The Intertwining History of Cannabis and LGBTQ Activism

Many queer people love cannabis, and it’s no surprise that these two progressive social movements share much in common, with attitudes around gay marriage and legalizing weed shifting dramatically in the past decade. A culmination of tireless activism, generational evolution and steadfast devotion to justice and equality, the increasing social acceptance of gay marriage, LGBTQ people and legal cannabis use dates back to the early medical marijuana movement.

According to a 2009 study, it seems as if people in the LGTBQ community have more of an affinity for cannabis compared to their cis-het counterparts, with gay men four times more likely to report smoking weed compared to hetrosexual men, and lesbian women six times more likely to toke compared to hetrosexual women. What could this higher rate of use mean? Some people think that the increased stresses associated with identifying as LGTBQ inclines people to use cannabis. There’s also a deep-rooted history of intersectional activism involving both social justice for the LGTBQ community and those who use cannabis, which we will explore.

The AIDS Epidemic

Thirty years ago, another fatal disease was ravaging the U.S., but no one in the mainstream political establishment would take it seriously for years after its discovery. As the AIDS epidemic swept through gay communities, the newly emerging disease killed over 100,000 people throughout the 1980s, and by 1990, over 700,000 were living with the disease. Due to rampant homophobia and the mistaken belief that only gay men could get AIDS, help from the medical establishment and government was slow to materialize. In the absence of traditional therapies or institutional support, AIDS patients and their caregivers discovered cannabis helped.

As a gay man living in San Francisco, Air Force veteran Dennis Peron returned from an unjust war abroad only to fight another type of unjust war at home, against homophobia and oppression. Peron saw how cannabis helped people who were suffering from HIV / AIDS, including his partner Jonathan West.

Demand for Legal Medical Marijuana

The AIDS crisis kickstarted the medical marijuana movement, with HIV-positive couple Ken and Barbara Jenks successfully arguing in a Florida court that their possession of cannabis was a medical necessity, gaining access to a legal supply through the little-known Compassionate IND program. The first legal medical marijuana patient, Bob C. Randall, was using cannabis to treat glaucoma, but when he and his wife Alice O’Leary learned that it could help people suffering from HIV/AIDS, they encouraged hundreds of patients to apply for IND access. After admitting only 28 new patients, the Compassionate IND program was quietly shut down by the government in 1992, leaving no legal route for medical marijuana access.

After returning from Vietnam, Peron had begun dealing grass out of his Castro apartment in the 70s, enduring arrests and harassment. In 1991, after losing his partner Jonathan West to AIDS, Peron found solace in his activism, successfully promoting Prop P, a San Francisco Ballot Initiative that garnered 80% approval with voters. The first step towards legal access, Prop P allowed for licensed physicians to “prescribe hemp preparations for medical purposes.”

This first victory in the medical marijuana movement emboldened Peron, and he opened the San Francisco Cannabis Buyer’s Club in 1992, the first public dispensary. Known as the CBC, the Buyer’s Club operated as a safe space for patients to access cannabis medicine and consume it on site. At the height of the CBC’s influence, the club served over 4,500 patients suffering from HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other terminal diseases. While CBC was condoned by local authorities, the club was constantly under threat of raids by Federal drug law enforcers. Speaking to the San Francisco Chronicle, medical marijuna patient Wayne Justmann recalls the importance of the community that formed around the CBC, saying “Tell me where the hell else you, as an AIDS or HIV-positive individual, could go to get a hug?”

In 1993, Peron teamed up with his friend and fellow activist Mary Jane Rathbun, also known as Brownie Mary, to write a cannabis cookbook entitled “Brownie Mary's Marijuana Cookbook and Dennis Peron's Recipe for Social Change.” Known as a tenacious but motherly “old lady,” Brownie Mary was arrested several times for baking cannabis-infused brownies for patients in AIDS hospital wards, who she affectionately referred to as her “kids.” A sprawling collection of recipes, news clippings and Peron’s personal backstory, the book catalogues the love, hope and perseverance that inspired this group of revolutionary activists. An excerpt:

“We have fended off the forces of division and hate with our pain and love. The DEA and FBI decided to shut down the Buyer’s Club in April of ‘95. They gathered forces from around the country. They had twenty agents videotaping and following members home. They followed one member who was bringing baked goods to his dying friends in a local hospice. After determining that they needed at least 50 agents, federal authorities requested 30 officers from the San Francisco Police Department… Not one San Francisco Police Officer would participate in this ill-thought-out raid.”

The Prop 215 Campaign


After state narcotics agents finally raided the Cannabis Buyer’s Club on August 5, 1996, (without the involvement of local police), the resulting backlash and national media attention brought an influx of cash and energy to the campaign for Proposition 215, the landmark medical marijuana initiative that allowed Californians to access cannabis. The passage of the 1996 Compassionate Use Act earned Peron the title of “the Father of Medical Marijuana,” and he continued his cannabis activism for the rest of his life, passing away in 2018 at the age of 72. Prop 215 ultimately inspired other U.S. states to adopt medical marijuana laws, meaning that Peron’s legacy paved the way for full adult-use legalization twenty years later.

Cannabis companies honor this history by celebrating Pride throughout the U.S., with social justice campaigns, donations and give-back programs. At ABX, we commemorate Pride by activating with our community at events across the state, including San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles, Palm Springs, and San Diego. We are proud to stand with our local community and Food For Thought, who provides healing nutrition and compassion to over 850 people affected by serious illnesses in the North Bay.

ABX Staff

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