Marijuana matters in the LGBTQ community because it always has. The relationship between the prohibition of marijuana and lack of civil liberties for queer communities is uniquely parallel. History shows that AIDS activists are the unsung heroes of the fight for legalization of medical cannabis. As we begin to see public opinions shifting favorably toward legal access of the plant, queer advocates of color are finding themselves without seats at the table. The black queer community could directly benefit from legalization if properly leveraged. When will LGBTQ communities of color have their moment in the sun?
As many know, black queer advocates have made tremendous contributions to the continuing fight for social, racial, and economic justice. This also rings true for the fight for social equity within the cannabis industry. Black queer advocates like Paul Scott who started the first medical marijuana facility in Southern California have and continue to advocate for better prevention services for these marginalized populations. However, almost 25 years later within the LGBTQ community the ongoing fight for the plant’s legalization is still being led by white gay men.
Some would argue that today’s cannabis conversation is no longer dominated by who has access to the plant, but who is benefiting and profiting from its legalization. Research from The Williams Institute 2016 study shows that 35 percent of the LGBTQ population lives in the South. It’s no secret that African Americans make up a large majority of the gay and lesbian population in the South and many of these southern states lack statewide non-discrimination protections for this growing population.
Similar to what is driving the lack of protections for queer communities in Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Tennessee, cannabis legalization efforts are influenced by a perspective that is largely, a conservative, white and male dominated understanding. If we don’t bring our collective voices and organizing capacity to this moment, we will truly miss the opportunity to structure legalization that benefits our umbrella of queer communities that need it the most.
The opportunities are endless when I think of ways that the queer community could benefit from the legal cannabis market. A few ideas include support for queer inclusion at HBCUs, industry partnerships to support incubators like TransTech Social Enterprises, and pipeline programs to create desperately needed leadership positions within the cannabis industry.
While the LGBTQ community remains underrepresented in the cannabis industry, a recent report published by the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence shows that gays and bisexuals consume more medical marijuana than their heterosexual counterparts by large margins, even larger for lesbians and bisexual women. We must use this spending power to create space for queers in cannabis.
As an LGBTQ entrepreneur and founder of Marijuana Matters, a non-profit that identifies and eliminates barriers to economic opportunity in regulated cannabis markets for those disadvantaged by marijuana’s criminalization, I understand the value of investing in the diversity of thought within the cannabis industry. For me, this is more than a talking point. Marijuana Matters hopes to leverage cannabis legalization and present the potential benefits to communities through education, advocacy, and entrepreneurship. Also, as a black lesbian woman, I know how important maintaining discretion is for survival. Holding multiple marginalized identities can hyperbolize discrimination and similar to the negative stigmas associated with gender presentation and sexual identity, the same stigmas exist for cannabis users. However, we can no longer afford to be invisible.
But we can and should be hopeful that the cannabis industry will become a genuine ally to members of the LGBTQ community.
When people who are the most marginalized are at the center of focus, everyone benefits. The LGBTQ community must lend their voices to the crucial debate surrounding social equity in the regulated cannabis industry and the industry must invest in the advancement of the visible community.
Khadijah Tribble is founder of the Marijuana Policy Trust and Marijuana Matters. This opinion was prepared in the author’s personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of the employer or affiliated organizations.
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