What We’re Missing When We Talk About Weed And Consent

No means no, even when everyone is stoned.

The discussion around weed and consent hadn’t occurred to me until I saw a story the highly esteemed Sophie Saint Thomas wrote about it in early July for VICE.  

In Saint Thomas' article, titled “Can Stoned People Consent To Sex?,” the Brooklyn-based writer discusses how different states approach consent from a legal standpoint, and how the legalization of cannabis factors into the conversation. 

As in-depth and well-written as Saint Thomas' investigation may be, the question itself seems a little misguided: Can stoned people consent to sex? 

The focus should not be on whether stoned people can give consent, but instead, whether their partners will recognize any weed-induced poor communication as a lack of consent, regardless of drugs being involved. 

Sure, it’s absolutely understandable for one to lose control when high as hell and in the presence of flaming hot Cheetos. But violating someone’s body? That’s something else altogether.

Thomas isn’t the first writer to address consent in conjunction with legalized weed, either. 

In late 2015, Merry Jane published a piece about lines becoming blurred while under the influence, that ultimately concluded that it doesn’t matter what you’re smoking; communication is always key. Indeed, The Daily Evergreen published a similarly titled post in the spring of 2014. 

Maybe the question, then, is really whether you should be legally allowed to have sex with someone who is stoned––even when said blazed body enthusiastically gives consent to do so. Though that logic still leaves doubt as to whether we should or shouldn't keep our hands to ourselves, if there's even the slightest inkling of doubt about how a potential partner feels?

In talking about weed and consent, we seem to be undervaluing that big, obvious point. That though it’s easy to traumatize someone, it’s not so easy to heal from trauma. 

Though mincing this argument inevitably places the burden on the victims, rather than the perpetrators. We should spend less energy discussing the finer points of drug use, and more time teaching people to respect the minds and bodies of others. The fact that some people still refuse to respect a simple “no,” or recognize body language that suggests “no,” speaks volumes about the work we have yet to complete within the realm of sex education. This seemingly should be obvious, yet such convoluted discussions around the topic suggest that it isn’t.

Anti-violence educator Tyler Osterhaus spelled it out pretty perfectly back in 2014 in a blog post published by the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault:

“While different substances do affect users in different ways, the rules of consent don’t change from substance to substance. Consent is based on the idea that all parties involved in a sexual situation have given their full and enthusiastic permission as participants, and that they are free to opt out at any point… While drugs and alcohol are often used as tools by perpetrators of sexual assault to incapacitate and increase the vulnerability of their victims, drugs and alcohol in and of themselves are not the cause of these violent acts – the choices and actions of the perpetrator are.”

Osterhaus then goes on to thoroughly explain how to be an active participant in a consensual sexual experience.

More than that, whether you like it explained via essay, included on a list of key points, or told through a video about tea, the concept of consent should be delivered simply and clearly. 

And still, it isn't necessarily the cannabis industry’s responsibility to take on sex education, as it relates to weed. Rather, that should be a shared responsibility for anyone that consumes cannabis and is sexually active. Consent should be a universally respected concept, regardless of whether one is high, drunk, lit on flamin' hot cheetos, or otherwise. 

Complicating the notion of consensual sex, with differences in sexual behavior as a result of taking different substances, only clouds the underlying message: Learn to respect others and expect the same of them. When that contract is breached, we can only blame the person who violated that trust.