There was one color of the rainbow that shone brighter than the rest at West Hollywood (WeHo) Pride this past weekend: green. Numerous 420-friendly Pride events this year celebrated the intersection between the LGBTQ community and the legal cannabis movement. One of those events was the The House of UNITY’s Pride celebration at Chateau Hanare (adjacent to the notorious Chateau Marmont). In partnership with The Flower Daddy and High End Creatives, The House of UNITY brought together LGBTQ taste makers with Cannabis queens (I got to smoke a joint with none other than Laganja Estranja and Willam) for a decadent brunch feast and indulgent activities including CBD massages, aura photography, joint rolling tutorials, and more. The goal was to not just “unite” the LGBTQ and cannabis together, but to celebrate the long, shared history of the LGBTQ community and cannabis movement.
While many Pride-themed branding campaigns seem like a thinly veiled attempt for local cannabis companies to make some money off the queer community, WeHo actually has a long history of being pro-cannabis, and that’s in large part thanks to the many queer men, women, and non-binary folks who’ve lived there for decades.
Members of the LGBTQ community flocked to what’s now known as the City of West Hollywood (yes, an independent municipality) as early as the 1960’s, in order to escape persecution from the Los Angeles Police Department. At the time, the area including and adjacent to the Sunset Strip was actually considered an unincorporated region of Los Angeles. It wasn’t overseen by the LAPD, but rather was loosely under the County’s Sheriff Department’s jurisdiction. There, LGBTQ people could live in relative peace from the authorities, whom, for the most part, left WeHo to its own devices.
As the city became more gentrified, L.A. County decided to strip its rent control protections in 1984. In response, a coalition of gay men, Russian Jews, and other marginalized long-standing residents successfully held a vote, creating the City of West Hollywood. They then elected a city council with an openly gay majority and immediately passed numerous rent control protections to help queer and other marginalized communities from being priced out.
Zachary Zane with Laganja Estranja
Around the same time that WeHo became the 84th city of Los Angeles County, the AIDS epidemic began to wreak havok on the gay community. Like in San Francisco, WeHo residents were hit by the crisis, and like in SF, many gay men suffering from the virus used marijuana medicinally to help with nausea and wasting syndrome. Those who smoked got the munchies and could consume enough calories to no longer look and feel sick.
As one 37-year-old man living with AIDS told The Washington Post back in 1990, "I don't do it to get high. I never used marijuana before. I use it to get rid of my headaches."
That’s why it comes as no surprise that WeHo was one of the first cities in the state to welcome dispensaries after California legalized medical marijuana. In 1998, openly gay attorney John Duran, who actually just finished his time as West Hollywood’s Mayor in March of this year, then won the first test case of medical marijuana defense since the passage of Prop 215 (which legalized cannabis for medicinal use).
In 2006, WeHo City council passed a medical marijuana resolution by a vote of 4-0, which stated, “It is not the policy of the City or its law enforcement agency to target possession of small amounts of cannabis and the consumption of non-medical cannabis in private by adults.” It was the first city in Southern California to adopt the lowest law enforcement priority for cannabis offensives.
Finally, earlier this year, WeHo became one of the first cities in California to approve 16 licenses for consumption on site (i.e. for cannabi cafés) – eight will only allow for edibles, whereas the other eight will be full smoking lounges allowing for vapes, smoking, and edibles. This will roughly double the number of cannabis lounges in the United States, which currently reside in San Francisco, Oakland, and Denver.
Clearly, it’s no coincidence that WeHo is currently one of the most progressive cannabis cities in the United States. Gay men, who were disproportionally affected by the AIDS crisis, not only helped to create the city, but also had a large hand in its pro-cannabis government — which brings us back to 2019.
Pride was insane this year – in the best way possible. I decided to stay at the Mondrian Hotel in Los Angeles because I wanted to be on the Sunset Strip and within walking distance to the parade. I’d also heard stories of their famous Skybar pool, which is known to have ridiculous views of the city below. Every day I stayed at the hotel, I’d consume whatever goodies were in my cannabis gift bag from the Unity event – either joints or Kiva Confection edibles – put on the tightest speedo I could find, and head to the pool.
I finally get why they call Los Angeles the City of Angels. Everyone there looked heavenly – sunkissed and glowing under those UV rays, as opposed to folks in New York (where I live) who look ill for eight months of the year. Pool goers also wore as little clothing as the cherubs depicted in Renaissance art. In fact, the pool was overflowing with gay men in skimpier thongs than the women. Everyone was tan. Fake boobs were out. But most importantly, everyone was friendly, and I honestly think it’s because everyone was sharing cannabis with one another. There are few things better than being stoned next to the pool with a great view of Los Angeles and an even better view of butts.
On Sunday, I stopped by MedMen, which has a large dispensary in WeHo. They had a little Pride section where they said 15 percent of the proceeds will go to LGBTQ causes. So I bought myself a joint and smoked it on my way to the parade, where I marched with amBi – the only bi specific organization that marches in WeHo Pride.
Marching was one of the best experiences of my life, and to be honest, I initially dreaded it. I figured the bi float wouldn’t receive a warm, welcoming response, since in years passed they’ve been “booed.” But much to my surprise, people loved us. It warmed my icy heart to see the number of attendees donning bisexual pride flags or covering themselves in blue, pink, and lavendar clothing. Besides, who doesn’t like being cheered?
At the end of the day, WeHo Pride – including my time at the Mondrian, Unity, and the parade itself – was undoubtedly the most celebratory and welcoming Pride I’ve ever attended. And while we can’t know for sure, I can’t help but suspect it has something to do with all the WeHo queers really embracing the fourth color of the rainbow.