have been based on the same mixture. Hashish was popular in the medieval Arab world, where the prophet Mohammed did not ban its use, despite alcohol being strictly forbidden. Arab Doctors of the time used cannabis (or kannab) as a medicine. Hemp fibre was vital for ship construction during The Age of Sail. Johannes Gutenberg‘s revolutionary printing press used hemp-based paper and ink. [If I keep listing early historical tidbits, you’ll start wondering whether this is a proper book review or an endless list of facts, so I’ll move on!]

Suffice it to say, the Western world took much longer to really begin understanding and embracing cannabis, which gained popularity thanks to the likes of visionary Limerick man, Doctor William Brooke O’Shaughnessy. By the late 1800s, Western cities such as New York, Paris and London, began to see the plant as exotic, stylish, intellectual and enlightening. The book goes on to detail connections being formed in the imaginations of influential racist Americans in the early 1900s, who started to associate weed with brown and black people from various ethnic groups. It was therefore to be feared and shunned, according to authority figures of that period. The strong link between cannabis and cultural movements like jazz music, beatnik ‘brotherhoods’ and ‘flower children’ hippies is described in fascinating detail. Sadly, by chapter seven of the book, we’re moving on to growing global prohibition efforts. ‘The Forbidden Plant’ mentions the horrendous injustice of sentencing African-American Roger Davis to 40 years in prison for the possession and sale of eight ounces of cannabis, in 1974. It’s accompanied by a haunting High Times magazine cover of Davis peering at the camera through prison bars.

‘I have been involved with cannabis all my life, and the plant keeps surprising me. People deserve to be educated. There are so many misconceptions, misleading and inaccurate stories, as well as blatant lies, spread by the media. Terrible propaganda against a plant.’ – Ben Dronkers

Perhaps most importantly for modern historians and drug reform activists, this chapter covers all of the key conventions, treaties and laws which made a life with cannabis, including medicinal use and the growing of hemp, increasingly stigmatised and forbidden. The medicinal value cannabis was understood to have was suddenly struck off the international record by a UN ruling in 1951. Generally, such monumental decisions made by politicians of the era were made out of an irrational sense of racist paranoia and fear, based upon no real evidence. It is also thought that they were made with the vested interests of certain industries that competed with cannabis in mind. Figures like Harry J. Anslinger are highlighted as key prohibitionist influencers. Some of their attitudes appear to have remained ingrained in the minds of certain people to this day, including Irish Minister and human barricade to progressive drug reform, Frank Feighan. The book guides us through different areas of pop culture that cannabis left its mark on over the years, before examining Dutch tolerance and its policy changes over the decades in finer detail.

We’re presented with some of Rotterdam and Amsterdam’s finest coffeeshops. Prominent coffeeshop pioneers are profiled; Henk de Vries, the late Kees Hoekert, and ‘The Hash Queen‘, Mila Jansen. Following this, we delve more into cannabis as a part of modern Western healthcare, where at its peak it had ‘at least 2,000 products from over 280 manufacturers’. This would decline immensely in the twentieth century, with the rise of synthetic drug production and less corporate interest in variable plant-derived medications. Chapter 13, by Ken Tarant, is a biography of Ben Dronkers and his life’s work, as seen through three branches; the museum, Sensi Seed Bank, and hemp cultivation and processing company, Hempflax. It also profiles Ben’s family and his most notable museum collaborators who contributed over the years, and in many cases, still do.

‘The Sensi Seed Bank is the most comprehensive cannabis genetics bank in the world… It is a little like preserving the rainforest because we know there are potential medicines there which must not be destroyed.’

– the late Dr. Lester Grinspoon, of Harvard Medical School

Overall, including introductions and credits, Weed of Wonder amounts to 288 pages. It’s packed with information across areas too numerous to cover in this review. It is a high-quality labour of love, formatted in an approachable way that invites readers to dip in and out of reading. It’s full of gorgeous, eye-catching photography and illustrations, and can be bought in either a green or purple hardback cover, with metallic silver or gold title lettering, respectively. It’s unlikely to alienate those with a more casual interest in things, as it avoids overly lengthy or complicated passages. Although ordering the book to Ireland raises its price from €34.50 to a steep €48.75 with mandatory tracked shipping, it is a pleasure from cover to cover and can be thought of as an eye-catching high end investment. Personally, I consider this book a treasure, as well as a testament to the continued passions of Ben Dronkers, his friends and family, and cannabis advocates everywhere by extension.

* The Green Lens would like to thank Gerbrand Korevaar for providing us with a review copy of this book.

Blunt Trauma: The Impact of Stigma on Cannabis Users and the need to Decriminalise Personal Possession in Ireland

Natalie O’Regan is a Master of Law who specialises in criminological theory concerning the stigma of drug use and the societal barriers that prevent people from seeking treatment. Her thesis Blunt Trauma: The Impact of Stigma on Cannabis Users and the need to Decriminalise Personal Possession in Ireland, upholds that decriminalisation of drug use will incur a multitude of health and communal benefits as seen with Portugal’s model of drug reform.

With every passing year, the discussion of cannabis legislation in Ireland becomes more prevalent due to the exposure of archaic and counterproductive laws governing cannabis. This occurs due to those experimenting with the drug for the first time only to realise the hurdles one must jump through to obtain it, or it could simply be a reaction to the avalanche of news cases where people receive a conviction for personal use, almost always for medicinal purposes. The discussion is becoming more prominent due to information about the plant’s benefits reaching those it wouldn’t have before and of course, the coverage of other country’s dealings with the drug and how it benefited them to reform their cannabis legislation. One of the many individuals sharing the truths about cannabis is Natalie O’Regan, whose thesis Blunt Trauma: The Impact of Stigma on Cannabis Users and the need to Decriminalise Personal Possession in Ireland sheds light on Portugal’s drug reform and how it has benefited its citizens as a whole. She focuses on the stigma of criminality that impacts the drug consumer’s life and how decriminalisation of personal possession is the first step of many in seeing Ireland reform its cannabis legislation.

Natalie begins with an introduction on how harm reduction has gained support recently as it serves to address the health and social issues that are rampant from drug use. The support comes from the realisation that the social issues that stem from an arrest are counterproductive in preventing further drug use and subsequently do more harm to the psyche of an individual due to how society views drug convictions. Since 2001, Portugal has been leading by example as they’ve seen numerous societal benefits since successfully decriminalising personal possession of illicit drugs in conjunction with investments into treatment options as well as education and prevention of drug use. The main takeaway from this change was the removal of the stigmas surrounding drug use, allowing for a more fruitful discussion into tackling the social harms associated with it.

Natalie notes that cannabis is the most commonly used drug today and the penalties for consuming it should be lower than harsher illicit drugs. That health should be the main concern for all of those involved but this takes a back seat to the protocol of punishment that society deems to be the only solution in preventing drug use. To combat drug use, medical care should be the first option as we’ve seen with the system we have now, imprisonment doesn’t deter individuals from partaking in drugs. Natalie then sheds light on the enactment of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 which failed to define personal use leaving many in the dark regarding its classification.

Natalie reveals 70% of drug-related incidents were due to possession for personal use according to the Central Statistics Office. These were mainly dealt with fines and suspended sentences though data shows that just under 600 people were imprisoned for drug offences in 2019. Natalie states these figures alone demonstrate the increase in personal use and with it, the increase in criminal penalties. The Garda Adult Caution Scheme was introduced in 2006 which affords the guards to caution an individual as it wouldn’t be in the public interest to prosecute. While personal possession was originally included in the list of offences, it was removed before the scheme was implemented.

Criminalisation has yet to prove itself as a deterrent as drug users are overrepresented in the prison system. Prohibition also fails to reduce drug use and the harms associated with it as the War on Drugs has been exposed as a farce over the last 2 decades. Natalie expands on the international perspective on cannabis which was defined at the 1925 Opium Convention. It had officially become a prohibited drug which has led many countries to share similar laws concerning the governance of cannabis. This stigmatised drug use further, leading us to today where a regulated drug market to address the health risks is now advocated by those who once wanted a drug free world. There was little change in attitudes from the 1998 General Assembly Special Session on Drugs to the one held in 2016 but now there is a new outlook on drug abuse prevention as countries began to shift from criminalisation to harm reduction with the United Nations highlighting the unintended consequences of criminalisation.

The attitude towards drug use has shifted with the introduction of harm reduction principles as treatment alternatives have now taken priority. There are many differences in opinion on harm reduction with critics citing it as a “trojan horse”, nevertheless, many do not support the same views when it comes to the argument of decriminalisation vs reform. This leads us to the crux of Natalie’s dissertation where Portugal’s model has led the gold standard in harm reduction since 2001. Portugal ended penalties for those caught with cannabis for personal use, which has led to an increase in life expectancy and wellbeing for many. A commission comprised of doctors, lawyers, psychologists, and social activists have ensured an educated, well-informed discussion on drug laws which has led Portugal to the model we should be all be envious of. The decriminalisation of personal possession of licit drugs has led to a health centred approach to drug policy as drug possession is now seen as an administrative violation resulting in a fine and recommended treatment as opposed to imprisonment.

Following on, Natalie expands on the Drugs Discussion Commission that saw legal experts, doctors, and social workers distanced themselves from the court system. They opted for a system where an individual will be handed a suspended sentence if they agree to undergo treatment. This was brought forward with heroin addicts in mind, but it is cannabis users who have benefited most. This has resulted in eliminating stigma while encouraging health and treatment plans.

