‘Cannabis Buyers Club’ Documentary Featured at Tribeca Film Festival

The dawn of the movement to legalize weed in the United States is explored in a new documentary film series, which made its world premiere this week at the Tribeca Film Festival. Cannabis Buyers Club, the story of pot dealer, cannabis reform leader and queer rights activist Dennis Peron, debuted at the world-renowned film festival on Monday, with a repeat showing planned for tonight.

“Cannabis Buyers Club chronicles the most important unknown LGBTQ+ rights struggle of the 20th century,” reads a synopsis of the film shared by the Tribeca Film Festival. “When a new disease ravages his community and the government doesn’t care, renegade pot dealer Dennis Peron leads a movement to help, heal, and fight back. Peron, a gay Vietnam vet, builds a pot empire in the middle of the war on drugs and fights politicians and police to save his friends. The definitive story of marijuana legalization in America.”

The four-part documentary series was directed by Kip Andersen and Chris O’Connell, who also served as the film’s producer. In the opening episode, the film follows Peron’s introduction to cannabis as a reluctant soldier in Vietnam. Eschewing alcohol as a “war drug,” the pacifist instead turned to pot when it was time for his unit to take R & R.

From Vietnam To The Castro

Not long before his tour in Vietnam ended, Peron traveled to Thailand, where he bought five or six pounds of some of the best cannabis in the world. Then, assigned to the base mail room after returning to his unit, he began sending weed back to the United States hidden in cassette tape cases. After returning to America and taking up residence in San Francisco, Peron’s foray into the underground pot industry continued in earnest.

His involvement in the community and political activism put Peron at the front of the effort to legalize weed in San Francisco, where he counted gay activist and later county supervisor Harvey Milk among his many allies. Selling pot from storefronts in the Castro, Peron’s will to champion cannabis policy reform was galvanized by the AIDS epidemic, which took the lives of his partner and countless others and left his friends and neighbors wasting away. Cannabis stimulated patients’ appetites and helped keep from losing weight, prolonging their lives.

In the early 1990s, Peron founded the Cannabis Buyers Club in San Francisco, giving patients and their caregivers a safe place to obtain the medicine they needed. In 1996, he co-authored Proposition 215, the landmark ballot measure that legalized the medical use of cannabis in California.

“In order to unpack the stories of Cannabis Buyers Club, you have to know the mood of San Francisco at that time, as well as the events that led to Dennis becoming this controversial guy,” Andersen and O’Connell write in their directors’ statement. “These events could only have happened in San Francisco, which stars in this film alongside Dennis and other colorful characters: Brownie Mary, Tony Sera, Joe Banon, Greg Corrales. It was the perfect political storm where the AIDS crisis crashed into the drug war and a liberal city fought against a conservative state and won. Precedents were set in justice, the repercussions of which are still felt today, with new states legalizing marijuana every year.”

Peron suffered a stroke in 2010, making it difficult for him to speak. His health declining, Peron shared his life story with the filmmakers behind Cannabis Buyers Club in the last interviews before his death in 2018.

“A few months into making this film, Dennis, the controversial protagonist and hero died,” wrote O’Connell and Andersen. “We were with him in his bedroom days before, cameras rolling hearing the story from him. We remember that last interview. He told us how he used to walk right into Dianne Feinstein’s office when she was mayor of San Francisco. He could do that, well, because he kind of ran that city then.”

Cannabis Buyers Club Screening At Tribeca Film Festival

In addition to the June 16 screening of Cannabis Buyers Club, the Tribeca Film Festival is hosting virtual access to the documentary for viewing at home, which began on June 15. The festival started on June 8 and closes on Sunday, June 19.

“This 2022 feature film program leaves us proud and humbled by the boundless ingenuity and passion of our indefatigable filmmaking community,” festival director and vice president of programming Cara Cusumano said in a press release when this year’s selections were revealed in April. “Whether a comedic breath of fresh air or a trenchant expose of the most urgent contemporary issues, this year’s official selections again remind us of the vitality and urgency of independent film in a world that needs it more than ever.”

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Adult-Use Cannabis Reduces Prescription Drug Demand

To date, legal cannabis in America has been understood one of two ways: medicine, or fun. There’s medical marijuana, requiring a qualifying condition and a doctor’s recommendation before any legal weed can be accessed; and then there’s adult-use cannabis (or recreational), requiring nothing but a government-issued ID proving one’s age.

But what if there’s a third way—or, what if, as the late activist Dennis Peron used to say, all marijuana use was medical, or at least part of a general wellness strategy? Recent research that demonstrates a drop in prescription-drug use in states that legalized adult-use cannabis—which, as a convenient bonus, is generally more easily and more widely available than medical—suggests this may be the case.

