The LGBTQ community should not be identified as drug users, nor necessarily directly connected to marijuana, but certainly not prohibitionists. The only reason why the cannabis movement is happening in the United States is because people began opening their minds and questioning the anti-marijuana rhetoric they were taught when they were young. Similarly, an open mind is necessary to embrace the LGBTQ community as they represent a diversion from what the older generations so sternly taught about the relationships between men and women. Why then does the LGBTQ community feel like they are being pushed out of the cannabis movement?
After decades of prohibition and an ardent fight for legalization, 2017 may go down in history as the year cannabis went mainstream. The majority of states in the U.S. have passed some kind of positive reform of the federal government’s ban on cannabis, and recreational adult use is now legal in eight states and the District of Columbia. On top of that, various polls have found that the majority of Americans support widespread marijuana reform, the latest of which reports that 86 percent of respondents supported either medical or recreational legalization, or both. On top of that, the industry is poised to explode into a huge moneymaker: Sales in North America are expected to hit $50 billion by 2026 compared to $6.7 billion just last year. Conventional investors are jumping onboard, and the tech industry is quickly infiltrating.
But the burgeoning industry has one glaring problem: The gatekeepers of cannabis’ culture and commerce are overwhelming white, cis, straight, and male—not to mention downright bro-y. White-appropriated rasta colors and women clad in weed-leaf bikinis abound, and on the buttoned-up side of things, the ubiquitous influence of the tech-bro is essentially turning the cannabis industry into the next Silicon Valley—a space not exactly known for its inclusivity.
Thankfully, there is an ongoing push for diversity of color and gender, to varying degrees of success. Women now make up 36 percent of leadership roles in the cannabis industry (compared to just 5 percent in the rest of the business world) and municipalities across the country are attempting to build reparations into their practices and policies for the communities of color that have been disproportionately negatively affected by the criminalization of cannabis. This includes the city of Oakland’s Equity Permit Program, which reserves a portion of permits for people of color and those convicted of marijuana-related crime; Washington, D.C.’s, local effort to give local minority-owned companies a preference when applying for licenses to operate medical marijuana businesses; and the Minority Cannabis Business Association’s plan to create template legislation that addresses issues of inclusion to distribute to states and local municipalities.
But there’s another marginalized group that has largely been left out of the diversity conversation, and stigmatized in the cannabis industry: the LGBTQ community.
Brewing within the bro culture of mainstream weed is a big dose of homophobia, and no one knows this better than Jay Jackson, aka Laganja Estranja, the choreographer, drag queen, and cannabis activist best known for competing in the sixth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. As suggested by the name, Laganja Estranja is a pro-weed queen who often dons marijuana-leaf prints and pendants and speaks about the need for gay visibility within the cannabis community.
Jackson is one of just a few activists in this specific niche, which has led him to become the first openly gay individual to be featured on the cover of a cannabis magazine in 2015, when he graced the cover of Dope. Jackson has also created Laganja Estranja-branded pre-rolled joints, which he calls “the first openly gay joints on the market,” in partnership with cannabis company the Hepburns; has founded an LGBTQ-friendly medicated dance class; and recently sat on the first LGBTQ panel on cannabis hosted by the organization Women Grow. And that’s in addition to his appearances and speaking gigs at various cannabis events across the country and world, at which he’s met varying degrees of acceptance and adversity. Indeed, the first time he appeared in character at a cannabis cup several years ago, he felt so uncomfortable that he hasn’t dressed in drag at such an event since.
“I have to be concerned about my safety and I have to keep putting out my art, so I can’t put myself in situations that aren’t safe,” he said. “Which says a lot about the community. I should feel safe at a cannabis cup. It’s like, come on bro, we’re just smoking pot. What’s the big deal if I’m tucked and giving you a show?”
Another activist in this space is the YouTuber Arend Richard, aka “The Gay Stoner.” As far as YouTubers go, there are potentially thousands of personalities in the gay interest space and in the “weedtuber” space, which consists of cannabis advocates getting high on screen for adoring stoner fans. But in the Venn diagram of these disparate worlds, Richard found there was no one in the middle. So he filled the niche. Now Richard has 67,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel and is tapping into the mainstream cannabis community.