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Women are carving out their own space in the cannabis conversation. Who better than comedian, TV powerhouse, and activist – Chelsea Handler – to lead the charge?
Written by Rebecca Tucker
When Chelsea Handler talks, she talks fast. And when she’s done talking, it happens even faster.
Seriously, ask her anything — about Donald Trump, for instance, or her role as a comedian in mobilizing the general public towards the polls. Handler launches into a pointed, poignant, punchy retort, no matter the question, and it seems like she could go on forever. And then, just as purposefully, she stops.
It knocks you off balance more than it keeps you on your toes, but then again, that’s Chelsea Handler — she’s always been a bit of a trip.
Which makes her the perfect celebrity to become the latest businesswoman for a line of cannabis products as the premium market for the industry blows up.
“I think that it’s the way of the future,” Handler said recently over the phone from Los Angeles. The next day, she is scheduled to appear at the World Cannabis Congress, an invitation-only industry gathering presented by Civilized, out of their hometown headquarters in Saint John, New Brunswick. “It’s a healthy lifestyle. You know, any psychologist I’ve spoken to was like, ‘Oh, I’d much rather you take this at night than take a sleeping pill.’ And it’s great for creativity for me.”
Handler is no stranger to substance experimentation, having dedicated considerable airtime on her erstwhile Netflix series Chelsea Does to taking drugs — from cannabis to ayahuasca — on camera, with varied (and variously hilarious) results. But she’d recently taken a breather from smoking, returning to a retail climate that allowed her to determine more accurately what she took, how much, when, and with what effect.
“It’s been so liberating for so many of my friends who have anxiety to be able to use it for sleep, and to know how much to take,” Handler says of the changing landscape of marijuana products. “When you wake up in the morning and you’re an anxious person, you know you can take a microdose of CBD, feel amazing, and just take the edge off. It’s so much better than taking medication or anything from the pharmaceutical industry, [and] I’ve just become really passionate about it. Plus you don’t get a hangover.”
What sets Handler’s product line apart from others — like, say, Snoop Dogg’s brand, Leafs by Snoop, or Willie Nelson’s product line, Willie’s Reserve (which Handler herself sampled on an episode of Chelsea Does) — is its target audience: women, pointedly if not exclusively. Somewhat tellingly, a cursory Google search for studies on women’s cannabis use brings up several pages of warnings concerning its use during pregnancy; for men, you’re more likely to be served up search results on how smoking the plant improves sex.
“I think that a lot of women have had [a negative] experience with edibles or marijuana and they kind of just opted out because alcohol seems more controllable,” she says. “But now, since all these products have become so truthful … you have control.”
Handler’s as-yet-unnamed line of products will be grouped into three distinct groupings, for three types of consumers: one for cannabis users who need to take the edge off first thing in the morning (Handler notes this is ideal for those who deal with anxiety); one for what she calls the “five-o-clock hour”, for those looking for a gigglier, sillier type of buzz; and another for those who have difficulty sleeping.
In another nod to its target demo, it’ll also be low-cal: Handler says her edibles will veer more towards hard candies and smaller, single-serving treats than, say, decadent chocolate chip cookies and brownies. (She cites a “Listerine strip-like” cannabis delivery device that she’d tried recently as inspiration.) Not that women don’t like the occasional chocolate chip cookie; but, Handler says, she believes women are more likely to gravitate towards an edible product where a healthy lifestyle — on a holistic basis — is taken into account: “safe and light,” is a phrase Handler uses to describe the product.
The impetus for this approach, Handler says, is “lived experience:” when she started using cannabis products again, she was thrilled with the amount of choice — and control — that the marketplace now presents, with legalization having taken place in her home state of California. But she also notes that legalization poses its own issues — recently, Handler spoke out on Twitter on the occasion of Donald Trump’s pardoning of Alice Marie Johnson, writing “What else you got? Let’s commute the sentences of all African-American first-time drug offenders.”
Handler doesn’t plan to weave activism into her line of products — “Prison reform is not part of my brand, no,” she says — but the comedian has recently pivoted towards activism full time in her personal and professional life, announcing late last year that she would be taking time away from Hollywood to focus on soft punditry on a full-time basis.
“There are really good people in politics and there are really bad people in politics,” she says. “Unfortunately Donald Trump isn’t even really in politics, and he somehow landed at the top of the heap. So, for me, it’s an emergency.”
The 2016 election result’s effect on Handler was profound, but her actions aren’t exactly uncharacteristic. A cursory scroll through her Twitter feed reveals a multi-hyphenate whose political leanings run deep; indeed, even on her Netflix talk show, Chelsea, political commentary – was on full display. Handler knows she isn’t a politician per se, but she acknowledges that her position of privilege allows her to do much more than crack jokes on TV.
So far, what Handler is doing has been relatively low key, but no less impactful for it: she actively (and frequently) disseminates information on where and how to register to vote, and has links on her website’s homepage to donation sites for Planned Parenthood and the Karam Foundation, a charity that supports Syrian youth. Her profile on Countable.us, a media and policy literacy site, is jam-packed with information on immigration-policy protests, government spending, and which candidates Handler herself supports.
Handler’s personal political agenda is reflected in her activism, of course: “My goal,” she says, “is to get women elected. We need minorities, we need gays, lesbians, trans people, and women in office, period. We need to be represented. We have to represent the people that live in this country.”
The message is that time’s up, not just for the men who have largely dominated political conversations in Washington and beyond, but for A-listers who have demanded change while resting on their laurels; in cannabis, as in politics, the mobilization is being led by women.
This story is part of our Civilized series from our September 2018 issue. Click here for more content from the series.