In past articles, Oov has explored different under-served communities and their relationships to cannabis, including women, immigrants, and African Americans. Each exploration presents an opportunity to learn about and become sensitive to the experiences of these groups. LGBTQIAPK+ communities are no different from other underrepresented communities in their relationships to cannabis.
“[The LGBTQIAPK+ and cannabis] communities have a lot of similarities,” said Kasey Ferlic, a member of the LGBTQIAPK+ community in Denver, and founder of Outlaw International, a cannabis business digital craft agency. “Until recently, both communities have had to kind of be under the radar and had to operate discretely.”
What many people don’t know is that the cannabis industry owes a lot of what it has achieved today to the LGBTQIAPK+ advocates of decades past. As a group that has been excluded from the cannabis industry, it’s time for LGBTQIAPK+ individuals to claim their space within the cannabis community, and for the cannabis industry to make significant space for them.
This Pride Month, we take a look at the LGBTQIAPK+ communities and their role in cannabis’ past, present and future:
Driven by the increased need for treatment options for people who had contracted HIV/AIDS, advocacy for medical cannabis arose from members and supporters of the LGBTQIAPK+ communities. Cannabis proved to be a solution for HIV/AIDS patients who were dealing with muscle pain, nausea, and vomiting associated with the AZT medications that treat the disease’s symptoms.
In 1992, as a result of the efforts of the late Denis Peron, the San Francisco Buyers’ Club was founded. There, members of the HIV/AIDS community could access medical marijuana and freely share information about the strains they found most helpful in alleviating the side effects of AZT treatment.
Peron’s efforts eventually led to increased support for the availability of medical cannabis, and Proposition 215 was passed in 1996. The first storefront dispensary where medical cannabis could be accessed was established in San Francisco. The State of California was the first to have medical cannabis programs, thanks to the HIV/AIDS community and early LGBTQIAPK+ advocates.
It’s because of the efforts of LGBTQIAPK+ activists in California that we have legal cannabis today.
Cannabis Use Among LGBTQIAPK+ People
So, how prevalent is cannabis use within LGBTQIAPK+ communities? Surprisingly, these groups may be the largest untapped market for niche cannabis brands.
Last year, New Frontier Data released a report suggesting that LGBTQIAPK+ individuals could become leading consumers of cannabis. Their Movement Advancement Project (MAP) suggests that 4.3% of Colorado adults identify as LGBTQ+. In one month, this group constitutes 8% of the state’s cannabis consumers. “That rate of engagement suggests the LGBTQ+ communities represent a significant, if largely untapped, business opportunity to develop products and brands catering specifically to that demographic,” the cannabis data company concluded.
But what has been the cannabis industry’s history of engaging with LGBTQIAPK+ communities? Despite early support, many within these groups feel that they’ve been purposefully excluded by the industry.
Cannabis Industry Exclusion
An article in Slate published in September of 2017 points out what many of us, despite race, gender, or sexual orientation know to be true about the cannabis industry: “The gatekeepers of cannabis culture and commerce are overwhelming white, cis, straight, and male—not to mention downright bro-y.” Many of the LGBTQIAPK+ communities feel that the industry is rife with homophobia, and not always welcoming to the opinions, presence, and contributions of LGBTQIAPK+ communities.
The fact that cannabis and LGBTQIAPK+ groups have worked hand-in-hand for decades isn’t lost on advocates. They point to the fact that the cannabis industry has left LGBTQIAPK+ individuals in the dust in favor of other, more mainstream liberal constituents.
“How did gay marriage advocates accomplish the broad success that marijuana supporters can only dream of?” questions one article examining the two movements. And yet, “after their initial fight and win for weed, the gay community was pushed out,” states the Slate article.
Luckily, members of LGBTQIAPK+ communities aren’t letting the industry forget about its roots.
LGBTQ+ Cannabis Companies & Initiatives
Within the cannabis industry, there is acknowledgement of the power of the historic and monolithic Old Boys Club, but as groups like women, African Americans, immigrants, and LGBTQIAPK+ communities are showing, its power is limited.
