At least 70 percent of state's medical-use list is male. Why the gender gap exists is open to debate.
One by one, marijuana advocates walked to the microphone last week to testify before a legislative panel about a bill concerning driving under the influence of drugs.
The first 10 approached. Nine of them were men.
The procession, though coincidental, underscored a persistent truth: When it comes to marijuana, it's a dude-fest. Now, newly released figures about Colorado's medical-marijuana registry bolster that men gravitate toward marijuana more than women.
"Women may be more uncomfortable with the whole concept of going to a dispensary, which can be scary until you've been in one," said Jill Lamoureux, a Boulder dispensary owner who was the one woman to testify in that first group of 10. "You may have kids in school. You may just have more of a consciousness about what being on that registry would mean."
The numbers, released last week by the state health department, provide a monthly look at how Colorado's medical-marijuana registry changed as it underwent staggering growth.
Between January 2009 and June 2010 — the most recent month for which statistical breakdowns are available — the registry added more than 90,000 people, jumping from about 5,000 patients to more than 95,000. The state estimates there are currently around 120,000 people on the registry, about 2 percent of the state's total population.
During the year-and-a-half sampled, the makeup of the registry evolved. For instance, "severe pain" grew from being listed on 87 percent of patients' marijuana recommendations to 94 percent of them. During the same stretch, cancer, glaucoma and HIV/AIDS all saw their proportions on the registry shrink.
One statistic, though, hardly budged: Men always made up far more of the registry than women. Not once during the 18 months did men make up less than 70 percent of medical-marijuana patients.
The gender gap in marijuana is surprisingly durable.
An article in the most recent issue of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis notes that 73 percent of Californians seeking medical-marijuana recommendations are men.
The gap also occurs in recreational marijuana use, where the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 63 percent of regular marijuana users were men. In Europe, a 2005 report noted that adult men were more likely to have used marijuana than adult women in every European Union country.
Mason Tvert, the head of the pro-marijuana group SAFER, suggested traditional gender structures are the cause.
"There's always been this stigma attached to marijuana for women," Tvert said. "It's just a very socio-cultural situation."
Women, Tvert hypothesized, are expected to be responsible nurturers, a role many might see as incompatible with using marijuana.
Cindy Johnson, a 53-year-old medical-marijuana patient with multiple sclerosis, suggested a different possibility for the gender gap in medical-marijuana patients. Doctors, she said, might not be as comfortable talking to women about cannabis.
"If you have a younger doctor talking about this with an older woman," she said, "they're going to be perceived as a drug dealer."
But Johnson said she had no hesitation when she asked her doctor about medical marijuana, then made her first trip to a dispensary.
"If I'm going to go do something, I'm going to just go do it," she said.
By John Ingold
The Denver Post
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