Cannabis and the LGBTQ community share a long, intertwined history together, and it’s no surprise that two vastly different progressive movements have such similar radical experiences; passionate protesting, endless education and generational acceptance are familiar practices for LGBTQ folk and marijuana lovers alike.
From American activist Dennis Peron fighting for HIV/AIDS patients and their right to use medical marijuana to the brave queer men and women educating others on the mental and physical benefits of the weed plant, we owe our cannabis consumption today to those inspiring movers and shakers who came before for us.
Let’s take a closer look at how the two became so closely connected.
According to New Frontier Data, gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans support legalization of cannabis at much higher rates than heterosexuals. In 2010, 65% of gay and lesbian survey respondents supported legalization, and by 2016, support among this segment had grown to 80%. Support was even greater among those who identified as bisexual, at 73% in 2010 and 91% in 2016. Heterosexuals meanwhile supported legalization at a rate of 44% in 2010 and 58% in 2016.
While the LGBTQ population had proudly consumed cannabis for decades prior, the AIDS epidemic spurred one of the first notable spikes in medical marijuana use among this community. According to Cannabis-Med.org, the sudden and aggressive rise of AIDS and the extreme lack of prioritized treatments left patients with little help in managing their symptoms. Countless victims and their caregivers discovered the soothing properties of marijuana and sought much-needed relief through consuming the plant.
Studies conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information reported that HIV/AIDS patients often used cannabis to help alleviate debilitating symptoms caused by a lethal wasting disease, which often involves loss of appetite, weight loss, weakness, fatigue, nerve damage and other difficult, painful symptoms. People also successfully used cannabis to counteract the side effects of their new medications, which included nausea and vomiting.
Dennis Peron & the fight for legalization
Proud gay activist and cannabis enthusiast Dennis Peron took particular interest in the use of marijuana to soothe symptoms for AIDS patients. Originally from the Bronx, Peron made his way to San Francisco in 1967, where he spent the “summer of love” living in various “hippie” communes and selling weed before shipping out to fight in Vietnam. As the AIDS crisis continued to intensify, Peron’s neighborhood, the famous Castro, became “ground zero for activists and AIDS patients alike.” The determined cannabis devotee began publicly sharing the many positive effects cannabis provided for AIDS patients and made it his mission to fight for their right to openly consume it.
Peron spearheaded theled his charge by collecting petition signatures to put Proposition P, which legalized medical use of cannabis within San Francisco’s city limits, on the citywide ballot.,” In November 1991, San Francisco voters overwhelmingly passed the measure with an 80% vote of approval. But Peron didn’t stop there.
Proposition 215: The Medical Marijuana Program (MMP)
Peron had made great strides towards legalizing marijuana in San Francisco and was working toward statewide legalization. Prop 215, The Medical Marijuana Program (MMP), was soon approved by 56% of the state’s voters, which turned California into America’s first state to legalize the medical use of cannabis.
Prop 215 was created to provide a voluntary medical marijuana identification card issuance and registry program for qualified patients and their caregivers. The web-based registry system allows law enforcement and the public to verify the validity of a qualified patient or caregiver’s card as authorization to possess, grow, transport and/or use Medical Marijuana in California.
Cannabis for mental wellness
The AIDS epidemic ignited a powerful flame towards legalizing medical marijuana, but cannabis consumption among the general LGBTQ community remained on the rise for decades to come, and not just for its physical effects.
A 2015 study stated that sexual minority adults (members of the LGBTQ community) consumed more than twice the amount of cannabis as their sexual majority (heterosexual) peers. Over 30 percent reported using marijuana in the past year, compared to 12.9 percent of heterosexual adults.
While not all members of the LGBTQ community have the same experiences, reports of harsh discrimination, prejudice, denial of civil and human rights, harassment and family rejection are still tragically common for people with these identities. As compared to people who identify as straight, LGBTQ individuals are three times more likely to experience a mental health condition, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health.
Many members of the queer community seek out marijuana as a way to help calm the mind and improve mental wellness.
In November 2016, California voted to legalize the “adult use” (recreational use not requiring a prescription), and the first fully legal retail cannabis stores opened on January 1, 2018, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Although they aren’t the only ones enjoying cannabis, LGBTQ members remain some of the top consumers and continue to advocate for awareness of the magic plant they credit with both physical and mental benefits.