With marijuana fully legal in a growing number of states, and CBD products effectively becoming legal across the country, dozens of cannabis companies are getting in on LGBTQ Pride. At first glance, it may seem that cannabis companies are following in the footsteps of alcohol, clothing, and banking industries, jumping onto the Pride bandwagon in the hopes of racking up pink dollars. After all, if the LGBTQ community were a country, it would be the world’s fourth-largest economy, with a GDP of $4.6 trillion.
While blatant capitalism may be the reason why some cannabis companies show support to the LGBTQ community during Pride month, other brands feel more authentically-aligned with the queer community. “Cannabis and queers have always shared in the fight for respect and legal recognition, which inherently links the two communities,” explains Sophie St. Thomas, a queer sex and cannabis writer, and author of Finding Your Higher Self: Your Guide to Cannabis for Self Care.
Gigi Engle, a certified sex coach, clinical sexologist, and queer cannabis user, agrees. “Personally I think cannabis companies align more authentically with Pride than other companies because of the marginalized way both groups are presented in society,” she explains. “Unlike stupid corporate brands that are hopping on the bandwagon to sell their shitty merchandise when they once were nominally anti-gay, cannabis companies have pretty much never been anti-queer, as far as I know. Queers love weed.”
In fact, there’s a long history of the LGBTQ community’s involvement with the legal marijuana movement. “Legalization of cannabis wouldn’t be a thing if it wasn’t the LGBTQ community,” says Daniel Saynt, founder of the NSFW Creative, a media brand that specializes in cannabis and sexual-wellness content. “The HIV/AIDS epidemic was a major driver in legalizing the drug for medicinal use. Steve L. and Dennis Peron’s legal battle for medicinal cannabis rights was a turning point in the legalization movement, helping open people’s eyes to the drug’s benefits for terminally ill patients. California went legal in large part because of this fight.”
Peron, who Saynt mentions, is now considered the godfather of the legal cannabis movement. The openly gay man actually fought to legalize cannabis well before the AIDS epidemic, but when the disease began to ravage the gay community, Peron opened a Cannabis Buyers’ Club, where individuals with AIDS and other illnesses could purchase cannabis to help mitigate pain, nausea, headaches, wasting syndrome, anxiety, depression, and other symptoms associated with HIV/AIDS. Steve L. was the first person with AIDS to receive medical marijuana. Later, in 1996, Peron co-wrote Proposition 215, which legalized cannabis for medicinal use in California.
Two decades later, cannabis use among queer folks is significantly higher than it is for straight folks — not because of HIV, but because of the myriad mental and physical illnesses queer people experience at a higher rate. According to the 2015 data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, sexual minority adults are more than twice as likely to use marijuana when compared to heterosexual adults. Almost a third of sexual minority adults (30.7%) reported using marijuana in the past year, compared to 12.9 percent of heterosexual adults.
These higher rates of marijuana use coexists with the higher rates of depression, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders, suicidal thoughts, homelessness, and physical pain that LGBTQ people experience due to marginalization and oppression.
Backstage at a Pride party thrown by California-based edibles company Kiva Confections, RuPaul’s Drag Race alumnus Laganja Estranja proved this point before I could even finish asking her why there are so many gay stoners out there. “I know why,” she said. “Number one reason: PTSD.”
The notorious “weed queen” continued, referring to how she’d struggled with toxic online fandom after the season aired. “After RuPaul’s Drag Race, I really suffered from PTSD. It was horrifying, and cannabis definitely helped me through that.” She then popped downstairs, and performed 4/20-themed medley — which included her own song, “Hot Box” — in a green sparkly leotard covered with marijuana leaves, before telling the audience that Kiva will donate $10,000 to the Los Angeles LGBT Center.
Laganja’s announcement of Kiva’s five-figure donation led to an even larger applause than her dips and death drops. That’s because “where the money goes” is in large part what makes cannabis brands authentic, says Saynt. Hence Pride events from brands like Kiva or vape tech company PAX Labs — who pledged $50,000 to the GLBT Historical Society — feels genuine.
“It’s one thing to co-opt rainbows,” Saynt says. “It’s another to put your money where it matters. If a brand is giving back to a cause, it makes for a more authentic collaboration and helps further LGBTQ support outside of Pride month.”
St. Thomas agrees, noting that brands should “work directly with the queer community all year round, give to LGBTQ+ charities, and not just sell rainbow shit.”
“Another way is to work with LGBTQ voices in campaigns,” says Saynt. While some larger brands like H&M incorporated queer voices into their Pride campaigns, there has been less of that in the cannabis industry. While there were posts and stories geared towards Pride, “but not enough LGBTQ influencers engaged with campaigns and featured on profiles,” Saynt says. “Brands in cannabis should amplify their commitment by working with these influential talents, helping share their message with more people, and getting authentic voices to join in on their campaigns.”
At the end of the day, it seems clear the LGBTQ community is able to see through the brands that are solely looking to make a buck, and the brands who are giving back to the LGBTQ community in meaningful ways. Simply acknowledging the shared history between AIDS activists and the legal cannabis movement doesn’t suffice; and while the cannabis and LGBTQ communities still share marginalized, “outsider” statuses, that too, doesn’t automatically guaranteed authentic alignment.
Cannabis wouldn’t be legal without the work of queer AIDS activists, so we’re going to have to see more than rainbows. “Besides, many queer folks are too stylish to want to walk around with a rainbow vape pen anyways,” Sophie St. Thomas says. “It’s hard to match with an outfit.”