Weed Up, Pills Down

In the past, the passage of medical cannabis laws has been associated with a drop in prescription pharmaceuticals. The effect of adult-use cannabis laws—no small deal in East Coast states such as New York, where the medical program is small and difficult to access thanks to tight restriction around physicians and qualifying illnesses–-is less studied.

So, researchers looked at Medicaid prescriptions filled between 2011 and 2019 in all 50 states. And in states that legalized adult-use cannabis, they found “significant reductions” in prescriptions filled for drugs meant to treat “pain, depression, anxiety, sleep, psychosis and seizures,” according to a research article published in April in the journal Health Economics.

Or, put another way, legalization seems to present a significant medical benefit along with the familiar arguments for social justice and new sources of tax revenue.

People are self-medicating with cannabis, and while it’s hard to say for certain whether they’re achieving the same results, the fact that they don’t seem to be returning to pharmaceuticals is suggestive, as study co-author Shyam Raman, a PhD student at Cornell University’s Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy, said in a recent interview.

“What [adult-use cannabis] legalization does is open up an opportunity to self-medicate without seeing a doctor and potentially be denied because your sickness isn’t on the qualifying condition list,” said Raman, who stressed that while only Medicaid data was studied, these results are applicable to the general population. “There’s some real evidence people are self-medicating, and people aren’t switching back to pharmaceuticals.”

Cannabis for Anxiety, Depression and Insomnia

Among the drug classes studied, Raman and study co-author Ashley Bradford, a researcher and PhD student at Indiana University, saw the steepest drops in demand for anxiety, depression, insomnia and psychosis, with drops of 12.2%, 11.1%, 10.8% and 10.7%, respectively.

In addition to potential cost-savings for Medicaid programs, adult-use cannabis legalization may present an additional harm-reduction benefit, the researchers found, with people dropping or reducing reliance on pharmaceutical drugs with nasty side effects as easier-to-access “over-the-counter” recreational cannabis becomes available.

“We believe that quite strongly, that people are doing it because the side effects of pharmaceuticals are really frustrating,” Raman said.

The findings suggest adopting both a more sophisticated and expansive understanding of adult-use cannabis legalization—and never neglecting the fact that no matter what you call it, cannabis generally may be a wellness product, a fact that advocates pushing for adult-use cannabis legalization on the state and federal levels shouldn’t neglect.

“The adult-use cannabis market in most states is just easier to utilize, because patients don’t have to pay for a patient card and they don’t have to get a doctor’s recommendation,” said Debbie Churgai, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, arguably the country’s leading medical-first cannabis policy advocacy group.

But, as always, it’s also a reminder that cannabis is badly under-researched. Key questions including dosage and regimen remain unanswered, leaving “patients”—regardless of whether they’re official enrollees in their state’s program—to figure it out for themselves.

“We still don’t know how to regulate cannabis as a medicine,” Raman said. “How are we in a position to say, ‘This is medical,’ without being able to say, ‘This is the amount you take for therapeutic use’?”

Always Medical, Or Wellness Benefit?

So, is cannabis always medical, or is all recreational cannabis also medical, or is a third way of understanding cannabis the best classification? It’s hard to say for certain—and ultimately it may not matter.

“I don’t like to compare [medical and adult-use cannabis],” Churgai said. “I think this is a great example of how people are feeling the effects of the medicine whether they recognize it or not.”

But what this does suggest is that certain forces in the cannabis industry might need to re-evaluate their messaging and branding. Don’t forget about the medical cannabis patients: they’re part of your adult-use market segment, too.

“If you go to these business conferences, you barely even see or hear the word ‘patient’ in any presentation,” Churgai said. “I do think that’s being lost more and more as our industry gets bigger. They think the adult-use cannabis market would be bigger than the medical marijuana market.”

But, as this research suggests, the differences aren’t nearly as sharp and distinct as we might have thought. Medical and adult-use cannabis just might turn out to be precisely the same exact thing.

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Dennis Peron and his legacy of legalizing cannabis in California

In light of Remembrance Day earlier this month, we want to tell the story of Dennis Peron, a Vietnam War veteran and a cannabis activist who helped legalize cannabis in California.  The early years of activism  Beginning in the 1970s, Dennis spent more than 40 years campaigning for the legalization of cannabis. His career began […]

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ReCreate Celebrates Pride Month with Limited-Edition Products

ReCreate is celebrating Pride Month this June through a special line of cannabis-infused gummies and beverages. One dollar from every product sold will be donated to One Colorado and Equality California, two nonprofit organizations dedicated to LGBTQ+ and civil rights advocacy. 

