Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Zoann Snyder

Second Advisor

Dr. Ann Miles

Third Advisor

Dr. Jesse Smith

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Cathryn Bailey


Cannabis, marijuana, medicalization, normalization, stigma, gender


Marijuana’s status as an illegal drug has been redefined over the previous three decades. Despite Michigan and 32 other states having comprehensive medical cannabis programs, both academics and laypeople commonly present the medicalization of marijuana as an intermediary phase or proxy for fully legalized recreational use. While some evidence exists to support this position, this framework marginalizes the struggles and experiences of patients who have found relief through their therapeutic use of cannabis. As such, the goal of this study is to re-center the voices of cannabis patients in academic conversations of cannabis as medicine.

My study is unique in that it is the first qualitative investigation of cannabis patients in Michigan, and since Michigan legalized adult-use (recreational) marijuana in 2018, my study is also the first to document patient experiences in a post-prohibition state. The research questions that guided my descriptive qualitative inquiry revolved around the areas of medicalization, normalization, and gender. The primary method utilized in my study was five semi-structured focus groups of medical cannabis patients (n=21) where the groups were asked to reflect upon their histories, current struggles, and their anticipations of the future. To expand the perspectives analyzed in my research, I also performed observations at several cannabis businesses and events (n=6), and I conducted semi-structured interviews with key informants (n=9) in Michigan’s medical cannabis community, including dispensary owners, caregivers, activists, industry advocates, and a certifying physician.

This descriptive study expands our sociological understanding of medicalization, normalization, gender as experienced by medical cannabis. Results indicate patients prefer the current “alternative medicalization” of cannabis where their medicine is legitimized and made accessible outside of biomedical institutions. Patients in my study recounted intolerance and ultimatums to stop using cannabis by health care professionals, and they loathed how physicians pushed pharmaceuticals while criticizing cannabis medicines. Furthermore, since patients in my study continued to experience a range of social and structural stigmas, my results call into question claims that marijuana is normalized in American society. Indeed, these sweeping assertations of normalization may have been made from positions of race, gender, class, and/or generational privilege. Finally, both men and women in my study reported gender-specific stigmas over their use of medical cannabis, though men who use cannabis may more readily break with our culture’s hegemonic construction of masculinity.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access