Keenly aware of the role LGBTQ people played in ending marijuana prohibition, America’s cannabis industry has raised the bar on how companies should do Pride. And this month, quite a few cannabis companies are flexing their queer bone fides while putting their money where their mouth is.
One of the spokespeople for Curaleaf, America’s biggest cannabis company, is a gay man who knows his history.
“The legal cannabis industry has a responsibility to honor the LGBTQ community,” Noah Bethke, Curaleaf’s director of communication, told LGBTQ Nation. “The cannabis industry wouldn’t exist in the way that it does today if it wasn’t for the AIDS activists of the ‘70s and ‘80s who fought for the passage of medical cannabis legislation.”
That sentiment was echoed by Ash Grimm, a manager at nuEra, an Illinois-based cannabis dispensary chain.
The LGBTQ community’s push to legalize medical cannabis during the AIDS crisis was instrumental in paving the way for the industry we are a part of today to bloom,” Grimm told LGBTQ Nation.
She enthusiastically highlighted nuEra’s fundraising collaboration with Howard Brown Health, a healthcare organization keeping Chicagoland LGBTQ people fit and well for decades.
“nuEra has chosen Howard Brown Health in Chicago to be the recipient of our Pride 2022 donation due to the immeasurable impact they have had on the LGBTQ+ community here in Illinois, both currently and historically,” Grimm added.
For their part, Curaleaf is collaborating with the onePULSE Foundation, a charity dedicated to the memory of the Pulse Nightclub massacre in June of 2016.
The company plans to donate over $150,000 this year, the proceeds from Pride-branded merch.
Pride = Mixed emotions
It’s a sign of the LGBTQ community’s maturity and ability to self-reflect that every year, there’s a reexamination of what (and who) Pride Month has come to represent. What was once a collective act of defiance in a world that wanted us dead of AIDS is now a month-long celebration of LGBTQ purchasing power.
That makes the cannabis industry’s approach to Pride so conspicuous and refreshing.
There are plenty of corporations slapping a rainbow on their socials during Pride Month and calling it a day. Then there are companies like Toyota USA or AT&T that talk a good Pride game while simultaneously bankrolling anti-LGBTQ politicians and legislation.
And the critique that Pride has become too corporate gets louder every year.
But as queer writer and editor Sigrid Ellis explained in a recent Twitter thread, it’s more complicated than that.
“In my lifetime businesses would and did refuse to serve queers,” Ellis explained. “And I don’t just mean one bigoted cake-baker. I mean banks. Realtors. Doctors. Plumbers. Car dealerships. We’d just get told to leave”
“When the very first businesses started supporting Pride, we were loyal. These companies were safe. We could work there, buy from them, and if we weren’t always treated with dignity by every employee, well, we had recourse,” they continued. “We were loyal to Subaru for a reason. We got mortgages from Wells Fargo. We shopped at Target. Because those were some of the first companies that met the incredibly low bar of ‘you are not so loathsome that we will refuse your money.’ It was humanizing.
“So, yeah, I roll my eyes at corporate Pride. But my first mortgage was through Wells Fargo, and I didn’t have to lie about my life to get it, and I remember that. Mixed feelings, is all I’m saying. Mixed.”
Cannabis in America is a burgeoning multi-billion-dollar industry. Pretty soon the big names in cannabis will match the earning power of America’s greatest corporate titans. Of all the corporations looking for the rainbow sheen during Pride Month, none has queer liberty in their DNA quite like this industry does.
Matt Brown is a field marketing rep at Kiva, an industry pioneer in cannabis edibles based in California, home of America’s first referendum to legalize medical cannabis.
“To put it plainly, there is no legal cannabis without the LGBTQ community,” Brown told LGBTQ Nation. “Cannabis legalization and activism are rooted directly in the queer rights movement. This movement, led by many who were HIV positive, was a huge steppingstone for normalizing the plant. These fearless individuals helped ignite an immense catalyst for change and progress that encompasses everything we see today in the cannabis industry and in its reform.”
The margin of victory in California’s 1996 referendum, over a million votes, was guaranteed by huge margins in LA and San Francisco, two cities still scarred by the AIDS crisis.
Kiva is donating $100,000 to benefit multiple charities with a proven track record.
“It was important to us that this year our philanthropy supported the trans community in particular,” Brown explained. “FOLX Health, The Black Trans Advocacy Coalition, The Los Angeles LGBT Center, Transgender Law Center, and GLAAD all are making a huge difference, fostering dialogue, and cultivating change from their ongoing work on a profoundly hands-on level.”
The transgender community is under attack in statehouses from coast to coast. Kiva’s focus on this stigmatized and vulnerable population proves they did their homework.
Pride Month is an opportunity to celebrate the outsized role LGBTQ people played in legalizing cannabis in (so far) 37 states and the District of Columbia.
Changing all those hearts and minds about America’s cruel approach to drug policy was a remarkable burst of social progress. That full-scale reconsideration of America’s cannabis laws happened within a generation or two, an effort turbocharged by the AIDS crisis.
That’s queer history. That’s American history.
And its history that the cannabis industry is putting front-and-center all month long.
Jay Lassiter is a writer and podcaster based in Cherry Hill, NJ. He’s been HIV+ for 30 years and used cannabis the entire time. Most of that time as a criminal.