"I'm a gay man from San Francisco" is how Dennis Peron, godfather of the legal cannabis movement, would present himself to an audience. "I was with Dennis for about 30 years, and he always started his cannabis speeches the same way," John Entwistle, Peron's long-time partner and fellow cannabis activist, told me over the phone. "[He] did this as a means of an introduction, and to build a bridge right away, because he knew pot smokers aren't just one-dimensional."
In our conversation, Entwistle explained the importance of showcasing intersectionality in our identities. “We’re not just pot smokers," he said. "We’re gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender. We’re Jewish. We’re a whole number of things.”
Now, it seems as if cannabis companies are beginning to embrace the intersectional identities of consumers — and in particular, queer cannabis users. This Pride month, I’ve attended numerous cannabis Pride parties and have been inundated with a flood of publicity emails about the various cannabis brands showing support for the LGBTQ community. Some have gone so far as to even highlight the shared history of AIDS activism and the legal cannabis movement.
However, it’s tough to determine if these brands are authentically aligned with the LGBTQ community — or, if they’re just attempting to capitalize off the queer community to rake in pink dollars. And while visibility is a great start, it’s not the end-all-be-all of support and alliance.
While slapping a rainbow onto your regular logo or a unicorn onto the side of your vape for Pride may be a cute gesture, it’s also an empty one — if that’s all your company is doing to support the LGBTQ community. Statements like "We work hard to hire a diverse staff" also begin to sound trite, especially if, like me, you've heard some version of that phrase from at least half a dozen cannabis companies this Pride month, alone.
Nevertheless, Entwistle believes that many cannabis companies are genuine in their support for the queer community, and that “they’re doing it for the right reasons.” These companies aren’t simply visible in their alliance, but they also give back to the queer community in the form of dollars — whether by donating to LGBTQ causes, or by directly hiring queer employees and artists. (It's also worth noting, however, that many of the companies that give back to the queer community tend to have a queer person on staff who’s leading the charge.)
Entwistle gave the example of PAX Labs and their selected partners, who, this Pride, announced that they will donate $50,000 to the GLBT Historical Society. A portion of the pledged funds will support the creation of an exhibit highlighting the work of none other than Dennis Peron.
The impressive idea for the upcoming donation, Entwistle told me, came from a young gay man at PAX, Joseph Lanzarin, director of activations.
After a meeting with Entwistle, Lanzarin taught his fellow co-workers about the intersection between AIDS and cannabis that Entwistle had taught him about prior.
Among the partners and donors working with Pax is Island Cannabis. Matthew Feldman, an openly gay man who serves as Island's manager of sales and trade marketing operations, described the importance of working for a brand that supports your community.
"It's hard for me to describe how empowering it is to be a part of a company that not only supports the LGBTQ+ community, but also actively takes part in celebrating our rights,” Feldman said. “There is a wonderful freedom and safety that comes from that. To be at Pride representing our company was quite the honor.”
Another example of a queer cannabis company that bleeds authenticity is Sonder. Having just launched mid-Pride month, they’re working on a campaign designed to give members of the LGBTQ community an opportunity to invest in cannabis.
Despite that they're so new, here’s why I believe in Sonder: First off, everyone on their tiny team of four is queer. In fact, the two co-founders, Faun Chapin and M. Paradise have been together for a decade and married each other in NYC four years ago. Second, their alliance with the queer community doesn't just begin and end with, "Look we’re gay, so you should support us if you’re gay too!” Sure, when I spoke with Chapin, her sexuality came up, as it should, but it’s her queer identity that’s inspired the mission behind Sonder: to connect outsiders through creativity and cannabis.
Paradise told me she always felt like an outcast being a lesbian, but cannabis allowed her to embrace her outsider status, to find a community of like-minded “weirdos,” and to truly harness her creativity.
“We are building a world where all of the outsiders, LGBTQIA+ or otherwise, can come inside and find community and connection through creativity and cannabis,” Chapin said. “It's a safe, inclusive space where art, music and motion collide into a big, bold, beautiful cosmic space circus where everyone is free to let their freak flag fly.”
At the end of the day, there will always be some disingenuous companies looking to make a quick buck off the LGBTQ community during the month of June. These companies, however, are typically easy to spot. They usually do not have (or have very few) queer folks staffed and are not giving back to the queer community financially.
Still, Entwistle says he believes in the authenticity of most queer-aligned cannabis brands. “Now could they use more guidance?” he asked. “Yeah. Could it be deeper? Yeah. But these companies are new and all this stuff is kinda new. Still many [cannabis companies] are out there showcasing how multidimensional the LGBTQ community is and are doing great things for us.”