Breaking the grass ceiling : race, gender, and sexuality in the U.S. legal cannabis industry
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This study examines the experiences of women who work in legal cannabis to understand how what it means to use or distribute cannabis is changing in the transition from prohibition to legalization. Drawing on 17 in-depth interviews, I argue that women’s claims that they are engaged in professional, ethical, legitimate labor constitute a moral enterprise that contests definitions of their work as deviant and criminal. Although these claims are ostensibly color- and gender-blind, I suggest that they actually confer racialized and gendered meanings on cannabis that shore up the hegemony of white patriarchy in the industry. First, I show that my participants talk about customers and products in ways that redefine cannabis as socially acceptable for use by women and by people who are white and middle- and upper-class. Next, I suggest that individuals whose embodiments align with racialized and gendered ideals of professionalism can more easily enter the industry without experiencing shame, guilt, or stigma. Finally, I show that some white women describe sexual harassment in the industry by implicitly drawing on tropes of black and brown men as sexually deviant. Considering how race, gender, and sexuality constitute definitions of deviance and normality is important when answering the question of how an illicit labor market is reconfigured during legalization. This study also adds to the literature on work and organizations by investigating how an organization that is historically associated with black and brown masculinity is reconfigured and comes to be associated with white femininity.