The Stanley Brothers, most widely known for their pioneering CBD brand, Charlotte’s Web, launched ReCreate just last year. Through precise formulations and dosing, ReCreate’s products deliver consistent and repeatable effects, so that consumers can easily incorporate them into their daily routine for improved wellness and an all-around healthier lifestyle. Their tinctures, gummies and edibles combine THC, full-spectrum CBD and functional botanicals for a chain reaction of wellness.

“As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, the most beautiful thing about Pride is celebrating love and individuality in all of its forms,” said Austin Stanley, co-founder of ReCreate. “Our mission at ReCreate lives in our name—to ReCreate how we live, think and engage with our personal wellness and the greater community.”

The Pride line includes two limited-edition products, currently available in Colorado and California: Mixed Fruit Gummies and a Blueberry Mint Acai Sparkling Elixir. The gummies combine 10mg of CBD and THC with Yerba Mate for an energizing way to celebrate Pride. The sparkling beverage contains 2.5mg of CBD and THC, with uplifting botanicals to keep you feeling awake and uplifted. Both products feature ReCreate’s new proprietary cannabis blend. This full-spectrum mixture uses cutting edge nanotechnology for faster absorption, providing one of the fastest, most consistent highs on the market.

Proud Pioneers

Both the cannabis and LGBTQ+ communities have been fighting for legal recognition and respect for decades. With this in mind, ReCreate is also celebrating Pride Month by shining a light on some influential LGBTQ+ individuals who have helped drive the cannabis industry forward. Leaders like Harvey Milk and Dennis Peron are being highlighted on ReCreate’s website and social channels. 

“Throughout this campaign, we’re excited to acknowledge the iconic LBGTQ+ leaders who played a critical role in advocating for the medical potential of cannabis,” Stanley said. “Without their efforts, there would be no progress in legalization today.”

Pride Partners

Colorado’s leading advocacy organization, One Colorado, is dedicated to advancing equality for the LGBTQ+ Coloradans by lobbying the General Assembly, the executive branch and local governments on meaningful issues, like safe schools, transgender equality, and health and human services. The organization also places a large emphasis on public education. 

Another one of ReCreate’s local partner nonprofits is Equality California, which is the largest statewide LGBTQ+ Civil Rights Advocacy organization in the country. The group strives to create a world that is healthy, just and fully equal for all LGBTQ+ people through political, legislative and judiciary reform. 

“In our chaotic world, some of us can feel lost and unwell. As a gay man, I know many of our community members struggle with feeling centered, acknowledged and loved,” Stanley shared. “Throughout my wellness journey, cannabis has helped me feel like a better version of myself. That’s why I am proud ReCreate has partnered with Equality California and One Colorado to reimagine a more inclusive and well world for everyone.”

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Choose Cannabis for Wellness, Not Intoxication

O’Reilly eyed my brother and me like a hungry lion looking over a couple of
lambs. He twisted his face into the trademark O’Reilly sneer and scolded us
with a tone of triumph: “Come on, you know what the ruse is, you know what the
scam is.”

known the comment was coming. It’s standard procedure for hostile journalists.
They all think medical cannabis is a fraud.

My own cannabis recommendation is technically for chronic pain, but I used it for many other purposes. Some were unquestionably therapeutic, like helping me sleep. Others, like shaking off nervousness or sadness, seemed borderline. But there were some that just didn’t fit my definition of medical use, like enhancing the enjoyment of a meal or a piece of music.

most people, I used to be locked into an outdated illness concept of human
health that views us as either sick or healthy. If we are sick, we go to the
doctor, who writes a prescription or recommends a procedure, after which we are
supposed to recover and go back to being healthy — if we’re lucky.

over the last few decades, it has become evident that human health actually
operates on a spectrum of wellness. That spectrum occupies the space between
perfect health and acute sickness, and it is where most humans spend the
majority of their lives.

best ways to preserve and enhance wellness are safe and non-invasive. We have
learned that diet, exercise, acupuncture, chiropractic, meditation and other
holistic healing techniques are effective alternatives to pills and operations.

That’s why so many gyms and yoga studios have opened in the United States; why most grocery stores have an organic section; why insurance policies often cover chiropractic, acupuncture, and nutritional counseling — and why integrative treatment centers for cancer have experienced explosive growth.

Over the years, many patients confided in me that they appreciated the protection of the law California’s Prop 215 but didn’t really consider themselves sick or injured. Non-patients also frequently approached me with comments like, “You know, Steve, I totally support everything you are doing to help patients. I believe in medical cannabis, and I smoke weed myself — but I’m not sick; I just like to get high.”

