Like Sarah Palin recounting the tale of Paul Revere's ride to warn the British (of their own impending arrival), we Americans often have a fuzzy grasp of our history. This extends to the medical cannabis movement, which was birthed in San Francisco in the 1980s out of the AIDS epidemic. Gay men dying of AIDS during the darkest years of the Ronald Reagan era of ignorance found solace -- and in some cases healing -- from the cannabis plant.
In other words, without the LGBT movement -- and specifically, the AIDS epidemic -- there would be no medical cannabis movement.
This is easy to forget at some marijuana-themed events and expos around
the Bay Area, which now feature scantily clad women pushing delivery services and young urban tattooed gentleman pushing pipes. That's not
exactly gaycentric -- and in fact, it's downright "homophobic,"
according to some.
"Those little hookers? And the skateboard
thugs, and the womanizing?" says Randy Silva, a PhD student in clinical
psychology who's been a medical cannabis patient since he contracted
HIV in 2002 (and, it should be noted, a close friend of your
over the past year).
"It's not a gay-friendly atmosphere in any way,"
Silva added. "Nobody even seems to know that it's because of AIDS that
pot is legal in the first place. It's a big pet peeve of mine."
theory may hold water: There are very few storefront dispensaries we
can name that fly the LGBT rainbow flag outside of their establishments,
and these days, there is one dispensary
in the entire Castro. Then there was the odd
timing of the High Times Medical Cannabis Cup this past weekend which coincided with San Francisco's Pride celebration.
some LGBT medical cannabis activists we talked to think the movement is
just more diversified than anything else. As one activist told us:
"Thugs get AIDS, too."
The story goes that Castro District activist and pot dealer Dennis Peron co-authored Proposition 215 in part as a tribute to his deceased lover, who died from AIDS in the earliy 1990s. Consider this: Every legal pot smoker has a dead gay man to thank for the legal plants in his or her closet, but that doesn't mean the movement is necessarily gay-friendly -- or gay-unfriendly, for that matter, says David Goldman, facilitator of the San Francisco chapter of Americans for Safe Access.
Goldman was a teacher for more than 30 years -- he taught Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom mathematics at Redwood High in Marin County -- and was also a gay rights activist in the 1970s, shortly after moving to the Castro, where he has lived since with his husband of 30 years.
"Gay awareness rings a positive bell for me, but not seeing it isn't necessarily going to ring a negative bell for me," says Goldman, who says that he attended both the Medical Cannabis Cup and the Pride celebrations over the weekend.
"I think the medical cannabis movement is very diversified," he added. "When I go to these events I see all social classes -- I see old, I see young, I see white, I see black."
The fact that the Cup was scheduled for the same weekend as Pride wasn't High Times' intention, according to West Coast editor David Bienenstock. "The timing was just a coincidence," Bienenstock told us in an e-mail. He pointed out that High Times took out a full page ad in the Pride Guide. The magazine also used the LGBT movement as a positive model in an activism seminar during the Cup, telling pot users to "come out of the cannabis closet."
It could be a coincidence that the cannabis-friendliest politicians in Sacramento both happen to be gay. State Sen. Mark Leno and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano are both representatives from San Francisco, where constituents would not be satisfied with anything less.
It stands to mention that there have been no recorded incidents of outright homophobia at any cannabis-related events -- such acts "would not be tolerated by any of us," Bienenstock said, and you can bet your bottom bong that any homophobia would have been excoriated in the press and led to the offender's ostracization.
It could just be that the movement's expanded to include a diverse cast of characters. And while it wouldn't be fair to expect every LGBT activist to be well-versed in black history, for example, it would be good to know exactly why we are in 2011 talking about medical marijuana in 16 states -- and counting.
As Erich Pearson, founder of Mission Street dispensary SPARC put it: "It's natural for the movement to grow beyond its LGBT roots, but it's still important for people to be mindful of that history."