On January 11, 2019, Jessica Bonilla and her business partners—a fancy way to say her husband and brother—learned they’d won one of Ontario’s coveted first-round cannabis retail lottery licenses. It changed her life.
Jessica was a daily consumer before she won the lottery and, like many women, felt stigmatized. “When I was younger, I felt worried about using cannabis and being judged by the non-users who knew, referring to me as a ‘stoner,’” she says. “When I became a mother, it took a while before I allowed myself to use cannabis again. I felt I had to ‘grow up’ in the eyes of society or I would not be taken seriously in my new role.”
People obviously consume cannabis for many reasons—to relax, to have a laugh with some friends, for inspiration when cooking or for whatever it is they want to do. For Jessica, she has replaced her glass of wine after the kids go to bed with a joint. But she says there’s a stigma attached to being a mother and using cannabis. Most people would agree that society wouldn’t frown on a mom enjoying a glass or two of chardonnay at the end of a long day, but smoke a joint and the discrimination is felt immediately. And it’s wrong.
“The stigma is the answer to so many questions,” Jessica says. “In Canadian society, cannabis was buried for a long time and research was limited. People need time to see how legalization evolves, how it affects them, and they need to learn the facts through open research. Despite not feeling as comfortable as I would like to smoking my joint in my own backyard, surrounded by my skeptical non-consuming neighbours, I know this is changing. I can see it. I am so excited to be involved in this unique industry.”
As a mum, I feel more responsibility to educate the people. The plant is legal because of its potential, so let's be honest about that potential and not hypocritical.
Citing Gandhi’s “Be the change you want to see,” Jessica realizes that beyond the thrill of being in business for herself after a decade in the classroom, she has a role to play in changing societal ideas about cannabis and motherhood. Women, mothers included, need to know they’re not alone in enjoying the plant.
“As a mum, I feel more responsibility to educate people. The plant is legal because of its potential, so let’s be honest about that potential and not be hypocritical or discriminatory,” she says. “Legalization requires patience, but in order to challenge the stigma, the limits have to be pushed back little by little. Educate people around you and use responsibly.”
Jessica Bonilla is the owner of the Niagara Herbalist. For more on the Niagara Herbalist, and all of the legal dispensaries where Papers is distributed, please see our Retailers section.