There’s been a lot of talk about Laganja Estranja, aka Jay Jackson, over the past couple of years. Laganja was the first openly LGBTQIA person to be featured on the front cover of a cannabis magazine (Dope Magazine) in 2015, and in 2016 he announced an award at the High Times Concentrates Cup. Granted, there are lots of differences between LGBT and cannabis activism, but there are some similarities. Let’s look at how Pride and the pro-pot movements compare in a little bit of detail …
Some Shared History
Harvey Milk, who was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in 1978, pushed for the decriminalization of marijuana alongside cannabis and LGBT activist (and advisor to Harvey), Dennis Peron. Anyone who knows anything about Dennis Peron would know that he has a long history in this game. Peron is one of the co-founders of the Cannabis Buyers Club as well as one of the brains behind Proposition 215.
Peron is also a clearly a man of principle (and after our hearts here at Doctor Frank): in 2010, he opposed California Proposition 19, which would have legalized the sale and possession of cannabis to some extent, as he did not believe that recreational use of marijuana exists, and that all use is medicinal. It’s hard not to see that there is at least some crossover between the two communities, when you have men like Peron spearheading part of it!
There is a lot of talk about “coming out of the cannabis closet.” Basically, this means people are more open about their cannabis use and are willing to admit it publically. Anyone with a keen eye would see that this parallels with “coming out of the closet” – a term used for people telling their friends and relatives that they are LGBT. Whilst there are obvious contrasts between cannabis and LGBT history and culture as a whole (cannabis-friendly communities and societies are not always LGBT-friendly, and vice-versa), there are some points of comparison as well.
We mentioned some shared history above, but it must be remembered that cannabis use has been a prosecutable offence in the United States since the 1930s (although cannabis was added as a “habit-forming drug” as early as 1914), much in the same way that same-sex sexual activity was a prosecutable offence in California until the 1970s. There is also the idea that marijuana use was often associated with Mexican and black communities, and arbitrary laws made it easier to prosecute minorities.
There is some merit to this argument, but by no means does it give us an entirely accurate history – men in general regardless of their race are usually the main victims of the War on Drugs, and it could even be argued that cannabis helped reduce the blight of crack-cocaine on African-American communities, as African-American sentencing rates for marijuana specifically dropped during the 90s. Non-US citizens, Hispanic/Latino communities and caucasian communities made up the bulk of marijuana sentences from 1998 – 2012. Though there needs to be more evidence to support this supposition, it might not be totally unreasonable to state that the legalization of marijuana will help reduce hard drug use in general significantly, amongst all communities in the United States. There is a reason why they call this the plant of peace, you know!
To get back onto the original point. There is definitely some shared DNA between the LGBT rights and marijuana legalization movement, at least in some parts of the US and the world. In fact, there is a lot of shared DNA between marijuana and human rights abuses, especially if we start thinking about the fact that people are denied this medicine by the rule of law …
“My Body, My Choice”
Adults have the right to choose what they do with their own bodies. Whether this is using cannabis or being in a same-sex relationship.
It is of no concern to lawmakers and the state to legislate against what someone does to themselves, as long as no one’s individual rights are being infringed (i.e. coercion, force, abuse).
Some Culturally Similar Attitudes
Carrying on with the “my body, my choice” theme, it is fair to say that, in the Western world, cannabis-friendly communities and LGBT communities are fairly “live and let live” in their attitudes. The stereotypically (but somewhat true) relaxed, open-minded demeanor of the cannabis enthusiast gels well with this attitude, as does the “be who you want to be” attitude found amongst LGBT activists.
Furthermore, when we look at the jazz and disco clubs throughout the 20th Century, there was certainly a more libertine attitude towards both sexuality and cannabis use. Plus, marijuana is used by people from all walks of life. Sickness strikes people no matter what their sexuality is, meaning that people from all walks of life may well start requiring cannabis at some point in their lives. Is there any wonder that these two socially libertarian worlds would collide on occasion, when both of their histories are intertwined at key points of 20th Century Western history?
Access to Medicine vs. Sexual Rights?
This is perhaps one of the key areas where the cannabis use and LGBT rights differ. Is it really completely fair to compare the use of a plant to the right to sexual determination? Yes, in terms of “my body, my choice”, but also “no” to a certain extent. There is a difference in how we legislate access to medicinal substances and the right to sexual determination.
As stated earlier, marijuana was made illegal in the 1930s, but was decided to be “habit-forming” under the various poisons acts of the early 1900s being passed. To be fair to some of these acts, a lot of the reason the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 was passed was to ensure medicines were labelled correctly and their ingredients listed.
Though it is definitely fair to say that cannabis was unfairly maligned in this sweeping legislation, to say that it is a bad thing to inform customers what’s in the foods and drugs they are taking can’t be said to be evil incarnate in entirety. Sure, marijuana was considered and listed as a “dangerous drug”, but so was opium. Even a stuck clock gets the time right twice a day.
Frankly, we have enough of a problem with addictive prescription medications and badly-regulated CBD oil markets at the moment – imagine what it was like during the 1800s, when “secret ingredients” were abound and nobody knowing whether or not they were consuming arsenic or opium (or even both)!
Scientific knowledge has also come a long way since the early 1900s. We can quite confidently say that refined sugar and alcohol use kills more people per year than cannabis use alone. Why do we legislate against cannabis in an edible so much, when it can be said that perhaps the refined sugar in some edibles is far more dangerous to take on too regular a basis? There is no evidence that marijuana gives you diabetes – there is plenty of evidence saying that refined sugar does. As for cannabis, there is more and more evidence coming out about its medical benefits as opposed to its harms (including for diabetes, as Butch McCurdy can attest to!).
Marijuana has also been legal for a lot longer than it’s been illegal, and it’s a tendency of humans to think of the history of their lifetimes as being the history of all the world ever. We must also remember that there are places, towns and countries in South and Central America, Africa, Asia, Europe and, well, the world over where cannabis use is tolerated or acceptable.
Whether all of these places the world over are also LGBT-friendly as well depends very much on the locale! Similarly, as surprising as it may seem, not all LGBT-friendly places are going to be canna-friendly (e.g. a drug rehabilitation programme focussing on treating LGBT people, but still adhering to a 12-step drug treatment plan). Culture and history is important and plays a big part of whether one thing or another is tolerated or accepted.
We have hopefully given you something to think about. In the meantime, have a happy Pride (and happy upcoming 4th of July), and feel free to add your thoughts and comments below. Oh, and keep tuning into Elevate the Conversation every Wednesday at 6pm!