I would
respond by asking for details. When and why do you use cannabis? What specific
benefits does it provide? How has cannabis made your life different?

composite of the answers I received would run something like this:

cannabis, I’d get home feeling irritated from a long day at work, a hassle with
a boss or a coworker, a hot rush-hour commute, whatever. My back might be
aching, and I wouldn’t feel like playing with my kids or talking to my wife.
I’d often have a sour stomach and not much appetite. Dinner wasn’t very
appealing and sometimes gave me heartburn or indigestion. After dozing off in
front of the TV, I’d wake up and sometimes not be able to go back to sleep. In
the morning I could be tired, and not feel like going to work or doing much of

cannabis, everything is different. I’m happy to see my family and have as much
fun playing with my kids as they do. I forget about my aching back, and
reuniting with my wife is a pleasure, not a chore. Dinner smells and tastes
great, and I never have a problem with digestion. After dinner, the wife and I
put the kids to bed, and then we have some extra special intimate time
together. I curl up next to her, sleep soundly till morning, and wake up
refreshed and ready for the new day. Cannabis makes my life a lot better, but
I’m not sick and I wouldn’t die or end up in the hospital without it. I’m not a
patient; I just like cannabis.”

Over time I realized that the same description of symptoms presented to the average MD would probably result in a diagnosis of anxiety, insomnia, depression, arthritis, low libido, erectile dysfunction and acid reflux. Every night a parade of ads promoting a variety of pharmaceuticals for exactly these conditions marches out of our TV sets — and most of them have a list of side effects like something out of a Stephen King novel.

most people, cannabis is a better alternative. Its power to preserve and
restore homeostasis throughout the brain and body makes cannabis effective for
almost every condition advertised on TV, and its side effects are mild and
transitory. It also has a wide range of more unique benefits that are
frequently overlooked, or mistakenly characterized as “getting high.”

include its ability to extend patience and promote self-examination; to awaken
a sense of wonder and playfulness, and openness to spiritual experience; to
enhance the flavor of a meal, the sound of music, or the sensitivity of a
lover’s touch; to open the mind and inspire creativity; to bring poetry to
language and spontaneity to a performer; to catalyze laughter, facilitate
friendship, and bridge human differences.

When I first shared this interpretation with my father, he gave me his “don’t BS me” look. Dad was already using cannabis for pain and insomnia, so he didn’t outright challenge me — but I could tell I had strayed too far into New Age woo-woo territory for his comfort. So on our next visit, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that my father had noticed an increased desire to write his memoirs — to do something creative — after his evening dose of THC-rich tincture. After his grief had subsided enough to date again, Dad very discreetly let me know that he’d also discovered its ability to enhance sensuality and intimacy.

are not the attributes of an “intoxicant,” which is defined by Merriam-Webster
as a substance that can “excite or stupefy… to the point where physical and
mental control is markedly diminished.” They are the attributes of a wellness
product that enhances and facilitates some of the most meaningful parts of the
human experience.

cultures have used a variety of methods and substances to achieve enhanced
states of mind, but all pursue it by one means or another. Each one has
developed its own set of cultural norms and language to assess and regulate
appropriate use, but there’s never been a drug-free society in all of history.

the passage of legalization in Colorado and Washington, the term “recreational
use” has become the catchall phrase to describe all consumption of cannabis
that is not “medical.” Lacking any commonly accepted definition, “recreational
use” has in effect become a code word to describe “just getting high” — or
intoxication. This is unfortunate, because the phrase obscures more than it
illuminates, and it perpetuates misconceptions about cannabis that have kept it
illegal for decades.

didn’t come to this realization quickly or easily. When I first heard the term
“recreational use” it sounded like a step forward — and it was, compared to
words like “addiction” and “dependency.” It also provided a convenient contrast
to “medical use” after that phrase entered the modern lexicon in the 1990s —
but the more I used the language, the less comfortable I felt with it.

medical nor recreational fully or accurately described the way I saw most
people using cannabis. I suspected there was a third category but didn’t know
how to analyze or describe it. It’s taken a lifetime of activism and probing
questions by the likes of Bill O’Reilly to collapse the fallacy and crystallize
my thoughts into a coherent thesis.

I believe there is no such thing as the recreational use of cannabis. The concept
is equally embraced by prohibitionists and self-professed stoners, but it is
self-limiting and profoundly unhealthy. Defining cannabis consumption as
elective recreation ignores fundamental human biology and history, and devalues
the very real benefits the plant provides.

Dennis Peron, the man who opened the first cannabis dispensary in the U.S., has been derided for saying that all marijuana use is medical. I would make the same point a bit differently: the vast majority of cannabis use is for wellness purposes. The exception to the rule is misuse; any psychoactive material can and will be problematic for some percentage of the population — cannabis included.

downsides of cannabis pale in comparison to those of other substances, but they
still need to be taken seriously and looked at carefully. The lessons learned
with alcohol — that it shouldn’t be marketed to kids, or promoted as part of a
glamorous lifestyle — should be integrated into our new approach with cannabis.

