June is Pride Month, and as it turns out the LGBTQ movement has more in common with the cannabis movement than you might think.
“The entire medical cannabis movement owes a direct debt to the gay community of San Francisco,” said Steve DeAngelo, author of The Cannabis Manifesto. “It came out of the personal relationship of two gay men and the commitment of those people to each other. There’s a very very, direct line of debt there.”
In 1978, Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man in America to be elected to public office, helped pass Proposition W, which decriminalized cannabis in San Francisco. He had given up smoking weed, himself, so that he could serve as city supervisor and make it more accessible to others. “I decided this was all too important to have it get wrecked because of smoking a joint or being in a raid at some bathhouse,” Milk said in The Mayor of Castro Street.
The next major piece of cannabis legislation in California came a few decades later. In 1991, Vietnam vet and former weed dealer turned AIDS activist, Dennis Peron, helped pass Proposition P, which set up cannabis “buyers clubs” around San Francisco. Then in 1996, he co-authored Proposition 215, which legalized medical marijuana in California.
Less known is that Peron’s best friend and lover, Jonathan West, was dying of AIDS when the cops raided his home and found a quarter pound of weed — the only thing that made life tolerable for West in his final days, according to Peron.
“The last time they busted me was with Jonathan,” Peron said. “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. 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.”
After the bust, West went to court, where he argued that cannabis was his medicine and Peron was his caretaker in administering it. That was the first ruling that recognized the medicinal value of cannabis, and as DeAngelo put it, the “spark that set off the medical cannabis movement.”
Not only have key players in the gay rights movement been instrumental in advancing medical marijuana, but the cannabis movement itself has taken cues from the LGBTQ movement. The whole notion of pride and coming out has helped make the LGBTQ community more maintream and less stigmatized. Knowing someone who is gay or trans, for instance, has helped people unfamiliar with the community better understand and support it. Same with cannabis. Having more people come out of the closet and admit proudly to using cannabis normalizes the plant and the very regular, everyday people and patients who consume it.