top of page
  • Jennifer Betz

Celebrating Pride Month: The LGBTQ+ Cannabis Activists Who Started the Medical Marijuana Movement

Updated: Jan 24, 2022

Cannabis in the LGBTQ+ community

Virginia Marijuana Card celebrates the LGBTQ+ leaders who started the medical marijuana movement.

Despite deep divisions in the US, everyone seems to agree on at least one thing these days: Marijuana. Adult-use legalization and social justice reform is spreading across the US, and qualifying for medical marijuana is getting easier and easier.

So far, comprehensive medical marijuana policies have been enacted in 36 states including Puerto Rico and Guam. And it gets even better from there! Virginia has joined 15 other states in legalizing adult-use cannabis for 2021, becoming the first state in the South to do so.

In celebrating these major milestones in cannabis law reform, most people don’t realize that social change surrounding cannabis and LGBTQ+ rights are essentially keeping pace with each other.

In addition to the exciting new developments for marijuana activists, we were also the first Southern state to sign sweeping anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people in 2020, and 2021 saw the passage of 11 more pro-equality bills.

June is National Pride Month, and Virginia Marijuana Card wants to take a moment to recognize, celebrate, and thank a community that has been known for its activism since the Stonewall Uprising in 1969.

With a group of people so passionate about being seen, heard, and exercising their rights, it’s no wonder that they played an instrumental role in getting medical marijuana legalized.

California: Influencing American Progress Since 1849

The 1849 Gold Rush gave California its nickname as the Golden State, and it has since been recognized as the new horizon for a growing country. California’s population has grown to ten percent of the total US population, and it has been at the forefront of social and policy change for the last century.

Gay rights and legalized cannabis are among the movements that California will be known for in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Harvey Milk: First Openly Gay Elected Official Gets First Proposition Related to Marijuana Passed

Harvey Milk had been serving in the Navy in 1955, when his superiors questioned his sexuality. It was illegal to serve at the time if you were gay, and so Milk resigned to avoid trouble. Milk spent several years serving in civil service sectors in New York, before moving to California to join a welcoming community of like-minded people.

Milk opened a camera store and got involved in politics, ultimately winning his 1977 campaign for San Francisco City Supervisor and becoming the first openly gay elected official in United States history.

Tragically, Milk and the mayor of San Francisco were both assassinated in 1978 by former City Supervisor and colleague Dan White.

During his short time in office, however, Milk started the ball rolling on a green revolution that may have never happened if he had not gotten Proposition W passed in San Francisco. A proclamation supported by 63% of the residents of San Francisco, Prop. W was not a policy change. But it was an official statement urging law enforcement to stop arresting and prosecuting people for growing, distributing and possessing marijuana.

This set the stage for civil engagement and activism to take place in the city like nowhere else in the country. 18 years later, medical marijuana was legalized for the Golden State. Let’s take a look at two more figures who loom large in both the gay community and among cannabis activists.

Brownie Mary: LGBTQ+ Advocate, Cannabis Angel for Those Suffering From an Incurable Virus Ravaging a Community

Mary Jane Rathbun was on the scene as a prominent anti-war and counterculture activist around and during the time of Harvey Milk’s political activity. The “Father of Medical Marijuana” Dennis Peron (who we will get to in the next section) was a close friend to both Milk and Rathbun.

Rathbun tried marijuana for the first time with Peron, and the rest is baked into history. She started making magic brownies and selling them to customers in the restaurant where she worked as a server.

Later, after she understood the therapeutic benefits of marijuana for symptoms of HIV and AIDS, she started giving free weed brownies to HIV and AIDS patients in San Francisco General Hospital, where she volunteered.

Rathbun was caught by the police a couple of times and arrested for distributing marijuana, but she continued her mission, helping the patients in San Francisco get the natural relief they needed.

Her final arrest was in 1992. By then, she was frail and in her 70s. The prosecutor offered her a plea bargain, but she insisted that the case be taken to trial. It was ultimately dropped, partially due to the optics of putting such a kindly old woman in prison.

Dennis Peron: Gay Rights Activist and Father of Medical Marijuana

Dennis Peron was a Vietnam War veteran, who into Castro (an LGBTQ+ hub in San Francisco) after leaving the Air Force, where he used marijuana to help alleviate PTSD symptoms related to his service.

He became a cannabis activist, holding smoke-ins and selling marijuana out of several of his storefronts. Peron eventually met Milk, and he offered up his restaurant as headquarters for Milk’s campaigns.

Peron eventually dedicated his life’s work to medical cannabis advocacy after his partner, Jonathan West, was diagnosed with AIDS. Peron ushered in the overwhelming passage of Proposition P in 1991. Supported by 79% of San Francisco’s population, Proposition P called on the California government to allow doctors to recommend cannabis to treat HIV, AIDS, glaucoma, cancer, and other illnesses.

Cannabis and LGBTQ+ Rights Gaining Momentum: From San Francisco and Across the United States

After the 1991 passage of Proposition P, Peron co-founded California’s first medical cannabis dispensary, The San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club. The marijuana movement’s momentum was unstoppable at that point, and in 1996, Peron went on to help pass Proposition 215—Making California the first state in the country to legalize medical marijuana.

It’s been 25 years since the first state-sanctioned medical marijuana program got rolling. Now, cannabis legalization is spreading across the United States like a big gay rainbow balloon arch at a pride parade.

Virginia has joined the progressive movement, legalizing medical marijuana, expanding the program, adding protection for people who have a marijuana card, and legalizing adult-use possession for 2021.

You may have to wait until 2024 in order to legally purchase adult-use marijuana. But Virginia residents who qualify for medical marijuana can walk into any VA dispensary and get natural relief for a long list of conditions once they have their card.

Thank You to All the Activists Who Have Made Access to Medical Marijuana Possible for Residents of Virginia and Everyone Across the US!

From Virginia Marijuana Card to the LGBTQ+ community, happy Pride Month! We want to thank everyone who has contributed to legalization of medical marijuana in the United States, and everyone who continues the legacy of Harvey Milk, Mary Jane Rathbun and Dennis Peron.

If you are ready to get your medical marijuana card, we are here to help! Give us a call today, at (888) 633-5808, or simply schedule an online evaluation appointment today!


Doctors Who Care. Relief You Can Trust.

At Virginia Marijuana Card, our mission is helping everyone achieve wellness safely and conveniently through increased access to MMJ. Our focus on education, inclusion, and acceptance will reduce stigma for our patients by providing equal access to timely information and compassionate care.

Call us at (888) 633-5808, or simply book a medical marijuana evaluation to start getting relief you can trust today!

Check out Virginia Marijuana Card’s Blog to keep up to date on the latest medical marijuana news, tips, and information. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to join the medical marijuana conversation in Virginia!

134 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page