When it comes to the advancement of cannabis legalization, it’s difficult to pinpoint an exact person, or moment of time when everything changed; instead, we often look-back at a handful of groups, recognizing their advocacy and the positive impact they made.
From mid-70’s hippie-culture, to the early-90’s rap scene heavily influenced by cannabis-loving rappers like Snoop Dogg, there are a handful of era’s, and popular public figures, like Willie Nelson, who are often put under the spotlight. However, when it comes to igniting a Revolution, one of the most influential groups for cannabis reform often goes unnoticed – hopefully, that soon changes.
AIDS Epidemic spurs grassroots advocacy
In the 1980’s, the AIDS epidemic exploded, but despite more than 50,000 cases reaching the US by 1984 (which took the lives of 4,200 Americans) the crisis was mostly ignored – allowing for untrue rumors, misguided medical practices, and dangerous stigmas to form. The refusal to address the crisis was so bad, that after his presidency, Ronald Reagan later apologized for his treatment of the crisis – and in 2016 when Hillary Clinton praised Nancy Reagan’s response to the crisis, the president elect quickly released a public apology.
“While the Reagans were strong advocates for stem cell research and finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, I misspoke about their record on HIV and AIDS,” Clinton said in a statement. “For that, I’m sorry,”
By 1993, over 2.5 million cases of HIV/AIDS had been confirmed worldwide. Life-saving drugs were increasing, but affordable access & reliable medical education was still lacking – leading to fearmongering and propaganda that alienated the community most impacted the crisis – the LGBTQ community.
Side-effects of early-treatment, once called “AIDS cocktails” were reportedly as painful as the disease itself – leading many suffering from the disease to pursue other, non-regulated medical options, such as cannabis.
“Marijuana was just part of (their) treatment, it helped alleviate some of the symptoms of AIDS and the horrible cocktails they put them on initially, which were almost proving as deadly as the virus was,” stated longtime AIDS activist Paul Scott in a recent interview with the Washington Blade.
By the mid-90’s, the need for affordable and accessible cannabis became clear for one veteran and gay-man, Dennis Peron, often referred to as the “father of medical cannabis” in the San Francisco valleys. By then, Peron had already seen a handful of his closets friends die from the disease, and was well-aware of the medicinal properties behind the plant – which he often recommended for common-side affects like nausea, insomnia, and muscle pain at his infamous San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club. (which was legally operating under state law by 1991.)
In 1996, Peron coauthored Proposition 215, the first proposition that sought to allow the use of medical cannabis in California statewide. Prop. 215, or the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, was approved in a 55% majority public vote; without this historical achievement, the state of California may not be the cannabis hotbed that it is today.
To learn more about the history of cannabis and the LGBTQ community, and the role Peron played in ending prohibition, listen to our recent interview with Candace Gingrich on the Vault Podcast: