Pride Month: Celebrating Ties Between California’s Cannabis and LGBTQ Movements

With more and more cannabis companies promoting Pride Month, LGBTQ activists want individuals to remember historic ties between the two movements. Throughout June, you can buy cannabis-infused gummies and vapes, joints or flower with rainbow packaging and initiatives to financially support the LGBTQ groups.

There’s a deep connection between the cannabis industry and the LGBTQ community that longtime activists is advocating for to stay front and center long after the rainbow labels fade from this year’s product lines.

“The genesis of the cannabis movement, gay people served at the heart of it,” stated Michael Koehn, 75, of San Francisco, who’s been waging parallel fights for civil rights for LGBTQ people and cannabis consumers since he was diagnosed with HIV in 1985.

Koehn continues to fight for LGBTQ causes close to his heart and is also ready to pass the torch to a new generation of activists. And he said he’s seen enough from those young folks to feel optimistic that they will build on the work he and others started not long after the first AIDS cases were reported 40 years ago Saturday, on June 5, 1981.

Recognizing LGBTQ Activists

It’s a responsibility many companies take to heart, as they recognize the debt their recently legitimatized industry owes to LGBTQ activists while aggressively pushing for greater equity and representation of diverse communities in California’s licensed cannabis sector.

“It’s such a new industry that we don’t face the same history of old-fashioned ideas we have to overcome,” stated Laura Michelson, spokeswoman for PLUS. “There’s a lot of opportunity to get it right quicker.”

California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana 25 years ago. But Koehn’s husband, David Goldman, 70, of San Francisco, said, “If it hadn’t been for activity among gay folks, we wouldn’t have had medical cannabis on the ballot in 1996.”

The connection between the two counterculture movements goes back decades, with key activists long advocating for civil rights and greater acceptance of both communities.

In 1978, San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, who was the first openly gay man elected to public office in the country, helped pass a proposition that encouraged local law enforcement to stop arresting and prosecuting people for growing, distributing, and possessing marijuana. It’s viewed as the first marijuana decriminalization bill passed in the nation.

Pride Month Every Month

Partnerships between cannabis companies and nonprofits that support the LGBTQ community remain “overly complicated,” though, Garrett-Pate said, due to the continued criminalization of cannabis at the federal level.

“If consumers want to support queer people, they should back companies that all year round give back and do good work,” another individual stated. “I think it’s fine that corporations now support our civil rights. It means we’re integrated into society. And someday it won’t matter whether you’re gay or not. It will just matter if you’re kind.”

There is of course pushback from some members of each community against being linked to the other movement. In the LGBTQ movement, there are members who oppose legal cannabis and don’t want the public to link being gay with consuming drugs of any kind. There also is a contingent of longtime marijuana farmers who have a more libertarian bent and aren’t as welcoming to LGBTQ colleagues.

But Goldman said he feels most people in both communities are accepting of the other. And he feels strong unity around the need for the next phase of advocacy for both LGBTQ people and for cannabis consumers. After all, he said, you don’t pass one civil rights law and claim victory. “It’s an evolution.”




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