The smoky clouds of 4/20 seem to never fade in Denver. Here in Colorado ~ one of the 1st states to legalize recreational cannabis, and across the U.S., women are routinely punished for consuming cannabis while pregnant. No, these aren’t your average “marijuana moms”. Many of these pregnant people are black or brown, and poor. Elephant Circle’s Indra Lusero and Heather Thompson join us to share their birth justice vision for all pregnant people and their families, including those that use cannabis in any way.
Elephant Circle is inspired by elephants who give birth within a circle of support for the entire period immediately before or after birth, also known as the perinatal period. Their work offers legal and scientific-based advocacy to support families of every kind.
Although cannabis use is not illegal anywhere, Lusero and Thompson often hear from folks who are pregnant or recently postpartum and facing legal trouble or the threat of legal trouble, due to their cannabis use.
"We hear from a wide range of people in this position, from rural to urban, younger to older, first pregnancy to multiple pregnancies, from regular to occasional users, to people who use recreationally and those who use medicinally."
Follow up with these families is often in the role as a "legal doula" by helping them strategize, with support, education and information in navigating the legal systems of the State of Colorado.
Lusero and Thompson agree that the current state of science and law is far removed from the needs of Elephant Circle's clientele.
"The public health literature is inaccurate, which leads to mistrust, alienation, and stigma. People want reliable information and work hard to find it. The laws are applied inconsistently and with bias, and often ignore the best data available. The laws themselves are doing damage to families. Families are traumatized by child welfare investigations," Lusero said.
Historically, many cultures regard plants as remedy for their natural healing properties. In the age of legalization, the medicinal qualities of cannabis are marketed and sold, yet not available to pregnant people without punishment. Thompson, who has a background in molecular and cellular biology, says the boom of "big pharma" has taken a toll on the use of plant medicines.
"Cannabis in its whole plant form is scheduled as a schedule I substance (the most dangerous, with no medicinal potential)," Thompson stated. "Interestingly, most of the sched I substances can be used in ceremony. However Marinol, the synthetic THC, is schedule III. Handy! Also, the FDA does not like to regulate whole plants (think herbal medicine) - they prefer isolated or synthesized compounds."
Lusero, trained as a reproductive justice attorney, says the needs of pregnant people were never taken into account in the creation of the system, the services, the research, or the interventions.
"And really this disconnect is part of the bigger problem in our perinatal health care system where interventions that are proven to be dangerous or ineffective are overused while interventions with greater demonstrated benefits and less risks are underused."
Elephant Circle is working strategically to tackle systems of power and oppression particularly concerning our healthcare and legal systems with vision; a birth justice vision.
"Birth justice occurs when everyone is equally capable of self-determination during this powerful and important time, when their self-determination is supported and amplified," Elephant Circle asserts.
I met Indra and Heather through my internship with Elephant Circle. I’ve always been amazed by their work and many years later nothing has changed about that. Many thanks you two!
Unearthing Tradition is a reproductive justice organization dedicated to addressing modern issues with ancestral practices through a continuous process of rediscovery.