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Cannabis and LGBTQ+ Share a Deep Connection

The relationship between cannabis and the LGBTQ+ community is undeniable, with Proposition 215, also known as the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, playing a vital role. This initiative emerged during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and ’90s, a devastating health crisis that the government largely ignored. In the face of such adversity, the LGBTQ+ community found solace and unity in cannabis. Prop 215 granted individuals the right to possess, use, obtain, and cultivate marijuana for medical purposes with a doctor’s approval, and in 1997, the transportation of cannabis was added as the fifth right.

To understand the origins of this connection, we must go back to where it all began.

Beginnings in the Castro: A Taste of Freedom

Dennis Peron, a gay hippy, returned to the US from Vietnam with two pounds of weed in his possession. He transformed his home on Castro Street in San Francisco into a gathering place for quality cannabis and mind-expanding psychedelics, such as magic mushrooms and LSD. Locally grown cannabis became a staple in the community, and an atmosphere of Mother Nature’s embrace permeated the space. This cannabis-centric environment gave rise to the Castro’s thriving cannabis movement.

In 1978, California passed the Moscone Privacy Act, which reduced the possession of an ounce of marijuana from a felony to a misdemeanor. The community’s imagination ran wild, and various advocacy efforts like Prop W took place. Brownie Mary, a cannabis activist, played a crucial role in this movement by baking and distributing hundreds of marijuana-infused brownies to AIDS patients. The Castro became a symbol of the intertwining of medical and sexual liberation, as well as a hub for cannabis activism.

The assassination of San Francisco’s mayor and a prominent gay supervisor in 1978, just weeks after the passage of Prop W, dealt a devastating blow to the LGBTQ+ community. Many believed that the success of the legalization initiative contributed to these tragic events. However, the community persevered, fueled by their dedication to freedom and justice.

The Arrival of AIDS

The LGBTQ+ community was hit hard by the AIDS crisis that emerged in the 1980s and ’90s. AIDS disproportionately affected gay men, causing widespread immune deficiencies and cancers. The government’s response was inadequate, offering toxic medications that further compromised the immune systems of those affected. In response, AIDS buyers’ clubs formed, searching for alternative treatments and information. Brownie Mary, among others, became a prominent figure in these clubs, delivering cannabis-infused brownies to patients to help alleviate their symptoms.

These clubs were a lifeline for many, providing access to cannabis when no other options were available. Dr. Donald Abrams, a clinician/investigator specializing in AIDS-related conditions, recognized the benefits of cannabis for AIDS patients and supported the work of activists like Brownie Mary.

The triumvirate behind the passage of Prop 215—Brownie Mary, Dennis Peron, and Dr. Tod H. Mikuriya—became instrumental figures in the fight for medical marijuana. Their advocacy and the grassroots support from the LGBTQ+ community played a significant role in raising public awareness and gaining support for cannabis as a legitimate medical treatment.

Evolution of the LGBTQ+ Community

During the 1980s, the LGBTQ+ community experienced significant changes and growth. Lesbian activists pushed for recognition and a more inclusive representation of sexual orientations and gender identities. The term “gay” was no longer sufficient to encompass the diverse experiences of the community. The LGBTQ+ identity emerged, encompassing lesbian, gay, bisexual, questioning, and other sexual freedom issues.

However, the inclusion of transgender individuals faced resistance and challenges within the community. Over time, the trans rights movement gained momentum, with notable figures like Chelsea Manning playing a pivotal role. The fight for equality and acceptance within the LGBTQ+ community continues, with a greater emphasis on educating the public and dismantling stereotypes and misconceptions.

The Infancy of Cannabis Buyers’ Clubs

The public’s support for cannabis was evident in the early 1990s when San Francisco passed the Hemp Preparations Initiative with an astounding 82% approval rate. This success laid the groundwork for the establishment of the first cannabis buyers’ club, CHAMP (Cannabis Helps Alleviate Medical Problems). CHAMP provided a safe space for patients to socialize and access medical cannabis, despite its federal illegality.

However, the club faced legal challenges, and its leaders were prosecuted. The trial resulted in an acquittal, with the San Francisco District Attorney testifying in favor of the club’s operations. This victory reaffirmed the legitimacy of cannabis as a medicine and the crucial role buyers’ clubs played in providing access to patients in need.

