How LGBTQ People Helped Advance Cannabis Legalization

A history lesson in honor of Pride Month.
How LGBTQ People Helped Advance Cannabis Legalization

The fight to advance cannabis access bares a strong resemblance to that of the advancement of LGBTQ rights. Often, it is because they are so intertwined. Several people spoke to High Times for this piece and delved into the topic.

“The cannabis movement has been known as mostly a progressive issue during its eighty-year-plus prohibition, coming ‘out of the shadows’ in the late seventies. This is a similar story for LGBTQ individuals, with the gay rights movement really taking off around the same time and both facing heavy stigma’s in the public eye,” emailed Kyle Porter, president of CMW Media and a member of the community himself.

Porter added, “LGBTQ individuals are no stranger to persevering forward without the support of society or the law and this tenacity could have only helped the emerging legal cannabis industry.”

Celeste Miranda is a cannabis entrepreneur and member of the LGBTQ community as well. The CEO of MACE Media and founder of the Original CBD Expo Tour explained how the intangibles LGBTQ people embody make them ideal for advancing the cause.

“LGBTQ people are persistent, simply from endured challenges [throughout] the years. The fight to legalize cannabis falls in line with the persistence to push a cause through. It’s not new to this community, it’s expected,” said Miranda in a written reply.

Michael Klein identifies as LGBTQ and is the CEO of cannabisMD. He’s also worked with MTV and Conde Nast to name a few high profile roles. He noted how the community has been at the frontlines of change. “That kind of forward-looking approach helps break down barriers and reduce any residual stigma or fears that communities have as legalization continues to be a reality around the globe. And yet it goes deeper than that,” he said.

Klein likened cannabis prohibition to the Stonewall Uprising—the violent pushback and protests against a police raid on the Stonewall Inn in June of 1969. The event would give birth to the Pride parades today.

“Both are personal and emotional in myriad ways. Another community is fighting for what they believe is a just cause—this time, legalization of a plant —in which some government and law enforcement officials are felt to be the barrier. In 1969, LGBTQ were fighting the good fight.” Klein added, “And this year the NYPD officially apologized for what happened. Perhaps in 50 years cannabis will be recalled the same way.”

Persistence in the LGBTQ community includes serving as some of the founders of the early cannabis movement. Notable figures include Dennis Peron. Arend Richard is a member of the community and founder of TheWeedTube, a venture birthed out of cannabis content creators struggles with YouTube and app stores. He touched on Peron’s importance to both LGBTQ and cannabis rights in an email.

“Dennis Peron was a pivotal figure – he was a gay man in San Francisco who sold marijuana and witnessed firsthand how cannabis helped mitigate nausea and other painful symptoms experienced by AIDS patients. This led to him spearheading a successful campaign to legalize medical marijuana in California.”

Peron was an Air Force veteran who was active in advocating for the rights of both communities he belonged to. In the late ’80s, Peron’s partner would be diagnosed with AIDS. This only furthered his passion for cannabis as a therapeutic option. It then amplified when his home was raided, and he lost over four ounces of marijuana that his partner — now under 100 pounds — used to get through the day. From there, his determination would be on display for the rest of his life. One major highlight included the passage of medical marijuana in California.

The same can be said of people like Harvey Milk. Peron and Milk formed a bond as activists in San Francisco’s Castro District. In 1977, Milk would become the first openly gay public official elected in America. Unfortunately, he would be assassinated, along with the city’s Mayor, by a former work colleague in November of 1978.

The Bay Area served as the epicenter of both movements thanks to work by Milk, Peron and others like Mary Jane Rathburn, better known as Brownie Mary. The senior with a notably foul mouth was beloved in the LGBTQ community thanks to her edibles, activism and other contributions. Despite being arrested three times, Brownie Mary continued to provide the city’s AIDS patients medical edibles to ease their symptoms. Like Peron and Milk, the passing of Brownie Mary brought out the city to mourn and honor the life of one of the community’s ardent allies.

The effort continues today, now expanding across the cannabis industry. Advocates continue to fight for the advancement of marijuana rights while giving their all to ensure that fairness for LGBTQ people is preserved in America and advanced elsewhere in the world. Today, these individuals can be found everywhere from media and entertainment to the campaign trails.

They include Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg. The openly gay candidate has not been the most vocal cannabis supporter but has gone on record about the dangers of synthetic cannabinoids. He’s also advocated for criminal justice reform, including preparing individuals affected by the War on Drugs for life post-prison. An even more progressive example would be Colorado’s Governor, Jared Polis. The first openly gay Governor in the U.S. is an ardent supporter of cannabis and is expected to sign a bill decriminalizing psilocybin in Colorado soon.

Miranda, Richard and Porter all represent areas in media advancing cannabis access and equality for the LGBTQ community. Porter explained how the cause now has many more supporters that extends way beyond the Bay Area.

“I personally know hundreds of LGBTQ industry members, from CEOs to budtenders, who believe in the plant as much as they believe in who they are.” He added, “Without exact statistics, I can confidently say that LGBTQ people have been an integral part of this cause, whether publicly or not, and continue to be leaders and advocates striving for destigmatization and legalization.”

Two other notable names include writer and media personality Dan Savage, who is launching SPLIFF, a marijuana-themed movie festival that bills itself as “a film festival made by the stoned for the stoned.” Fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race will know the name Laganja Estranja whose performances are about as fierce as their passion for cannabis legalization. Laganja is also quite active on social media, educating people and answering questions about the plant.

The history shared by cannabis and LGBTQ rights is deep. It appears only to be growing along with the acceptance of both. Now, instead of struggling to garner support like in past eras, many platforms believe they can leverage their bases, LGBTQ or otherwise, and advance both causes. That includes TheWeedTube, who is raising money for The Trevor Project, a 24/7 suicide hotline for young LGBTQ community members. Their goal is to raise $10,000.

Here’s to both receiving their equal rights sooner than later.

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