From left: Jay Mills, Chanda Macias, Shawnta Hopkins-Greene and Jennifer Culpepper meet regularly to talk about how they should discuss marijuana with their kids. (Jabin Botsford, The Washington Post)

Still taboo? Pot industry moms form support group

WASHINGTON — Before Chanda Macias drops her 6-year-old son off at school, she spritzes some Febreze on herself. If anyone sniffs a trace of marijuana on her, the mother of four worries she would be labeled an unfit parent – or at least a mother unfit to host play dates.

Macias, a former cell biology specialist at Howard University, left her job last year to foray into Washington’s nascent pot industry and open a medical marijuana dispensary. Her business is legal, but the stigma has her questioning how to discuss her profession with her children.

In the male-dominated industry, there are few mothers she can turn to. Macias connected with other moms in the local marijuana business, forming a support group to navigate child-rearing in the murky age of legalization.

The four mothers meet every other month or so and regularly call each other with questions ranging from how to avoid glorifying marijuana to stashing pot-related possessions during play dates.

The parents say they are proud of their professions, but don’t want their children to be inundated with marijuana talk – or, worse, be judged at school by adults and children who disapprove of their parents’ work. Three of the mothers live in Maryland, where recreational marijuana use is illegal, and say they are not cannabis users.

“I have a PhD and MBA, but I know if I pick him up smelling like marijuana, everyone will ask him, ‘What does your mom do?’ ” Macias said about her 6-year-old son, as she sat with other mothers during a recent gathering. She owns the National Holistic Healing Center here, which has served as the group’s meeting place.

“Oh, the dreaded occupation question,” said Shawnta Hopkins-Greene, chief executive of CannX, a D.C. medical marijuana consulting company. “I always just say I’m an entrepreneur.”

Such concerns aren’t unique to Washington, or even mothers, as people across the country consider whether to enter the fledgling marijuana industry.

Leah Heise, chief executive of Women Grow, a national networking group aimed at women in the marijuana industry, said she frequently fields concerns about the challenges of juggling pot and parenthood. Her advice to moms: Be transparent about the drug and profession.

“It can be a little scary, but I tell them that if they really believe that cannabis should be legalized, which I do, that the only way it’s going to happen is to convince other moms just like us that having a legalized cannabis industry isn’t going to change our children into Sean Penn’s character from ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High,’ ” Heise said. “We as women have the ability to change the conversation politically like no one else does because we’re the moms.”

Heise said she receives more questions from mothers in newly established marijuana markets, such as the District of Columbia, than somewhere like California, which legalized medical marijuana in 1996.

Medical marijuana was legalized in D.C. in 2013, and 4,283 residents have a medical marijuana license. Recreational pot became legal in February 2015 after 70 percent of D.C. residents voted in favor of a ballot measure that legalized growing and possessing small amounts of marijuana. But because of congressional meddling, it’s not legal to sell or purchase the drug.

Maryland legalized medical marijuana three years ago, but the program has been embroiled in controversy and remains in the early stages of making the drug available to patients. Virginia passed legislation in 2015 allowing the use of medical marijuana oil for people suffering from severe epilepsy.

The drug, however, is still illegal in the eyes of the federal government.

“Having kids while we’re in this industry is kind of taboo,” said Macias, who lives in Fort Washington, Md.

The mothers have different philosophies in how they broach the topic with their children. With her youngest, age 6, Macias refers to marijuana as medicine, and tells him that “marijuana” is an inappropriate word to use.

Macias and her husband, who also works at the dispensary, categorize some marijuana-related words alongside prohibited curse words. Banned words include “dispensary” and “pre-roll,” as in a pre-rolled joint that is sold at the business here. Her young son thinks she works at a pharmacy.

Her concerns are practical. She doesn’t want his classmates or teachers to think she is a drug dealer or that she uses marijuana in front of him. A first grader, after all, could have trouble distinguishing in conversation that his mother doesn’t sell marijuana to everyone – only to those with a medical marijuana license.

“He knows it as the medicine,” Macias said. “So when he has a cold, he’s like, ‘Mom, do I need the medicine?’ And I say, ‘No, no, you need a cough drop.’ ”

Hopkins-Greene, of Columbia, Md., said her 10-year-old son knows about the drug and its controversies, and she tries to answer his questions in age-appropriate ways.

Jay Mills, who lives in Washington, teaches classes on how to cook edibles and grow marijuana. She gardens at home with her 3-year-old son and he helps with the tomato, onion and, yes, marijuana plants. As he grows older, she plans to be transparent about marijuana and her profession. But there are boundaries: His friends who come over can’t see the marijuana plant.

“He wanted to show his playmate the indoor plant. I’m like, ‘No, no no,’ ” Mills said. “So I now have locked the basement door to take care of that.”

Jennifer Culpepper, of Annapolis, still isn’t sure how she wants to discuss her new profession with her 7- and 9-year-old children. They haven’t asked questions, so she hasn’t said much. Culpepper, a branding and market consultant, recently started a second company, Brand Joint, which focuses on branding marijuana-related products. Macias’ dispensary is one of Culpepper’s clients.

“I’m still developing how I want to handle it with my kids, and for me, it’s key to hear from other mothers,” Culpepper said.

Her daughter once had a school assignment to write a business letter and tried to write it on “Brand Joint” letterhead. Culpepper swapped it with the letterhead of her non-marijuana-related branding firm.

When she started Brand Joint, she hesitated to publicize it on social media, even though she has shared her other company’s Facebook page with friends.

“Now I’m like, this is who we are, and I’m not doing anything illegal,” she said.

The four mothers agree that marijuana is a complicated topic for any parent to discuss with their children. They want their children to understand its medicinal benefits but don’t want them overexposed to it.

“For me, my challenge with my kids is everything is black and white with them, nothing is gray,” Culpepper said. “Everything is good or bad. There is a lot of gray area here.”