Many initiatives directed at inclusion for women and minorities in the cannabis industry have recently sprung up, such as the Minorities in Cannabis Group and Oakland’s Equity Permit Program. Efforts to support LGBTQIAPK+ communities are certainly emerging, but have a long way to come before accomplishing real and meaningful inclusion.
Here are some great people and initiatives within the LGBTQIAPK+ communities that should be celebrated and recognized:
“I want to build a cannabis industry that’s inclusive and diverse from the ground up,” says Renee Gagnon, the cannabis’ industry’s first transgender CEO. “There’s room for all and a need for diverse views. There are no glass ceilings unless we install them,” said Gagnon, the leader behind the brands Emerald and International Cannabis Centers Inc. Gagnon is now a respected industry leader and speaks candidly about her process of coming out as a transgender woman: “To say it was hard is to trivialize the biggest step of my life,” she says, “It was agony.”
She found solace and success in the cannabis industry after more than a few life transitions. Looking back, she realized that “the one common thread over the decades was a constant return to cannabis.” This realization started her on the road to her current career.
Cannabis Dispensaries Honor Their LGBTQIAPK+ Roots
Many cannabis dispensaries have recognized and paid homage to the movement’s LGBTQIAPK+ roots in impressive ways.
During Pride Month and beyond, cannabis dispensaries all over legal states have held special events including drag shows and fundraisers for both HIV/AIDS foundations and providers of affordable housing for LBGTQ+ seniors. Dockside in Washington offered suggested strain pairings for movies like But I am a Cheerleader!, Brokeback Mountain, and Milk while featuring screenings of the popular films. We can only expect to see more of these types of special events and fundraisers as LGBTQIAPK+ communities increasingly take their place within cannabis culture.
Embracing the Queer Millennial Cannabis Market
Major marketing agencies are encouraging cannabis companies to actively promote their products to LGBTQIAPK+ millennials. “It would be ridiculous to not pay attention to the emerging queer millennial market,” said Daniel Saynt, founder of the NSFW Agency, which links brands to cannabis influencers. “Currently, this group is responsible for massive spending power,” said Saynt.
With so many niche brands emerging to serve athletes, women, and other demographics, cannabis brands have a powerful opportunity to reach a valuable new audience. This kind of targeted promotion is reminiscent of how publications like GQ and Esquire have marketed themselves specifically to appeal to LGBTQIAPK+ communities, especially gay males.
The pro-cannabis queen known as Laganja Estranja began delivering a huge dose of gay pride to cannabis dispensaries when she partnered with the cannabis company The Hepburns to offer “the first openly gay joints on the market,” with branded pre-rolls. Since then, Estranga has become a popular and common sight, appearing in drag at cannabis expos like the Cannabis Cup.
Estranja has also been a strong presence in the LGBTQIAPK+ community; she is the founder of a LGBTQIAPK+ medicated dance class and sits on panels discussing LGBTQIAPK+ issues at Women Grow conferences.
Being proactive in Supporting LGBTQIAPK+ Inclusion
The cannabis industry is still new, which means that there is still room for advocacy for the inclusion of LGBTQIAPK+ folx, as well as other under-represented communities.
Everyone who is a part of cannabis culture should acknowledge and pay respect to the role LGBTQIAPK+ communities have contributed to the legalization of cannabis. There are many ways to accomplish this, including use of inclusive advertising and creative promotions that help give back to the communities that are responsible for giving us so much.
Happy Pride Month from the team at Oov Lifestyle. It’s a great time for us to be reminded of our team mantra:
We support the normalization of cannabis.
We are feminists, dreamers, believers in equality, and love.
We embrace and support all humans and living creatures.
We believe creating positive dialogue and community will end the stigma and injustice that people face on a daily basis.
We call for all our community members to continue to be strong advocates for ALL people, in cannabis and beyond.
Anne-Marie is a freelance cannabis writer and educator dedicated to cultivating and disseminating important knowledge about cannabis as legalization spreads across the globe. After earning her BA and Masters, she followed an exciting career in the research and education field, finding innovative ways to create collaborations between community needs and research and academic pursuits.
She traveled the world with her husband and settled in Costa Rica where they also own a tattoo shop. She is now a full time writer for the world’s best cannabis companies, advocates and organizations.