Cannabis Pride: The Link Between Cannabis and LGBT Rights
Time to read 7 min
June is here, my friends! The sweet embrace of summer is upon us, and it's time to greet the sun with a perfectly rolled joint in hand. LGBTQ+ people everywhere will also be preparing to celebrate Pride Month, which is dedicated to commemorating the fight for LGBTQ+ rights all around the world. Here you’ll discover why is June pride month.
In the ongoing movement for social justice and equal rights, both the cannabis and LGBTQ+ rights movements have made important contributionsto challenging societal norms and fighting for personal freedom. These two counterculture forces, while seemingly unrelated, actually have a lot in common and are intrinsically linked. The fight for the legalization of marijuana and the one for LGBTQ+ rights are both rooted in the quest for liberation, equality, and acceptance.
The LGBTQ+ community has contributed significantly to the cause of marijuana legalization. This Pride Month, let's delve into the LGBTQ+ history surrounding the decriminalization of marijuana in the United States, specifically in the state of California. This post will take us back in time, to San Francisco from the 1970s to the early 2000s, during the height of the AIDS epidemic, and shed light on some influential figures who spearheaded the fight for both cannabis and LGBTQ+ rights.
Group of activist people holding banners during LGBT event (Envato)
A lot of people must have heard about Harvey Milk, one of the most iconic figures in the LGBTQ+ rights movement. He rose into prominence as the first openly gay elected official of California. Milk was born in 1930, in Woodmere, New York. In his youth, he migrated to California to find community in the city’s growing gay scene. He was charismatic and influential, relentlessly advocating for the people he was representing. Milk was also notoriously a cannabis smoker during his youth, and though he quit to pursue his political career, he continued to advocate for legal cannabis use during his lifetime.
Milk believed that the unjust criminalization of cannabis was disproportionately harming minority groups, including people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. Milk witnessed how this was being used as a tool for oppression, and so he wanted to dismantle the harmful stereotypes surrounding cannabis use. He strongly believed in education and awareness to achieve this goal. He collaborated with other prominent LGBTQ+ cannabis activists, such as Dennis Peron, to present propositions to local governments aimed at challenging existing cannabis prohibitionist laws and promoting progressive reform.
Tragically, Harvey Milk was assassinated on November 27 1978, his life regretfully cut short. His legacy resonated within the LGBTQ+ community and ignited a renewed commitment for the fight of LGBTQ+ and cannabis rights, and personal freedom.
In the midst of the devastation caused by the AIDS crisis, members of the LGBTQ community were desperately searching for ways to help their friends. Back then, the HIV virus was decimating the Gay community in San Francisco. Everyone knew someone who was dying, including Dennis Peron.
Peron, like Milk, was not a California native. He was born on April 8, 1945 in New York. He had also relocated to the West Coast hoping to find community and acceptance. There, he met his partner, Jonathan West.
Dennis had seen how marijuana was helping HIV+ patients with the symptoms of AIDS wasting syndrome, and how it alleviated the side effects from the aggressive medication regimens. Both Dennis and Jonathan were HIV positive and had found out the benefits from the use of cannabis firsthand. Sadly, West passed away in 1971, and his death spurred on Peron to dedicate his life to LGBT+ and cannabis activism.
In 1980, Peron established the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club, in the heart of the Castro neighborhood. These buyers clubs were not only a place to obtain medical cannabis, but a place for those living with AIDS and HIV to find community and support. It was a safe haven. Here, those who had been shunned by society could find the vital support and camaraderie they desperately needed.
Throughout his life, Peron was arrested several times due to his cannabis activism, but even still he did not give up. He collaborated with Harvey Milk to coauthor Proposition W: a 1978 San Francisco ballot measure calling for the decriminalization of cannabis. This proposition, affectionately known as "Weed the People," sought to liberate the herb from the clutches of prohibition, allowing individuals to benefit from the plant's medicinal properties without fear of persecution.
Their joint efforts didn't stop there. Peron and Milk joined forces once again to coauthor Proposition P, a 1978 measure that urged the state of California to recognize the medicinal value of cannabis. With each new Proposition, cannabis activists started seeing a steady rise in the acceptance of the medical use of marijuana.
Though Peron’s story doesn’t end here, it might be time to introduce another prominent and beloved figure of the time…
LGBT people health rights (Envato)
Mary Jane Rathbun is more famously known by the nickname Brownie Mary. She was a true cannabis hero with a heart of gold, who played a pivotal role in the AIDS epidemic and cannabis activism. Mary was a nurse, born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. She was living in California when the AIDS crisis hit, and she rose to the occasion.
Due to her profession, Mary was acutely aware of the pain and difficulties her patients were going through. With her amazing culinary skills, she whipped up some cannabutter to bake delicious cannabis-infused brownies that brought relief to AIDS patients experiencing pain and other debilitating symptoms. Her sweet treats not only provided a momentary escape from the harsh realities of the disease but also offered a glimmer of hope and much-needed comfort.
Selling these brownies eventually led to her arrest. Mary was sentenced to community service, which she finished in record time, as she loved volunteering and continued to do so after the hours mandated were over. After this arrest, Mary stopped selling brownies, but she did not stop making them. She started giving them away for free. Eventually, the community started donating marijuana to her so that she could continue to bake her infused brownies.
Alongside Dennis, Mary played a crucial role in establishing cannabis buyers clubs. She also eventually got arrested again, by the same policeman who had arrested her the first time. The cop recognized Mary on the street and asked to see what was in her bag. Of course, there were some weed brownies that were about to be delivered. She was found to be in violation of her parole and unfortunately got in trouble with the law again.
With Dennis’ support, Mary used this second arrest as a way to publicize the issue of cannabis legalization, not just on a local level, but on a national and even an international one. In the end, the charges against Brownie Mary were dropped, as she was not doing the brownies seeking profit or financial gain.
Dennis and Mary also collaborated in Proposition 215, also known as the Compassionate Use Act of 1996. This groundbreaking proposition aimed to legalize medical cannabis in California, allowing patients with debilitating conditions to access this natural medicine. It was a game-changer. It passed, and so it marked a turning point in the path to cannabis legalization. It paved the way for other states to follow suit and recognize the medicinal benefits of this amazing plant. It was a victory for patients, caregivers, and advocates alike, offering hope and relief to those in need.
Have you ever wondered who came up with the idea of a state issued medical marijuana card? Well… it was Wayne Justmann.
As a gay man living with an HIV-positive diagnosis, Justmann also experienced the effects of the AIDS epidemic firsthand. Back when he got diagnosed, the Federal Government was still ignoring the existence of the AIDS epidemic. There wasn’t a lot of funding for research, and the options for the patients were limited. The AIDS medication available at the time made him feel worse, but he found relief in medical marijuana.
He met Perone in 1992, and joined the cannabis activists’ efforts. He participated in the cannabis buyers’ clubs of the time and benefited from the activist work of his contemporaries. Inspired, Wayne Justmann opened a dispensary in the late 90s. Here, he required the members of his cannabis buyers’ club to carry a card to identify them as medicinal users.
Justmann quickly became aware of the fact that they needed a state-issued card that granted some protection against the police. A state-issued card would legitimize the medical use of marijuana in the patient’s possession. Due to his efforts, on July 5th, 2000, he became the first person to receive a medical cannabis card from the San Francisco Department of Public Health—a groundbreaking achievement for those advocating for the medical use of cannabis.
As we navigate the present, we can see how impactful the LGBT community has been in the long road to cannabis legalization. Nowadays, cannabis continues to thrive within LGBT culture, promoting self-expression, community, and joy. So, let's raise a joint (or a bowl!) to the trailblazers who have fought for freedom, acceptance, and equality. May their legacies inspire us to keep pushing boundaries, challenging societal norms, and staying true to ourselves.
Stay fabulous and keep fighting the good fight!
“Wayne Justmann Talks LGBTQ+ and Medical Cannabis History in San Francisco” | NowThis. Retrieved from YouTube on May 30, 2023. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iAFD5RqGHpg
Lequia, N (2020). Webinar: Queer History of Cannabis. The Cannabis Alliance and Full Spectrum. Retrieved from YouTube on May 30, 2023. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5FSrEEhyzRA
CBS Broadcasting Inc (2008). "Marijuana trailblazer Dennis Peron dies." (2018, January 28). CBS San Francisco. Retrieved May 30, 2023, from https://www.cbsnews.com/sanfrancisco/news/marijuana-trailblazer-dennis-peron-dies/