We also
need to recognize that the chemistry and effects of the plant are qualitatively
different than those of alcoholic beverages. When accurately viewed in the
context of science and history, cannabis emerges as a medical and wellness
product with a huge range of applications. One day “recreational” cannabis will
seem as quaint as “medical” alcohol was after the end of liquor prohibition.

TELL US, how does cannabis improve your

Originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE

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Faces of Cannabis History: 3 Legendary Voices of Reason

I’ll be honest: history classes were never really my jam. I was more drawn to English, journalism and social sciences in college — and yet I always knew somehow I would eventually develop a deep passion for history.

And sure enough, it happened — starting with sprawling Ken Burns documentaries, moving forward with smart history podcasts and hitting me over the head more recently via Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical theater masterpiece “Hamilton.”

While I spent my 20s in rock clubs and my 30s studying drug policy, I find myself in my 40s going back to explore the historical roots of these subjects and others. And like countless others before me, I’m learning how thrilling it can be to understand history and how impossible it is to fully comprehend the present or forecast the future without knowing what came before.

Cannabis history is a fascinating one, from ancient Chinese relics to the Anslingers and DeAngelos of the world. But many modern cannabis consumers are hardly aware of this rich history, and so here’s a lively lesson on three figures in cannabis history you may not know.

(PHOTO Ronald Dale Carr)

Raymond P. Shafer

Raymond P. Shafer was the 39th Governor of Pennsylvania, from 1967 to 1971. Before this son of a reverend became a national GOP leader, he was an Eagle Scout, high school valedictorian, Yale Law grad, naval intelligence officer, World War II veteran and Purple Heart recipient.

After Shafer’s gubernatorial term, President Richard Nixon appointed Shafer as chairman of the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse (later dubbed the Shafer Commission). And just think of the timing: Nixon was approaching peak anti-marijuana hysteria, having just signed the Controlled Substances Act, which “temporarily” categorized cannabis as Schedule I in anticipation of the Shafer Commission’s report.

But when Shafer presented the report — Marihuana, a Signal of Misunderstanding — to Congress in March 1972, the thoughtfully researched report written by politicos, physicians, psychiatrists, pharmacologists, educators and researchers actually recommended descheduling and decriminalizing cannabis.

This was monumental, and champions of drug policy reform cheered the report’s reasoned, common-sense recommendations. Nixon and important congressional subcommittees, however, ignored the report and moved forward with a War on Drugs that targeted people of color and ruined untold lives.

cannabis history margaret mead
(PHOTO Library of Congress)

Margaret Mead

Margaret Mead was an author and cultural anthropologist known for her groundbreaking research (and resulting papers and books) on the role of sex in primitive cultures, as well as the debate surrounding race and intelligence.

Before becoming an internationally renowned academic, Mead was the daughter of a sociologist and a University of Pennsylvania professor, recipient of a masters and doctorate from Columbia University, assistant curator at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

In 1969, Mead testified to Congress that marijuana should be legalized, saying: “Marihuana is not harmful unless it is taken in enormous and excessive amounts. I believe that we are damaging this country, damaging our law, our whole law enforcement situation, damaging the trust between the older people and younger people by its prohibition, and this is far more serious than any damage that might be done to a few over-users, because you can get damage from any kind of overuse.”

Speaking truth to power, in 1969 no less. Impressive.

cannabis history dennis peron
(PHOTO Gracie Malley for Cannabis Now)

Dennis Peron

Dennis Peron was an entrepreneur and activist best known for radically changing medical marijuana laws in California and beyond.

Before Peron made drug policy history, he was raised in Long Island, New York, served in the Air Force in Vietnam and supported gay activist Harvey Milk in Peron’s newly adopted home of San Francisco.

Peron’s cannabis history is long, from his San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club — the first dispensary in the U.S. — days to unsuccessful, legalization-centric bids for California Governor and U.S. President. But Peron, known as “the father of medical cannabis,” is best-known for organizing 1991’s Proposition P in San Francisco and helping to write 1996’s Proposition 215 statewide in California, the latter of which allowed the cultivation, possession and use of medical marijuana in the state — the first time such laws had been successfully passed in the modern world.

TELL US, who are your cannabis heroes?

Originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE

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6 LGBTQ Movers & Shakers in the Cannabis Industry

Members of the cannabis industry often tout their field as one of the most inclusive. The legal cannabis market is, after all, being constructed and furnished right before our very eyes — why wouldn’t it be diverse and accepting and progressive?

