Meet the mom who co-founded a cannabis resource for parents
Jenn Lauder, an educator and writer based in Portland, co-founded the parent-focused platform Splimm with the intention of giving mothers and fathers a place to learn more about how cannabis can be incorporated into a healthy, happy family life. Here, she shares her journey in creating the site and how she navigated through the judgement to help people come to a better understanding about pot, parenting and stigma.
How did Splimm come to be?
I guess the journey started a little bit before even our entrée in the cannabis industry, which was about four years ago at this point. Prior to pivoting, I was a classroom teacher for a long time. I taught at independent progressive schools for about a decade; I also did some teacher training at charter schools in Baltimore. My career up until that point had been very focused on children and families. I had done some political advocacy both in college and afterward surrounding better outcomes for both women and children, particularly those who live in poverty and urban areas. So, always on my radar has been the idea that if we can make things better for women and children then, there would be a ripple effect that will come out of a society with the ability to create a lot of change.
When we were thinking about cannabis, my brother was living in Baltimore and had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. His neurologist told him that there are options for his health and wellness that are not available to him in a state like Maryland, but if he were to consider a place like Colorado, he would have access to something that although may not be a cure for him, would make his quality of life better. So he moved to Denver to become a medical cannabis patient and was living there when legalization was happening there and in Washington.
My husband actually had the idea that we, as writers and as educators, could really be storytellers within this movement and could accomplish a lot of things. As people living on the east coast, we saw that the culture was just really behind the science. People on the east coast still thought that cannabis is some terrible gateway drug ruining people’s lives. And at the same time you have the War on Drugs in places like Baltimore, so it is actually no surprise that people are equating the two because they don’t have this nuanced perception of what cannabis is in relation to these other substances.
In these places where regulation was happening, the sky was not falling, you know – the sky is still up in Denver and Seattle. And we also wanted to show that this looks really different than you think it looks. You know, these consumers look different than you think. There is a bigger story here, there is a broader depth of people, there is a diversity that we are really missing out on because we are stuck in stoner culture and we have these indoctrinated ideas that really revolve around stigma.
Pretty early on, we thought parenting would be a pretty good hook. We had a parenting column we had written a couple times for Weekend Review Kit; it did well. I had this educational background and we were also homeschooling our daughter at that point. Our life was very much that of a parent. Our friends were our kid’s friend’s parents, and our social groups were young families living in urban areas. We were both navigating the journey of parenting and family making and thought others were maybe curious about how cannabis could benefit their lives. Maybe they were taking a break from alcohol because their doctor told them to cool it, or after they had a kid they did not want to drink that much because they felt out of control. We really thought there were both lacking resources for parents that were consumers, and certainly not a platform that showed cannabis-consuming families in the way that we wanted to show them. And that is as everyday families, as your neighbors, cousins, aunts, uncles who happen to use this – I don’t even want to call it a substance – this tool to the benefit of many aspects of their lives.
So that was pretty early on, definitely 2014; we did some recognizance and got to know different people who were writing in this space. At the same time, we were a little reluctant to put ourselves out there in the public view as cannabis-consuming parents in a prohibition state. We were involved in the medical cannabis program in Maryland, working with a team that wanted to be licensed; we were very much a part of testifying and going to industry meetings. We moved to Oregon – we’ve been here for two years now – and the plan was, once we get here and once we get settled, we are going launch because it is a media company that people need. So that is what we did!
What do you hear from your audience, and how do you navigate your desire to educate people while acknowledging that a lot of the information presented is anecdotal, or maybe there is only one study one the subject so far?
Well, first of all, we are pretty clear that we are not a medical resource. And even though we certainly have an audience that uses for medical purposes, and even parents whose children use cannabis for medical reasons, by large our audience is an audience of folks who choose cannabis for social and recreational use.
But I think one thing we do is that we are very clear that we are speaking from our own experiences. The platform we’ve established is very much, ‘Here’s what works for us’, so if you are looking for any kind of medical advice or scientific advice, there are certainly places we can direct you but that is not really our wheelhouse. We steer our content a little more towards the culture, reviews, and profiles of people. But we do definitely get inquiries from folks – particularly those who are in Midwest prohibition states – who are either looking for products, or looking for advice. In that kind of situation, I cannot in good conscience tell people to break the law. In those situations, it really comes down to providing support in terms of information, and from there, I advise people to get involved at a local level. People should get to know their local advocates because even though it really seems like an uphill battle, compared to a lot of other issues in our history there is a lot of momentum behind it.
I will say, one thing I do think we have evidence on is the way that the War on Drugs has destroyed families and communities. I think that if we even take the conversation of consumption out of the equation and just talk about legalization and regulation, there is evidence there that it would be better for our families in the long run. And of course it will have positive effects on individual health as well.
What have people’s reactions been when they hear what you do? Have you noticed that it has changed significantly more recently, or do you think that there is still a lot of work to do in terms of normalization?
That’s a great question because it is super complicated. I feel like I had a pretty different experience than other moms who have reached out to me; I’ve actually had a pretty positive experience. I came from a world where I was a teacher, and I think teachers are a very trusted people. And so, it was almost as if when I made the transition from the independent school world and began to publicly embrace this kind of cannabis career, more often than not people reached out to say, ‘Wow, good for you’, or ‘This is awesome!’, or ‘Where can I get some?’ I think another response was total curiosity because people didn't even know this was an industry, like, ‘Legalized cannabis – what the hell is that?’
There were definitely a few people who had very negative perception at first. I remember some of the conversations, and I kind of prepared myself for this. There is tons of stigma no matter what you’re talking about with parenting – parents are judged for every decision they make, whether they are not paying enough attention or are a helicopter parent and pay too much attention.
The most negative response I got was from the parent of a former student. And my philosophy is that if you get ahead of the conversation, I don't know if you can necessarily control the terms of the conversation, but it can definitely be on your own terms. I had gone to everyone I was working directly with to tell them this was something I was doing so they did not hear from another parent. And I went to this woman and right away I could see her pull away. I leaned forward and said, I feel some negativity, and asked where that was coming from. And instantaneously she said, ‘But you're a mom.’ My response was, well yes, absolutely. And it got to the point in the conversation where she was so curious – she said she did not know any of the terms I was using and didn’t know all this stuff was happening. And this is a person who is a post-op researcher at John Hopkins and studying colon cancer. Very educated and very intelligent, and just had no clue about the possibilities.
So, you know, one thing I tell people is it’s almost like when you see someone who, for lack of better words, looks like me, presents like me, talks like me – eople have to change their minds. What I find more often is I’m giving people permission to learn more about it, or saying, here I am, here is what I do – it is not my entire personality. I had another reporter ask me if the ‘marijuana mom’ was going to be the new ‘wine mom’. And that definitely is a marketing category for sure, but as an identity, I hope not. That’s not what this is about. I am many things and a cannabis consumer is just one of them.
Interview has been edited and condensed by Odessa Paloma Parker
Van der Pop does not endorse or condone the illegal consumption of cannabis.