A Pride Month Reflection: Queers, Cannabis, & Justice

The importance of June to the LGBTQ movement traces back to the Stonewall Riots of 1969, when a brave and diverse group of LGBTQ Americans led by Black and Brown transgender women, pushed back against police harassment, demanding fair and equal treatment. Stonewall cemented June as the month to commemorate queer pioneers and recommit to moving America forward on LGBTQ issues. In the decades that followed, the movement to legalize medical cannabis also progressed – and even overlapped.

With the United States consumed by the AIDS crisis and no reliable treatment options, many people with AIDS and their caregivers found it necessary to find relief on their own. Early treatments for AIDS included a mix of medicines that caused pain and nausea – for which cannabis had been known to provide relief. The existing San Francisco cannabis culture, combined with the concentration of gay and bisexual men, resulted in the Bay Area becoming one of the earliest incubators for efforts to make cannabis available to AIDS patients.

One key proponent was Dennis Peron, a gay man and Viet Nam veteran who moved to San Francisco after the war (a move taken earlier by his friend Harvey Milk who he’d met in NYC). Now considered to be the “Father of Medical Marijuana”, Peron was already an advocate, but watching his partner and others suffer from AIDS moved him to further action. In 1991, he led efforts to pass San Francisco’s Proposition P, relegating cannabis offenses to the lowest priority for law enforcement. Peron began operating the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club and kept working for greater access to medical cannabis – including the passage of Proposition 215 in 1996 making medical cannabis legal in the state of California.

The movements for queer rights and cannabis legalization have found success by using education to combat dangerous stereotypes and social stigmas. Coincidentally, in 33 states and D.C., medical cannabis is legal, and in 33 states and D.C., some form of LGBTQ-based workplace discrimination is illegal. Undeniable progress, but the laws protecting LGBTQ people and cannabis users need to be at the federal level – your rights shouldn’t depend on where you live. And as we were reminded at the beginning of this year’s Pride Month, the color of your skin shouldn’t determine your treatment by law enforcement.

Fifty-one years after Stonewall, this Pride Month once again saw riots and protests against law enforcement, this time after the world witnessed the killing of George Floyd. This moment we are in now focuses on the lives, dignity, and humanity of Black and Brown people – LGBTQ people must all stand together for change

As social justice activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Mandy Carter said in 2013,

“Are we about justice or just us? Are we concerned with the LGBTQ movement or the broader movement that includes the LGBT movement?”

Let us unite for justice – as a wise woman once said, we are stronger together.