After all, given the medical marijuana movements close ties to the AIDS crisis (shout out to medical marijuana pioneers Dennis Peron and Brownie Mary!). But unfortunately, when something like the promise of an industry free from the ills of discrimination and patriarchy sounds too good to be true, that’s usually because it is.

Sure, the latest data shows that the cannabis industry employs more self-identified women than tech or agriculture, but men still retain most of the power positions at these businesses, holding titles like CEO or director more often than their female counterparts. From a racial justice perspective, most locations where cannabis is legal in the U.S. have been slow to implement equity measures, which means the rich (statistically speaking, old straight white men) get richer and the communities of color most likely to have been affected by cannabis prohibition get pushed to the side. And from the broadest standpoint, there’s the sad fact that most people in the cannabis industry aren’t making much money anyway.

But even if the world of legal weed isn’t quite the progressive capitalist utopia it’s sometimes cracked up to be, we can still push for a better industry, and there are some very exciting people in the space right now working to do just that. Here are a few members of the LGBTQ community making big waves in the cannabis business — support them if you get a chance, because their success creates even more room for their contemporaries.

Joshua Crossney

Joshua Crossney is the founder and CEO of nonprofit jCanna, as well as the man behind the Cannabis Science Conference, an annual event that pools together cannabis industry experts. Crossney has focused his career on promoting research and education, but has also been open about his sexuality and promoting inclusion in the world of cannabis.

“Although we talk about the inclusion in the industry, and it is very diverse, at the end of the day it is a predominantly white male-dominated industry,” Crossney said in an interview with High Times. “That is evolving and changing and we’re seeing a lot more involvement from different groups, but I think really embracing your true self and being who you are is really the best avenue to take with this.”

Nick Abell & Cameron Ray Rexroat

The entrepreneurs behind Just Another Jay, a cannabis lifestyle blog and marketing consulting business, are also partners who push for LGBTQ visibility in the cannabis industry and beyond.

“We were noticing we were only showcased in events such as Pride Month, but after that it was like we never existed,” Rexroat told Cannabis Now in a soon-to-be-published interview. “[Now], that is a huge driver in everything that we do. We need to break down not only the stigma, but also educate people about cannabis and highlight discrimination that’s going on within the industry.”

Renee Gagnon

HollyWeed North Cannabis CEO Renee Gagnon has been outspoken about the importance of LGBTQ representation in the cannabis industry. Her bio notes that she is “both the first transgender publicly traded marijuana company CEO and the first female one.”

Gagnon says visibility is critical for marginalized groups, like members of the LGBTQ community, to get a fair shot at success in the realm of canna-business.

“Access to capital will always determine the racial and gender split at the top,” Gagnon told Leafly. “To be denied access to a fundamental thing like equality in the start of a new industry just pisses me off.”

Buck Angel & Leon Mostovoy

Buck Angel first gained prominence as an openly trans adult actor, and found himself draw to the cannabis business because of the plant’s close ties with LGBTQ history.

“The queer community, specifically gay men and the HIV/AIDS crisis, are why we even have legal cannabis today,” Angel told LGBTQ publication them. “Now, it’s going to become all white male corporate out there, and the queer community that’s been in on it forever and started this whole thing will be left out.” 

Angel partnered with fellow activist and trans man Leon Mostovoy to create cannabis company Pride Wellness, which aims to “develop products focused on the medical ailments prevalent to people in the LGBT community,” according to its website.

TELL US, which cannabis businesses do you feel best about supporting?

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Meet Dennis Peron, the father of medical marijuana

If you can consume legal cannabis, there is a small group of dedicated and passionate cannabis activists to thank, one of whom is Dennis Peron. Widely credited as the “Father of Medical Marijuana” in California, he was an activist who worked tirelessly for access to medical use cannabis, beginning with the San Francisco gay community at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and ’90s. His partner, Jonathan West, died of AIDS in 1990. 

Peron kept charismatic company, befriending politicians and activists like Harvey Milk, the first openly gay — and subsequently assassinated — politician in California, and Mary Jane Rathbun, aka Brownie Mary, who became well-known for baking and giving pot brownies to San Francisco’s AIDS patients. He later married another activist in the medical marijuana movement, John Entwistle.

Peron was born in the Bronx and grew up in Long Island, New York. After a stint in the Air Force during the Vietnam War, Peron returned to the U.S. with two pounds of smuggled weed. Soon thereafter, he moved to San Francisco’s Castro District and joined Abbie Hoffman’s Youth International Party (Yippies), and in 1991, he organized the passage of San Francisco’s Proposition P, a resolution that allowed San Francisco residents to consume medical cannabis without being criminalized.

