Seven months after the legalization of recreational marijuana, one would expect Oregonians to be open about their use of the drug. Nationally, the state is considered predominantly “blue” and cannabis-friendly.

But many in Oregon still conceal pot use from partners, employers, friends and children. They say the drug has yet to become truly socially acceptable.

“Lisa” (not her real name) has used marijuana “recreationally” to address anxiety and chronic pain for years. She says, “I hide the fact that I smoke, even though it is now legal.”

Lisa lost her job because of cannabis; during a medical exam following a work injury, a routine urinalysis, “came up dirty” and her employer found out. “I was their most valuable employee – and I was let go.”

She is raising a young daughter, and notes, “People always seem to shame parents, especially mothers, who smoke.” She uses cannabis responsibly, never in front of her child, but says, “It doesn’t seem to matter who you are, what you do, or where you grew up. Once people find out you smoke, they are disappointed.” She lives in fear her daughter might be taken away from her.

Another user who asked not to be identified actually wrote a Letter to the Editor in her town in the mid-’70s, arguing for legalization. Now, although her two adult daughters know she uses the drug recreationally – “my husband requested to be kept in the dark.” So her current use is hidden. “This issue isn’t big enough for any type of interventions or separation,” she says. “But it’s a disappointment to me.”

What’s surprising about these stories is that Oregon has a long history of citizen approval of the drug. Medicinal cannabis was sanctioned in 1998 when voters affirmed Measure 67, allowing the cultivation and use of marijuana for certain medical conditions. Sixteen years later, citizens approved the use of recreational cannabis for adults over 21 with the overwhelming passage of Measure 91 in 2014.

Added to that, the marijuana business is conducted in full view; the Oregon Liquor Control Commission oversees both recreational and medicinal marijuana. Every aspect of legal production and retail sales involves licenses, testing and regulation.

Yet the stigma remains.

A nurse’s experience

Nathalie Rotz has 25-years of medical laboratory background. A former phlebotomy teacher and registered LVN, she used cannabis for the first time in October 2015 after suffering more than seven months of debilitating nausea, diarrhea and pain from two diseases of the stomach and colon.

“Marijuana was actually suggested by my primary care provider,” she says. “I’d never tried marijuana in my whole life. I grew up very conservative and Catholic. But when you’re desperate you’re willing to try anything.” Rotz found that for her serious conditions, cannabis was “the only treatment that wouldn’t mean permanent tremors as a side effect.”

She purchased one gram on October 1st; the marijuana helped immediately. Her pain and waves of nausea stopped for two hours, allowing her to eat a half banana and a small cup of applesauce.

It may not sound like much, but “that was the most I’d eaten in over a week. I used to watch my family eat and cry, I was so hungry.”

Rotz can’t legally practice nursing if she uses cannabis. In a few months she will have a decision to make; if her medical problems resolve, she will go off marijuana and return to her successful nursing career.

“I’m actually struggling with the thought of going back to nursing and having to push pills,” she says, “When I know that there is a much better alternative.” She’s considering opening her own dispensary “with a nursing focus, as well as a 24-hour hotline to legitimate medical marijuana patients” for support and information.

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Use validated for massage therapist

Cora Fields has worked as a licensed massage therapist for three years, including the last eight months with LIV Wellness in downtown Salem. She says she’s noticed a change since legalization, with more clients requesting, or bringing in, cannabis oils to massage appointments.

“People feel more comfortable coming to me for massages with cannabis oil now,” Fields says. She’s comfortable with the product herself; her mother, Cindy Cusick co-owns Herbal Grasslands dispensary in South Salem “and people are aware I’m open in my belief in how cannabis can help.”

Clients have told Fields that cannabis oil works better than any other oil or lotion for pain relief. One client had significant lower back pain from a work injury. “With cannabis oil, I was able to apply more pressure needed for these points to release. So it definitely helps her get through her daily routine.”

As education spreads, Fields expects more of her clients will request cannabis treatment.

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Salem businessman empowered by legalization

Prior to October 1st, Salem business owner Justin Doyle didn’t use much cannabis. The “simple logistics of purchasing, transporting, and storing illegal products was not worth the hassle to me,” he says.

But after ‘recreational’ was legalized, Doyle began to incorporate it into his life, using “high CBD Indica strains to relax and ease the stress of my high energy, on-my-feet kind of work.” He appreciates how the drug helps him break out of habitual patterns of thoughts. “One of the most impactful effects I have found is this—it helps bring me back to the present moment of life.”

Doyle is the one Oregonian we spoke to who feels completely open about his use of cannabis now, “In the same way I am not ashamed that I enjoy a whiskey or glass of wine.”

Karen; half in, half out

“I have one foot in and one foot out of the closet,” says “Karen” (not her real name). Her employers don’t know about her recreational use: “In my line of work,” she says, “reputation means a lot. I respect my bosses too much to…potentially cause an uncomfortable social setting for them, their colleagues or their clients.”

Though Karen’s family knows she enjoys marijuana recreationally, “I keep it vague…I might say ‘only sometimes’ or to help with panic attacks. But let’s be real; I smoke every day and they just don’t want to hear that. Ultimately, I do feel like cannabis use is still taboo.”

A grower speaks

Marion County resident “D” has farmed cannabis for several years. “I’m an ‘80s kid,” he says, “so things like D.A.R.E. and ‘McGruff the Crime Dog’ were prevalent in my elementary school. Cannabis, being Schedule 1, was always depicted right next to LSD and heroin.”

Popular culture reinforced this stigma, D says, “And it worked. I didn’t start my personal relationship with cannabis until I was an adult and obtained a better education on the subject.”

He’s glad that, with the help of expert testimony from organizations like the Oregon Sungrown Growers Guild, and its testimony before the Oregon Legislature about the true benefits of the plant, “cannabis is steadily gaining more and more ground towards acceptance every day.”