What the unfortunate cannabis, abortion parallels teach us


Collegian | Dylan Tusinski

Paul Brull, Cannabis Desk Director

Editor’s Note: This content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

On June 24 the Supreme Court of the United States of America overturned Roe v. Wade in the landmark case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, rescinding Americans’ federal right to abortions. Since this case, 16 states have either severely restricted abortion access or outright banned the medical procedure. Other states still protect this right. 


How does this bear relevance to the cannabis section or the Title IX edition of The Collegian? There is a set of unfortunate parallels between national dialogue about abortion and cannabis. Both exist in a nonfederalized system that severely penalizes people in one state for a perfectly legal action one state over. Both carry with them similar national dialogues about the merits of values versus public health. Both restrictions disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minorities. By no means do I wish to conflate these issues; they are not the same. Their similarities, though, provide some insight and bring some relevant perspective to the issues.

Abortion is medicine. There are many cases in which an abortion is the safest way to ensure the health of a pregnant person, especially in cases of likely miscarriage. Cannabis is medicine too. It can sometimes alleviate PTSD symptoms when nothing else can, it can help manage pain without opioids and it can treat epilepsy, among other things.

Even if a number of people you know get medical cannabis cards for perhaps less legitimate reasons, there are just as many people suffering from all manner of mental illness and chronic pain who received the help they needed from cannabis. Even though medical use is sometimes justified under dubious medical claims, the other side of the coin is denial of treatment to those who really need it.

“If we let them, politicians will be more than willing to restrict our autonomy. They will stoke fear to control the constituencies they don’t want to vote or influence politics, and their greatest weapon is despair.”

Abortion is not dissimilar in this way. Restrictive abortion laws, even when they do provide for medical exceptions in extreme circumstances, usually tie doctors’ hands. The doctors are often unable to provide treatment early lest they risk malpractice claims or even murder charges in some states. Women in desperate need of abortion care may not be able to receive it, endangering them greatly.

Health care, though, is just the tip of the iceberg. 

Recreational cannabis and nonmedically necessary abortions carry similar social justice implications. The people most affected by denial of access to both tend to be disproportionately poor and of racial and/or ethnic minority status. In the case of cannabis, this emerges in an incredibly punitive justice system that leverages use in these communities to disproportionately target and imprison people of color. Abortion restriction on a state-by-state basis makes it obnoxiously harder and more costly for richer communities but even harder for poorer communities in abortion-restricted states to get this service, creating similar socioeconomic disparities.

Both also share a state of exception for the white and affluent. A white person is less likely to be indicted on a charge of cannabis possession without even accounting for the socioeconomic access to legal services more frequently enjoyed by richer individuals. When it comes to abortion, a similar pattern emerges. White and affluent people can more frequently access care and jump through the necessary hoops to attain it.

So far, I have created a loose connection between these two topics, but what are the lessons learned from this parallel?

The first is the “why” behind access restriction. Both abortion’s and cannabis’s legal statuses are often wrapped in debate about each’s moral legitimacy rather than impacts. Unsurprisingly, these morals hinge on who they affect. President Richard Nixon couldn’t directly target “Blacks and hippies,” but he could target them through drug laws. The Supreme Court couldn’t target “the modern woman,” but they could target their health care. By leveraging biases against these groups, politicians create effective policies to police and restrict autonomy while increasing their own power.

The second lesson is hope. Lately, whenever either abortion or cannabis policy is put to the voters on a ballot, it almost always turns to support for either, even in states with incredibly dominant conservative majorities. This last election cycle, Missouri — a state with a 106-48 Republican supermajority in its House of Representatives — approved recreational cannabis. Last August, my home state of Kansas upheld its constitutional right to abortion despite heavy conservative leanings. If the votes for both issues are in these states, they’re there to make a change. 

If we let them, politicians will be more than willing to restrict our autonomy. They will stoke fear to control the constituencies they don’t want to vote or influence politics, and their greatest weapon is despair. When we stop fighting and become afraid, we lose. Laws like Title IX are the product of our bravery, and we have to remember the votes are on our side. 

Reach Paul Brull at cannabis@collegian.com or on Twitter @csucollegian.