Natalie continues, delineating Portugal’s reformed drug laws which were quick to expose the fictitious bogeyman of addiction as in the wake of reform, there was no increase in drug use. In fact, it had declined with no rise in drug tourism which had been a fear for many detractors and resulted in a lower E.U average of drug use. Drug offences dropped which afforded Portugal to now address most of the social harms associated with drug use by offering treatment-based solutions for which demand had increased exponentially. Despite the success, Natalie notes the reform still faced criticism. Despite the positives, there was concern regarding the amount of investment needed to have any major impact and its success relied heavily on a commitment to provide the tools needed for drug users to gain help. Data showing decriminalisation didn’t ease drug trade was the main point of contention for opponents though the goal of reform wasn’t to tackle the black market but to provide health alternatives to those who needed them most. The predominant worry was that without a deterrent, drug use would increase and become more socially acceptable for others to abuse. This wasn’t the case as Natalie notes drug use actually increased under prohibition, while community engagement and employment flourished under decriminalisation. There was little belief that Portugal would succeed with their proposal but 20 years later, that clearly is not the case as the investment of social and health supports have proven effective.

By addressing and combating the stigma, Portugal has shown the world the benefits of removing it. Natalie then moves onto stigma as a whole where social supports have been key in removing criminal sanctions as criminalisation had shown to maximize the harm of drug use. Natalie sheds light on the Them vs Us mentality stemming from society’s categorization of drug users as “outsiders” which coincides with the narrative that drug users are criminals and must be treated as such in the justice system. How the criminal justice system processes these “outsiders” has negative consequences for the individual as Natalie states punishment and stigmatisation increases the probability of repeat drug offences. This comes full circle with the societal mentality that stems from the criminal justice system classifying drug users as weak-willed addicts.

Natalie delves further into this mindset as labelling establishes how people will be viewed in society. The younger a person is when they come in contact with the criminal justice system, the more likely they are to join a gang or at the very least, offend again. This facilitates divide and pushes people towards criminality. The fear of rejection due to the stereotyping of drug users makes it easy to place blame on the individual which impacts their prospects. Natalie then focuses on how employment establishes a new social identity for a person but if they have a conviction to their name, the process of being hired becomes a major hurdle. If we were to remove the power of the criminal label, we remove the stigma.

This is compounded by how unprepared health professionals are in treating addiction as Natalie expands on the barrier of attitudes pharmacy staff unconsciously emit towards those who want to seek help. This, along with the internalised stigma leads people to conceal their drug use and decide against seeking help due to low self-esteem and self-image. This is further intensified by the isolation and self-hatred many instil within themselves due to how the stigma affects them, which finds people seeking “social shelter” within the shackles of drug abuse. Those that do make the leap to seek treatment are usually hindered from completing it due to this stigma. By seeking treatment, you announce to the world you have a problem and for many, this is a major obstacle. By destigmatising these stereotypes, we prevent this barrier from forming as Portugal successfully achieved leading to an increased demand for treatment by 147%.

Natalie maintains that promoting health and wellbeing is the key to tackling drug abuse as the strategy is pointless if decriminalisation isn’t ratified. Recovery and rehabilitation are the appropriate services needed where the focus will be put on the needs of the person. Natalie acknowledges that localised and community-based treatment options should be available, though currently, access is limited as GPs are less likely to accept drug users as clients. With a focus on addiction education, compassion will improve among health professionals. This, along with a regulated drug education initiative for the most vulnerable will outline the dangers of drug abuse as shock tactics haven’t proven to be as effective as many say. Portugal has demonstrated it is possible to achieve this as they now have comprehensive education based on the principle that drug users are not criminals.

Portugal has shown that decriminalisation has reduced the fear the general public has towards drug users with people now more likely to encourage users to obtain assistance. Even if an individual seeks treatment, the stigmatisation of social integration can undermine the progress made during drug treatment. Natalie rounds off her thesis by focusing on the need for family engagement, community action and addressing the attitudes and perceptions of the public whilst promoting education of harm reduction which Portugal has shown to be a successful path in combatting drug addiction. We can’t rely on the criminal justice system as the stigma label associated with its proceedings has shown to be ineffective. Natalie O’Regan’s Blunt Trauma – Effective Stigma on Cannabis Users and Why We Need to Decriminalise Personal Possession in Ireland is a comprehensive view of the current landscape of drug use, addiction, and treatment with Portugal’s success story at the helm. Probation has failed and the War on Drugs has stumbled to the finish line with nothing to show for it. With a change in mindset and an onus put on understanding addiction, we may find ourselves benefiting from the same system that affords Portugal to care for its people regardless of the stigmas or judgement that have enveloped the issue.

You can find Blunt Trauma on Research Gate

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