Pot + Pride: The Significance of the LGBTQIA+ Community to Marijuana Legalization

With Pride month underway and Minnesota’s biggest celebrations taking place this weekend, it seems a fitting time to think about the intersections of pot and Pride. A March article appearing in Forbes provided a historical link between the issues:

The ties between marijuana legalization and LBGTQ rights go back decades to the AIDS epidemic of the 80s and 90s. At a time when the rate of AIDS infections skyrocketed and treatment research stalled, patients and advocates began fighting for medical marijuana use as early as 1976. As Zachary Zane recounts in Out Magazine, California’s Proposition 215—the first bill to legalize medical marijuana—was co-written by Dennis Peron, a gay man and industry who lost his significant other to AIDS.

As MRMR seeks legalization, it is not without understanding the need for awareness of the disproportionate harm marijuana prohibition and other drug laws pose to the LGBTQIA+ community. Social justice and equity are at the center of our campaign and we acknowledge and appreciate the leadership and ally-ship that comes from the LGBTQIA+ community.

One of the biggest challenges we face in the marijuana legalization space is destigmatizing negative perceptions about marijuana and the people that use it. ‘Reefer madness’ messaging did a great job of getting people worried that use of something that's objectively safer than alcohol and nicotine would be the final Jenga brick that brings down the tower of society as we know it.

Not only did pernicious messaging ignite hand-wringing amongst a specific set of mostly white, mostly middle- and upper-class people, it also incited rampant profiling and worse. Actual or suspected use or possession of marijuana and other drugs is often used as a pretense for police surveillance, arrest, and incarceration of LGBTQIA+ people and spaces. Sex workers—especially those who are transgender and/or people of color—are at particularly high risk of being targeted and vulnerable to violence, discrimination, and inhumane treatment by the criminal justice system.

MRMR seeks to raise awareness of the disproportionate harm that marijuana prohibition and other drug laws pose to the LGBTQIA+ community and to advance policies that address these harms.

In building our broad statewide coalition of organizations and individuals advocating for legalization and responsible regulation of marijuana for adult recreational use in MN, we looked to examples of previous success.

The 2013 Minnesotans United for All Families campaign provided essential lessons for us on everything from structure to messaging to creating a movement. The most effective lesson we are taking away from that campaign is the way it engaged in direct, genuine conversation that gave individuals across the spectrum the opportunity to explore the issue in an accessible, open space. The untangling of the stigmas, untruths and biases surrounding continuing failed prohibition policies starts by having a conversation and meeting people where they are -- and that is exactly what we plan to continue to do.

Happy Pride, Minnesota!