Cannabis, violence, and the road to legalization

In 1994, Peron co-founded, along with Brownie Mary and several others, San Francisco’s Cannabis Buyers Club, the first public medical cannabis dispensary in the U.S. But the Cannabis Buyers Club was nothing like the clean, curated and state-legal dispensaries consumers know today. Essentially selling illegal cannabis out in the open, the collective was under constant threat of harassment, arrest — which happened many times — and even violence (Peron was shot in the leg by a San Francisco police officer). 

Perhaps Peron’s most well-known contribution to the current cannabis landscape is his work on California’s Proposition 215, thought to have blazed a direct path to the passage of Prop 64 in 2016 that legalized cannabis for adults 21 and older in the Golden State. 

However, he did not support Prop 64 or Prop 19 before it, either literally or figuratively. Peron believed that there was no such thing as “recreational” cannabis and that all people who consume cannabis are doing it for medicinal purposes, whether they know it or not. 

“There is no recreational marijuana. They made it up. What they’re trying to do is separate us by saying there’s people having fun and there’s people medicating,” Peron told Merry Jane in 2016. “But people who use marijuana don’t get ‘high,’ they get normal. The government is trying to say that people are getting high. They’re trying to demonize these people because they’re having fun.

He was also strongly opposed to taxing cannabis, saying in the “Time for Hemp” podcast in 2010, “In California and other states, medicine is not taxed. Now all of a sudden our medicine has to be taxed. And I don’t get this tax … And I know it sounds good to say, ‘let’s just tax our way out of this thing. But you can’t. This is a moral crusade.”

In his later years, Peron ran a cannabis farm in northern California and received formal recognition from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for his activism. In 2018, at the age of 72, Peron passed away from lung cancer. He is survived by his husband, John Entwistle, another important activist in the gay rights and cannabis legalization movements. Peron has left behind an important and groundbreaking legacy.

Featured image by Eddie Hernandez Photos/Shutterstock

The post Meet Dennis Peron, the father of medical marijuana appeared first on Weedmaps News.

We Wouldn’t Have Legal Weed Without These LGBTQ Activists

By Tyler Koslow

If you wander past the neon green cross symbol into a marijuana dispensary today, it’s likely you’ll see a wide array of cannabis products, generous budtenders quick to talk favorite strains, and an altogether feel-good environment. 

But the modern dispensary is in harsh juxtaposition with America’s first-ever public cannabis dispensary. When the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club opened in 1992 out of a small apartment in the Castro District, the somber setting was one of grave desperation rather than celebration. And we wouldn’t have the marijuana legalization we have today if it wasn’t for a group of activists who helped spark the legal marijuana movement amid an AIDS epidemic that wreaked havoc among LGBTQ and communities of color across the United States in the 1980s and ’90s.

The role that the LGBTQ community played in getting medical marijuana legalized in California is important to share. It’s a story of iconic activists who dedicated their lives to advocating for the medical potential of cannabis and fought for the passage of Proposition 215.  

It’s impossible to dive into the history of Proposition 215 and marijuana legalization without beginning with Dennis Peron, a gay man widely regarded as the “father of medical marijuana.” Peron died of lung cancer on Jan. 27, 2018, but his legacy as a cannabis and gay rights activist is well-documented and celebrated in both communities. 

The Father of Medical Marijuana 

A Bronx, New York-born Vietnam War veteran, Peron relocated to the Castro District in 1969, a historically gay neighborhood in San Francisco, after completing his stint with the United States Air Force. His initial foray with activism was as a “yippie,” a term used for radical members of the Youth International Party, is detailed in Brian Applegarth’s short documentary, “The Secret Story: How Medical Cannabis Was Re-Legalized in the US.” 

In a conversation with Weedmaps News, cannabis activist and Peron’s spouse, John Entwistle Jr., spoke about Peron’s pivotal role in the election of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in the history of California, and his background as a renowned cannabis activist long before the medical benefits of the plant were recognized. 

Peron detailed to KNTV, the San Francisco Bay Area NBC affiliate,” in a feature called “Bay Area Revelations” how in the late 1970s, Peron opened the Big Top Pot Supermarket on the top two floors of a Victorian house in the Castro District, where he illegally sold cannabis to thousands of San Francisco residents. During this time, Peron became known by local law enforcement and was even shot in the leg by an undercover officer during a raid in 1978, landing him three months in the hospital and another three months in jail. 

In the 1980s, the AIDS epidemic swept through the U.S., especially ravaging the gay communities in San Francisco. Originally thought to only spread among gay men, President Ronald Reagan’s administration was reluctant to act due to the adminstrations conservatism and homophobia, according to “And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic,” Randy Shilts’ book on the history of AIDS epidemic. Reagan didn’t publicly say the word “AIDS” until 1986; the disease had already claimed the lives of more than 16,000 people by then. It was the sudden onset of this devastating and fatal disease that caused Peron to shift his cannabis activism lens from a focus on civil rights to one of compassion.

