The Roots of Cannabis in the LGBT+ Community
LGBT entrepreneurs make their mark on the cannabis industry.
Whether you come to watch the floats or to let your rainbow flag fly, Gay Pride has become almost as hallowed a cultural celebration in Western cities as Thanksgiving or St. Patrick’s Day parades. And that’s still as difficult a thing for some to get used to as the site of cannabis dispensaries on the street. But if you walk down the streets of West Hollywood, you’ll probably see ritzy dispensaries declaring the rise of the Emerald City, and at least one of the dispensaries, Patricia Arquette’s soon-to-open lounge, doubling as an LGBT+ community space. Such endeavors show how entrepreneurs in the LGBT+ community not only acknowledge the parallel legal trajectory both have traveled over the last 50 years, but the desire for those in the community to stake their claim in an industry that would not exist, were it not for their efforts.
It would only make sense; Canadian research scientist Dr. Margaret Robinson cited in a 2015 paper published by Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity research that found bisexual women were two to seven times more likely to use cannabis than their straight peers. A poll of over 1200 transgender adults in the US found self-reported cannabis use at 24.4% — even more than alcohol. And the 2019 National Survey of Drug Use and Health found of all LGB adults polled, 43% of them used cannabis in the past year — up six percentage points from the previous year. So LGBT+ cannabis use continues to outpace straight use; it would only make sense that they would move to make it their own.
FROM THE AIDS CRISIS TO NOW
Before the antiretroviral drugs of the ‘90s, AIDS was a death sentence, and it was a particularly gruesome and painful way to go. After infection, the virus’s suppression of vital T-cells would compromise the host’s immune system so much that obscure diseases, such as Kaposi Sarcoma, could ravage the now-defenseless body. It got bad enough that by 1992, AIDS (originally referred to as GRID, or Gay-Related Immune Deficiency before cases emerged outside of the gay community) was the number one cause of death for all men 25 to 44, with deaths peaking in 1995 at over 50,000.
The San Francisco gay community was particularly hard hit, with estimates of practically half of the gay community being wiped out in a decade. One of them was Jonathan West, whose “longtime companion” (the euphemism for gay couples frequently used in obituaries of that era) Dennis Peron channeled his own fondness for cannabis into a crusade. Alongside activists like Jack Herer and “Brownie Mary” Rathburn, Peron pioneered the concept of the medical marijuana dispensary with his San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club. This upsurge in activism helped to convey the message that cannabis was actually medicine and the momentum contributed to the movement to draft Proposition 215, which Peron famously championed. Scores of dying AIDS patients were finding much-needed, well-publicized comfort from cannabis during the deeply traumatic epidemic, and legislators were taking note.
To this day, every non-CBD-only state medical cannabis program lists HIV or AIDS as one of its approved conditions — even newcomers like Mississippi, which shows the durability of this era’s legacy.
DEFINING THE PRESENT
Within the cannabis industry, LGBT+ entrepreneurs are already beginning to forge ground. In January during the Aspen Gay Ski Week, Massachusetts-based retailer Farnsworth Fine Cannabis, beverage brand Cann and the magazine Different Leaf announced the inauguration of the Queer Cannabis Club, an industry consortium which seeks to gather all LGBT+ owned and themed brands under one roof. Since its announcement, it has already gained the support of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce. Speaking to Forbes, Cann co-founder Jake Bullock put his community’s embrace of cannabis in perspective: “From a very early on, we’re told that we're different in a certain way. Queer people tend to use substances at higher rates and that's not a coincidence or an accident… we’re trying to grasp something, whether it’s community, acceptance or validation. Cannabis can help with that when (consumed) the right way, not as escapism, but in an attempt to truly validate and find yourself.”
Learn More about Emerald Village: LA's West Hollywood aims to become a new New Amsterdam