Words by:  Amy Paterson

Cannabis legalisation has been (and continues to be) a long and challenging journey all over the world.

In the United States in particular, the road to weed freedom has been marked by a significant contribution from the LGBTQ+ community.

This connection between cannabis advocacy and LGBTQ+ activism is deeply rooted in a shared history of struggle, marginalisation and a quest for social justice in America. Understanding this bond provides insight into the progress made in cannabis legalisation, and the ongoing fight for equality and representation.

History & Legacy

The modern movement to legalise medical marijuana in the USA can trace much of its origins to the early 1990s, amid the AIDS epidemic.

During this crisis, members of the LGBTQ+ community (particularly in San Francisco, one of the largest and most prominent queer communities in the country) began advocating for the medicinal use of cannabis to alleviate the symptoms and pain associated with AIDS.

This grassroots effort gained traction as activists like Dennis Peron, a gay man and prominent figure in the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club who co-authored Proposition 215. Passed in 1996, Proposition 215 was a groundbreaking law that laid the foundation for California's medical marijuana program and marked the first major victory in the legalisation movement.

The success of medical cannabis legalisation in California set a precedent that would influence public opinion and legislation across the nation, and all over the world. Today medical marijuana is legal in 40 countries and 38 American states, many of which include HIV or AIDS as qualifying medical conditions for its use.

It would be hard to deny that widespread acceptance of weed for medical purposes has significantly shifted general public perception. Support for medicinal marijuana has surged with 88% percent of Americans now in favour of legalisation, and it’s easy to see how the LGBTQ+ community’s early and persistent advocacy efforts have undeniably been instrumental in this cultural and legislative shift.

Intersection & Influence

Beyond legal victories, the LGBTQ+ community has profoundly influenced cannabis culture.

Cannabis usage among queer adults is notably higher than among their straight counterparts, creating a unique cultural blend within the cannabis community. And this intersection of queer and cannabis cultures has fostered a distinctive space characterised by resilience, creativity and mutual support.

Prominent figures like Laganja Estranja, a Ru Paul’s Drag Race alum whose name is a nod to our favourite plant, highlight this cultural synergy through being outspoken about how cannabis helps queer individuals manage mental and emotional challenges stemming from social marginalisation.

The involvement of cannabis businesses in LGBTQ+ advocacy and Pride events also often feels more genuine compared to other corporate participation, given the deep-rooted connection between the two communities.

An iconic example of the canna/queer crossover is the ‘pot brownie’ popularised by Mary Jane Rathbun (affectionately known as "Brownie Mary") during the HIV/AIDs epidemic of the 1980s.

Working alongside Dennis Peron, Brownie Mary was instrumental in the fight for medical marijuana legalisation in California. She became famous for baking cannabis-infused brownies and distributing them to AIDS patients at San Francisco General Hospital, embodying the compassion and activism that characterise the LGBTQ+ and cannabis communities.

An Inclusive Future

Since the 1930s, accusations of cannabis use have been used to further demonise already marginalised groups - including queer individuals, people of colour and immigrants.

Whether it's the black and Latinx communities disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs or the LGBTQ+ community that spearheaded medical marijuana legalisation efforts, minority representation is crucial. Both LGBTQ+ community members and cannabis users have faced significant social stigma and legal challenges, and addressing these injustices offers an opportunity to promote equality and rectify historical wrongs.

So as the cannabis industry continues to grow, it seems like a no brainer that queer and minority-owned businesses should be included in its budding future.

One crazy stat to consider is that, if the LGBTQ+ community were a country, it would have the world's fourth-largest economy with a GDP of $4.6 trillion.

Given their significant contributions to the legalisation movement, it is essential to go beyond viewing queer folks simply as consumers, and instead embrace them as integral participants in the industry. Excluding queer entrepreneurs from the realm of commercial cannabis denies a historically marginalised group the opportunity to influence a space they helped create.

The weed industry is at a pivotal moment - and as it evolves and flourishes it is essential to remember and honour the contributions of the LGBTQ+ community, and ensure their voices are integral to its future.

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