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Cannabis advocates owe a debt of gratitude to LGBTQ
by Dessy Pavlova · June 10, 2022
Gay rights and cannabis activism were movements that grew parallel to each other. The tireless work of the LGBTQ+ community finally achieved the legalization of gay marriage in both Canada and the United States, ushering in a new age of fairness in the fight for equality under the law. For cannabis advocates, the effort to see cannabis use legalized federally in the United States continues, but their mission has been realized in Canada and in a growing number of states across the U.S. Both groups share a bond, along with other activists of other civil rights causes, in their resilience and dedication to their cause in the face of discrimination and marginalization. Both groups were, and in some places continue to be, shunned and persecuted by society.
Without the work of gay rights advocates, cannabis law reform might not have made it as far as it has, with recreational adult-use laws coming online across North America and cannabis law reform being implemented around the world in various degrees.
Allen Ginsberg, a gay beat poet in New York City, 1964, is credited with founding the earliest cannabis advocacy organization, LeMar. Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California, 1977, helped pass Proposition W, California’s decriminalization law. That same bill was co-authored by cannabis activist Dennis Peron, who fought for medical marijuana access since in 1970s, after seeing firsthand how his partner benefited from using cannabis while living with AIDS. These are just two examples of the social causes intersecting, learning from each other, and borrowing the energy and momentum of one to act as a catalyst for the other. It is arguable that cannabis legalization would have taken even longer than it ultimately did without the energetic activism of the gay community behind the push.
When we say ‘legalization,’ you’d think we’d just be talking about cannabis or drugs, but the truth is, gay marriage is still not a right in some places. In fact in the US, it wasn’t even a decade ago that the Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. Some states still cling to outdated gay marriage bans, which means even in 2022, we have a long way to go when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights and acceptance without stigma. Hatred, homophobia, and paranoia of gay rights being a danger to children are just a few of the obstacles still facing.
These challenges are echoed in the push for cannabis legalization, which faces stiff opposition from conservative groups and police leaders across the U.S. As was seen in Delaware, the most recent state to reject a bill to legalize recreational cannabis, resistance remains and, at times, prevails. The fight goes on to fight misinformation and dispel the fear associated with bringing cannabis into a legal framework. Fear of cannabis’ potential social side effects still outweighs its proven medical and socio-economic benefits.
While both causes began with little more than hope and grew to become international movements that have seen great tangible successes, challenges for both remain. There is power in numbers; activists in both movements would be wise in continuing to follow the lead of those pioneering LGBTQ and cannabis leaders in the past who chose to join forces.