The Rise of Initiatives

CHAMP’s success paved the way for the establishment of Dennis Peron’s groundbreaking cannabis buyers’ club in downtown San Francisco. This three-story club served as a sanctuary for patients and caregivers, offering high-quality medical cannabis and a welcoming environment for socialization. The club became a symbol of the community’s resilience and determination.

The push for broader legalization and access to medical cannabis led to the creation of Prop 215. AIDS patients took charge, gathering half a million registered voters to qualify the initiative for the 1996 ballot. Despite internal disagreements, the campaign succeeded, and Prop 215 passed with 56% voter support. This groundbreaking initiative marked the end of 82 years of cannabis prohibition in California and ignited a compassionate movement that impacted the lives of countless individuals.

For individuals like myself, who identified as a bisexual feminist cannabis activist in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the LGBTQ+ community became a haven of support and shared values. The fight for cannabis rights became intertwined with the fight for LGBTQ+ rights, both driven by a desire for freedom, equality, and social justice.

The true power of the LGBTQ+ community lies in its ability to turn adversity into progress. By embracing cannabis as a tool for liberation and healing, the community has facilitated change not only for its members but for society as a whole.

Stonewall: The Birth of Equality

The LGBTQ+ movement traces its roots back to the Stonewall riots in 1969. This pivotal event marked the beginning of a broader fight for equal rights and acceptance. The LGBTQ+ community stood united, representing diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, challenging societal norms, and demanding recognition and freedom.

The evolution of the LGBTQ+ movement was fueled by the counterculture of the era, which championed peace, sexual freedom, medical freedom, and access to psychedelic experiences. These values became intertwined with the fight for LGBTQ+ rights and influenced the community’s push for cannabis advocacy.

With each passing day, we move closer to a society that fully embraces cannabis equality, just as it has embraced marriage equality. The LGBTQ+ community’s unique connection to cannabis, rooted in the pursuit of medical and sexual freedom, has transformed perspectives and opened doors to a more compassionate and inclusive society.

However, there are still barriers to overcome, particularly in understanding and supporting the transgender community. Educating ourselves and the general public about transgender issues is crucial for progress and inclusivity. As the Human Rights Campaign has declared a state of emergency for LGBTQ+ individuals, it is vital that we work towards policies that protect and empower all members of the community.


1. How did cannabis become intertwined with the LGBTQ+ community?

The connection between cannabis and the LGBTQ+ community emerged during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and ’90s. Cannabis provided solace and relief for AIDS patients when traditional medications were inadequate. Activists like Brownie Mary played a crucial role in delivering cannabis-infused brownies to those in need, fostering a strong bond between the LGBTQ+ community and cannabis.

2. What role did Proposition 215 play in the relationship between cannabis and the LGBTQ+ community?

Proposition 215, also known as the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, granted individuals the right to possess, use, obtain, and cultivate marijuana for medical purposes with a doctor’s approval. This initiative was driven by the LGBTQ+ community’s advocacy for medical cannabis, particularly for AIDS patients. Prop 215 solidified the connection between cannabis and the LGBTQ+ community by providing legal protection for medical marijuana use.

3. How did the LGBTQ+ community’s fight for equality impact the cannabis movement?

The LGBTQ+ community’s fight for equality and acceptance paralleled the fight for cannabis rights. Both movements pushed for freedom, social justice, and the recognition of individual rights. The LGBTQ+ community’s support and activism played a significant role in raising awareness and gaining public support for medical cannabis, leading to policy changes and a more compassionate approach to marijuana use.

4. Has the LGBTQ+ community’s influence extended beyond cannabis advocacy?

Yes, the LGBTQ+ community’s influence extends far beyond cannabis advocacy. The community has been at the forefront of fighting for equal rights and acceptance on various fronts. LGBTQ+ activists have played key roles in advocating for gender equality, transgender rights, and dismantling stereotypes and prejudices. Their efforts have shaped a more inclusive and compassionate society for all.

Dr. Jen Chalmers
Dr. Jen Chalmers
Dr. Jen Chalmers is an accomplished writer and cannabis enthusiast. With a Ph.D. in Botany and years of experience as a researcher, she brings a scientific perspective to her captivating articles on cannabis news, recipes, and the fascinating world of psychedelics.

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