Did you know 19 of the 25 preliminary presidential candidates for the 2020 election were in support of cannabis legalization and regulation? Did you know that of all 50 states, there are only 8 states where cannabis is still fully illegal? Did you know that the 2018 Farm Bill legalized the production and cultivation of hemp allowing the CBD industry to flourish, in turn providing a legitimate medicinal remedy for millions of Americans? Well, you may have known a couple of those interesting facts. Yet, there’s a strong chance you haven’t heard about the LGBT+ community’s profound impact on the progression of cannabis reform dating back to the last few decades of the 20th century.
As Pride Month comes to an end, let’s take a moment to reflect on how this incredibly resilient and powerful group of humans propelled the cannabis industry to where it is today.
Cannabis in the 20th Century
Swing by your dispensary to grab your favorite strain of flower on the way home from work. Skip your lunch break and eat a snack on the way to your appointment to renew your medical card. A friend legally gifts you an edible. All of these things are commonplace today, in 2020. Rewind just four decades ago, though, and cannabis is outlawed in all 50 states. It wasn’t until 1996 that medical marijuana legislation was passed in California, making it the first state to legalize any form of cannabis. For those who weren’t around during the 1980s or 1990s or not old enough to remember those decades, marijuana faced just as much scrutiny as other “hard” drugs of the time. Ronald Reagan, the United States’ 40th President, crusaded a war on drugs from the start of his tenure. Here’s a quote that headlined his 1980 campaign when asked about marijuana: “probably the most dangerous drug in the United States today.”
A bigtime ‘OK Boomer,’ moment looking back decades later. Reagan’s legacy of the War on Drugs was not his administration’s only questionable position though…
The AIDS Crisis, The LGBT+ Community, & Cannabis
When the AIDs epidemic was discovered in the United States in the early 1980s, Reagan’s administration was not necessarily concerned with it. Actually, Reagan and his administration didn’t seem to care about AIDS one bit and early reports surrounding this topic’s discussion convey how sincerely the president’s cabinet did not care. During presidential press conferences, the HIV and AIDS epidemic was joked about as the, “gay plague.” This highly insensitive term stemmed from AIDS’ discovery in 1981. Across the nation, starting in Los Angeles, then to New York, and on to other major cities, AIDS was quite commonly found in gay men. Because of the medical uncertainty and lack of cases at that time, the stereotype of AIDS affecting only gay men spread like wildfire. As research progressed and Reagan’s administration took this new disease more seriously, America began to recognize its seriousness and thankfully became more educated on the virus’ means of transmission.
HIV and AIDS became more and more prevalent in the 1980s and 1990s, but one thing did not progress as quickly: medically approved treatments. The LGBT+ community was hit hard during these decades as AIDS continued to spread without prescription medication to extinguish it. AIDS attacks and disables the body’s immune system, making positive patients prone to an array of different healthy issues. In a time when nothing seemed to be working to improve the quality of life of AIDS patients, cannabis provided an avenue of relief. Mind you, cannabis was not medically legal anywhere in the US until 1996, so people seeking marijuana for medical reasons like AIDS were in a challenging position. As noted earlier though, the LGBT+ community is resilient, clever, and tough, and those afflicted by AIDS would not be denied a way to ease their suffering. Nor should they or any other person dealing with this treacherous disease.
LGBT+ Community’s Advocacy For Cannabis Reform
In the late ‘80s, the cannabis black market thrived even during Reagan’s most staunch years of his legacy regarding the War on Drugs. In states like California, where AIDS was more prevalent comparatively to other states, marijauna demand skyrocketed due to its therapeutic use. It wasn’t until the 1990s, however, that an organized solution appeared for AIDS patients to receive marijuana. Finally, in 1994, the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club was formed by Dennis Peron and his business partner. The San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club was modeled after another buyers club in the bay area — you guessed it: the local AIDS Drugs Buyer Club. While Dennis Peron formed this early day cannabis dispensary as a club serving many individuals seeking the benefits of medical marijuana, the majority of club’s members were AIDS positive patients.
We all know that diseases like HIV and AIDS do not discriminate based on race, gender, sexuality, eye color, or any other trait when it comes to infection and transmission. Yet, in the 1980s, and even a fair part of the 1990s, there was a significantly higher percentage of LGBT+ people to heterosexual people within the AIDS positive patient pool. For the purpose of this article, these numbers are important because due to the statistics and proportions of AIDS patients, there was a strong demand for medical marijuana by the LGBT community. Effectively, many times stronger than any other community during the 20th century! Dennis Peron was a community figure but also someone who experienced the wake of an AIDS-related passing when his partner succumbed to the disease in 1990. After this, Dennis dedicated his life to pursuit of legislative approval for medical marijuana. It wasn’t until 1996 that he successfully accomplished this after years of political lobbying and partly thanks to the newfound landmark of the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club providing tangible proof.
Dennis, who is widely credited as the Father of Medical Marijuana, truly paved the way for the LGBT+ community to advocate on behalf of cannabis’ legalization in a legitimate way. More than that, he created national precedent for marijuana’s place as a therapeutic medicine and not just a drug. He served the local bay area community for years, providing the LGBT+ community and AIDS community with means to access an alternative drug compared to harsh prescription drugs like AZT. Dennis’ story has not only the lore, but the approval and merit of the LGBT+, the AIDS, and the cannabis community, by both those living during those times and modern day representatives of said communities. However, it is imperative to keep in mind that Dennis Peron was one of many pioneers who advocated for the legalization of medical cannabis on behalf of the LGBT+ community during the AIDS crisis. Paul Scott replicated the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club business standard in Los Angeles and then in Inglewood with help of local officials and other activists. Mary Rathbun, known as Brownie Mary, had come to cherish the AIDS and LGBT communities during a community service sentence after being arrested for selling pot brownies in the ‘80s. During her peak in the 1990s, friends estimated Mary was baking an estimated 1,500 marijuana brownies per month for local AIDS patients — many of those patients also belonged to the LGBT community. These activists started a magnificent fire for the LGBT+ community’s cannabis advocacy, one which has significantly propelled marijuana’s legal advancements over the last 25 years.
One Love, One Community
Today, the LGBT+ community continues to advocate for cannabis legalization and opportunity along with many other groups: powerfully, passionately, effectively, and with a chip on their shoulder. A well deserved chip and one that the greater cannabis community sometimes may forget. Not out of malice or hate, but rather a lack of education, a changing of the guard, and twenty years of time. A LOT can happen in 20 years; just think how far cannabis legalization has come and how the overarching cannabis community has evolved during that time. At Seed & Smith, we feel incredibly blessed to be part of such a unique, diverse, and rich community. During such a positive month like Pride Month, in what many may consider to be the most challenging year of their lives, it’s important to remember: focus your energy around those community leaders regardless of their skin color, sexual orientation, religion. One love, one community.