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Harvey Milk's Other Civil Rights Crusade

4/20 is the official marijuana holiday in North America. But May 22 - Harvey Milk Day - deserves recognition as another special day of observance among cannabis activists, advocates and enthusiasts.

As the first openly gay politician elected to public office, Milk will always be synonymous with gay-rights activism. But he was also one of the first American politicians to advocate for marijuana legalization. According to fellow activist Dennis Peron, Milk encouraged residents to protest California's cannabis laws through civil disobedience. "They can't bust us all," Milk once said, according to Peron.

Milk himself enjoyed smoking marijuana, but he gave it up along with visiting gay bathhouses in 1975 in order to focus on his campaign for the office of city supervisor.

"I decided this was all too important to have it get wrecked because of smoking a joint or being in a raid at some bathhouse," he later explained.

Milk was also a legalization advocate

But he remained active in legalization efforts - including the 1978 campaign for Proposition W, a non-binding policy statement that called on San Francisco's district attorney and chief of police to stop arresting and prosecuting people who cultivate, traffic or possess marijuana.

With Milk's help, 63 percent of San Franciscans approved the proposition, sending a strong message that the city wanted serious reform. Unfortunately, local officials chose not to act on public opinion, so prohibition remained the law of the land in San Francisco. But his cannabis activist work lived on in the efforts of Peron, who co-authored the 1996 petition that legalized medical marijuana in California.

And Milk's marijuana legacy could become complete this fall if the Golden State legalizes recreational marijuana use via ballot initiative.

h/t SF Weekly


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