The History of Cannabis and the LGBTQIA+ Community

Taylor Engle
Jun 11, 2020

Since the very first Pride parade in New York City in 1970, the month of June has been set aside to honor and represent Pride in the LGBTQIA+ community. June is all about being out and proud, and calling attention to the issues that still stunt LGBTQIA+ freedoms. There are typically events around the world to participate in, live your best life, and show off your Pride, but this year, it all takes place at home.

2020 Pride also gives us all an opportunity to learn more about, and honor, the intersection of LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC histories with cannabis.

From 1800s Jamaican villages to Indian organic medicines, cannabis’ history as a popular medicine is centuries old and well-documented. Yet the idea of cannabis as medicine in the United States didn’t become part of public health consciousness until the AIDS crisis.

The year was 1981. Queer culture was thriving in cities like San Francisco, New York, and LA. Stonewall had happened 12 years earlier, and true acceptance felt almost possible. Then a merciless pandemic swept the world and changed everything.

Our government may have been slow to respond to COVID-19, but when AIDS was killing BIPOC gay men on a daily basis, it went completely unacknowledged for years on an official level. Everyone was dying–it was described by trans pornstar and cannabis activist Buck Angel as “the death of the world.” And one of the only things that helped patients was weed.

The gay and trans community was no stranger to cannabis, so its efficacy in treating AIDS and HIV symptoms was discovered early on. While doctors prescribed experimental drugs that in many cases made patients feel sicker, weed acted as an instant relief to an otherwise hellish illness. Cannabis was also more accessible to BIPOC communities who couldn’t afford — or were systematically excluded from — early and experimental treatments.

Cannabis activist Dennis Peron lived in San Francisco’s Castro district throughout the ’80s with his partner Jonathan West, who died of AIDS in 1991. Following West’s death, Peron became an incredibly prominent voice for marijuana legalization in California. He had always sold cannabis in the Castro and after seeing how much it had helped his sick partner and friends, he wasn’t going to give up until it was legally available to those in need.

Peron began advocating for San Francisco’s Proposition P, which demanded the city legalize medical marijuana. It passed in 1991 by 80%, but Peron wasn’t finished. He went on to start the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club, the first public marijuana dispensary in the entire country.

He also successfully worked to get marijuana access legalized statewide, which became law in 1996 with California’s Compassionate Use Act. Cannabis was finally legal in the Golden State, in large part because of the persistent effort of the LGBTQIA+ community.

The prohibition of cannabis has been marginalizing for the LGBTQIA+ in the past and is inherently racist. Many Southern states with larger Black populations still do not have access to legal cannabis. The Black community accounts for nearly half of the HIV cases in America today, although they make up 13% of the total population. Denying this community access to legal and medical cannabis is wrong.

So while you’re munching on Punch edibles and puffing on preroll after preroll from your spot on the couch, remember those before you who fought to be heard, and who are still shouting for justice. We honor them this month by staying safe, staying aware, and planning for a healthier tomorrow.

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