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Pride and Cannabis in 2016: Two Fundamental Human Rights

Photo by Gracie Malley


Pride and Cannabis in 2016: Two Fundamental Human Rights

When 46th annual San Francisco Pride Celebration and Parade launches this weekend, companies representing the cannabis community will all be participating in the event.

“For Racial and Economic Justice” is the theme this year. San Francisco stands with the 49 victims of Pulse Orlando, this year with heightened security. The San Francisco LGBT community is certainly no stranger to terror — in 1978 the gay community’s leader and voice Harvey Milk was assassinated along with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone. The medical cannabis movement, centered in San Francisco, was built upon the work of LGBT and AIDS activists.

“The entire medical cannabis movement owes a direct debt to the gay community of San Francisco” Steve DeAngelo told Stuff Stoners Like. “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.”

Harvey Milk, the first elected gay man in America, helped pass Proposition W, decriminalizing cannabis in San Francisco in 1978. He gave up his own habit for his position of city supervisor in order to make pot available 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” he said in the book “The Mayor of Castro Street.”

Milk’s legacy surrounding LGBT and cannabis rights was immortalized in the Academy Award-winning film “The Life and Times of Harvey Milk” and the Golden Globe-nominated “Milk” featuring Sean Penn. Before Harvey Milk, gay men across America were thrown in jail and were outed with photographs in the daily news just for being present in a gay bar.

Dennis Peron, a Vietnam veteran and former pot dealer, became an AIDS activist long before he co-authored Proposition 215. “In fact, I don’t know if everyone knows this story,” explained DeAngelo, “but Dennis Peron’s lover Jonathan was dying and the police came in and raided Dennis’s home and found a quarter-pound of cannabis.”

In the ’80s and throughout the early ’90s an HIV diagnosis was an automatic death sentence.

No effective medicine was available, and some early medications, like AZT, destroyed AIDS patients’ immune systems faster than the virus itself. LGBT men had many legitimate reasons not to trust the experimental medicines that were available. Buyer’s clubs offered alternative treatments. Dennis Peron’s late lover Jonathan West contracted the virus long before the advent of effective antiretrovirals, so living a long life was not an option. Marijuana, Peron swears, is the only thing that eased the final days of Jonathan’s life. People like “Brownie” Mary Rathbun, truly a person with a kind heart, gave out edibles to dying AIDS patients around her. By 1985, 12,529 men and women died from AIDS in the United States.

It would take another two years for the Reagan administration to finally recognize the AIDS epidemic — 20,849 men and women had died by then.

Medical marijuana was all they had to ease nausea and pain. Both Peron and Brownie Mary helped pass Proposition P in 1991, setting up cannabis “buyer’s clubs” around the city of San Francisco. Five years later, he’d co-author and help pass Proposition 215 in California. “Every cannabis user is a medical patient whether they know it or not” Peron famously said.

The San Francisco Buyers Club, launched by Dennis Peron, Brownie Mary and others, was the first public cannabis collective in the United States. It opened doors in 1992 with the purpose of helping those suffering from AIDS. The San Francisco Buyers Club was based on an illegal collective organized by Thomas O’Malley. O’Malley himself died of AIDS in 1992. The San Francisco Buyers Club eventually changed its name to the Cannabis Cultivators Club and relocated to San Francisco’s predominately gay neighborhood in the Castro.

The cannabis community is still intertwined with the LGBT community in 2016. HIV is no longer a death sentence, but it’s still the number one qualifying illness for medical marijuana. Like Brownie Mary, caregivers still offer cannabis-infused product to the LGBT community, only the recipe is quite a bit more complex nowadays.

This year Meadow is teaming up with the Gridiron Cannabis Coalition and the Brownie Mary Democratic Club for a special happy hour to kick off the Pride Weekend celebration in San Francisco. LGBT men and women in the industry will gather at the Meadow Headquarters today. The purpose of the event is to educate the cannabis industry on the LGBT issues and history. The Brownie Mary Democratic Club is focused on the advancement of medical cannabis and harmony in the Democratic Party.

Foria Pleasure and WeedMaps also launched “Explore PRIDE” this weekend at collective SPARC in San Francisco. They celebrated this year’s events as well as the official launch of Foria Explore, their new line of pleasure-oriented cannabis topicals.

Despite the celebratory nature of the annual event, the tone at this year’s celebrations is a little different. Orlando’s nightclub, bar and sanctuary Pulse was the venue for the worst shooting on American soil in a long time. Thing’s got worse when 20-year-old James Wesley Howell inexplicably brought an entourage of assault rifles, ammo and explosives to the LA Pride parade in West Hollywood.

The already paranoid gay community responded almost immediately with Gadsden flags donning rainbows and a revolutionary rattlesnake. “Don’t Tread on Me,” they warn.

Today the cannabis community and LGBT community continue to share several common dilemmas most importantly, a need for acceptance and equality on a state and federal level.

Are you celebrating pride this month?

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