It’s well known that the cannabis industry is overwhelmingly white. And even with great strides led by groups like Women Grow or Cannabis Feminist, the industry is also overwhelmingly run by men. What’s more, the cannabis industry has only a relatively small contingent focused on the intersectionality between the LGBTQ community and the drug policy reform community.
As Tessa Love wrote for Slate, “White appropriated rasta colors and women clad in weed-leaf bikinis abound, and on the buttoned-up side of things, the ubiquitous influence of the tech-bro is essentially turning the cannabis industry into the next Silicon Valley—a space not exactly known for its inclusivity.”
While there’s still a chance to change a new and malleable industry, various municipalities and organizations have aimed to empower people of color and rebuild communities marginalized by the Drug War, and women have staked out more than 30 percent of leadership positions in the cannabis space. However, there’s little being done to make the space more inclusive for the LGBTQ community.
Meet Laganja Estranja (né Jay Jackson), a drag queen, a choreographer, a competitor in RuPaul’s Drag Race, and a cannabis activist. In partnership with cannabis company Hepburns, he’s created a brand of pre-rolls, which he says are the “first openly gay joints on the market. He also leads LGBTQ-friendly medicated dance classes. As a public figure, he’s spoken on panels and made various appearances at cannabis industry gatherings around the country — but he doesn’t always feel comfortable in drag at events.
“I have to be concerned about my safety and I have to keep putting out my art, so I can’t put myself in situations that aren’t safe,” Jackson says. “Which says a lot about the community. I should feel safe at the Cannabis Cup. It’s like, come on bro, we’re just smoking pot. What’s the big deal if I’m tucked and giving you a show?”
In fact, the beginning of the cannabis legalization movement shares roots with the gay rights movement. Harvey Milk, America’s first openly gay elected official, helped pass Proposition W in 1978 to decriminalize cannabis in San Francisco. Decades later, Dennis Peron co-authored Prop 215 to legalize medical marijuana in California.
For Peron, cannabis legalization was personal. His best friend and lover, Jonathan West, was an AIDS patient, who used the plant medicinally. West was on his deathbed when the cops busted him for weed.
“Marijuana was his best medicine. The cops came in one night, while he was dying, and stole four ounces of pot that we had been using as medicine,” Peron said. “He was 90 pounds and was weak and frail and covered with Kaposi’s Sarcoma lesions. He was the love of my life and I had to watch him from the top floor being beaten, with a gun to his head. And I decided they would never do this again.”
Today, not many people realize how much the cannabis industry owes to grass roots legalization and gay rights activists. If that connection were more clear, perhaps things would be different.
“We shouldn’t be ‘included’ in it. We are it,” says Jackson. The question should be not how to make space in the cannabis industry for the LGBTQ community, but about upholding the space they’ve had in the cannabis movement since its genesis.