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Jocelyn Thomas wants to be a voice for the voiceless.
After undergoing birthing trauma with her first child in 2011, Thomas moved from her hometown of Phoenix, Arizona to just outside Portland, Oregon on a whim. There she became a doula at Birthingway College of Midwifery and later started a home practice as The Gresham Doula. She was hiding her cannabis use from everyone but those closest to her. Thomas feared her status as a parent — and her career — would be in jeopardy. She felt muzzled but was determined to let her experiences help others in similar circumstances.
“The most voiceless people that I know personally? These cannaparents. There are maybe three or four lines in all the [Arizona] cannabis and medical marijuana legislation that pertain to us at all, and most of it is up to interpretation,” Thomas says, her voice tightening while reacting to her disapproval about the power often ignorant strangers have over cannaparents.
Thomas remembers how discriminatory Oregon’s cannabis warnings were when legalization hit in 2014.
“After I had my daughter and [recreational] dispensaries opened, they had huge posters geared toward [parents], saying don’t use [cannabis while pregnant]. That it was going to mess you up if you ever want babies, it’s going to mess you up if you’re going to have a baby, it’s going to mess you up as a parent,” Thomas recalls, pointing out NCBI studies on male reproduction and in vitro fertilization. “It is completely gender-based discrimination. Anyone with a dick is like, you can smoke and do whatever you want, even though there [are] studies, the same studies they want to use on us, saying it decreases this or that. It doesn’t.”
After a more successful birthing experience in 2014 using a bong, birthing ball and Beyoncé, she’d had her fill of Portland and returned, in 2016, to Phoenix with one big change — she’d no longer hide her cannabis use.
“That meant coming out of the cannabis closet, that meant telling people I smoked with both of my babies,” Jocelyn Thomas says, noting her admission forced people she knew to change their perspectives on cannabis use during pregnancy. Many did not, for fear of legal and reputation risks. But Thomas ignored any naysayers, noting that not using was far worse. “If I’m not well, that really puts them [my children] in danger. That’s not a good look, when the head of everything you know — your mom, your dad, that person that you look up to the most — spirals every 30 days.”
Thomas knows that education is the key to overcoming such stigma. She currently has a research assistant creating multiple workshop courses about both pregnancy and cannabis she hopes to use to educate health care facilities.
“I’ve had clients turned away from birthing centers right down the road, immediately. They mention that they have their card, and they’re told ‘we won’t be able to help you.’ That’s illegal,” Thomas says, referring to section 36-2813 of the Revised Arizona Statutes concerning the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, which disallows discrimination against cannabis cardholders in workplaces, those seeking medical care, and parental visitation rights.
Thomas currently offers packages for parents and cannaparents alike, and connects with them via phone calls, video calls (HIPPA-compliant, secure video chat service doxy.me), house visits and in-person meetups.
“I’ve never really had a problem going the extra mile to listen to someone. I’ve gone an hour out of Phoenix just to sit with somebody, and I will always do that if I’m able to do it,” Jocelyn Thomas says. She typically works with 3-5 in-person and up to 10 e-clients per year, plus two midwife or doula peer support clients.
Helping both other doulas and those experiencing massive life changes is what drives Thomas.
“When you want to be the change you wish to see in the world, you kinda have to turn your suffering into something that’s more fruitful,” she says. “I am the unofficial, kinda official, The CannaDoula.”