“At this point, Harvey Milk had been killed and then the AIDS epidemic came, so everyone is doing caregiving and caretaking for those around who need it,” Entwistle said. “Dennis was still dealing and still doing his thing, but the main focus was the AIDS epidemic. The whole community was focused on collectively staying healthy and taking care of those who needed it.” 

One of the detrimental effects of AIDS was wasting syndrome, or cachexia, which causes unintended rapid weight loss, as well as weakness, fever, and diarrhea. During the earliest days of the epidemic, people suffering from AIDS had no readily accessible medication or therapeutic relief. The first U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved anti-HIV drug, called zidovudine (AZT), wasn’t available to patients until 1987. According to the KNTV feature, Peron realized that cannabis could help stimulate the appetite in AIDS patients, and also help deal with the pain and depression that accompanied the disease. 

“The drug that people did have was pot, and it helped,” Entwistle told Weedmaps News. “It helped with the appetite, it helped with nausea, and it helped with the depression, and that’s a pretty big deal.”   

By 1990, many of Peron’s closet friends with AIDS had died, including his lover Jonathan West. This prompted him to focus his attention on legalizing medical marijuana, planting seeds of determination, and at times despair, that would eventually pave the way to the passing of Proposition 215

“This was done as an act of compassion, Dennis gave up everything,” Entwistle explained. “If he’d just stayed underground and kept his business going, he could have lived as a normal person making a good living. Most people don’t sacrifice their means of income to do the right thing.” 

How The Ballot Initiative Came to Be

After his lover died, Peron was determined to get medical marijuana legalized as a tribute to West. The first successful legislative progress occurred in November 1991, when Peron organized for the passage of Proposition P, a San Francisco initiative calling on the state government to allow medical cannabis use, which received 79% of the vote, as detailed by the New York Times

This is where a patient’s-rights activist named Mary Jane Rathbun, known as “Brownie Mary,” entered the picture. As a volunteer for The Shanti Project in the early 1980s, which was the first organization to offer medical services to AIDS patients, Rathbun secretly distributed pot brownies to patients before she was caught and forced underground. At 68 years old, Rathbun was arrested in Cazadero, California, on July 25, 1992, for baking marijunana-infused brownies at her nephew’s house. Already a close friend of Rathburn, Dennis Peron decided to use her legal situation to draw media attention and get coverage for their cause. By the time the media circus was in full swing, Brownie Mary had been found not guilty. 

“America was hearing the story of medical marijuana from an older woman who had a working-class background that people could respect and empathize with, surfacing from an epidemic that had really caught the imagination of the country on its own,” Entwistle said. “This was a real game changer.” 

That same year, Peron opened the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club, the first public medical cannabis dispensary in the U.S. Entwistle revealed to Weedmaps News that the medical cannabis club operating out of the Castro District was supposed to be temporary; it was part of a stunt meant to get Peron busted and bring the fight for medical legalization into the courtroom and back into the media’s attention. The apartment was decorated to look like a cafe and dozens of AIDS patients were recruited to be filmed buying cannabis from the club and smoking it when the media came. 

Peron initially expected that the media footage of him selling cannabis, which was featured on television news, would lure the police into arresting him. Instead, the television station that aired the segment inside of the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club received hundreds of phone calls from AIDS patients, who persuaded Peron to actually open up shop to those in need. 

“Dennis had an underground operation that had been running the whole time, so we decided to flip that around and make that the Cannabis Buyers Club,” Entwistle explained. “We raised the stakes. What else could we do?”

Over the next few years, the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club largely operated without facing recourse from law enforcement. In fact, according to Entwistle, some local police officers were even advising patients in need to purchase from the club instead of from street dealers. Around this time, Peron also turned his attention to legislative matters, managing to get three medical marijuana measures onto the desk of Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, who vetoed each initiative. 

“During this whole time period, the other thing we were doing was lobbying, we were trying to change the law in-house,” Entwistle said. “We went to Sacramento and put bills on the governor’s desk, which he vetoed, and that’s what led to us going out and collecting signatures for Proposition 215.” 

These initial denials from Wilson set the stage for Proposition 215, or the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, an initiative that would allow patients and caregivers to possess and cultivate marijuana for medical use. The measure was drafted with help from other cannabis advocates across California, such as Dale Gieringer and Willam Panzer. According to Entwistle, they were just able to gather enough signatures to solidify the initiative’s place on the state ballot. While Proposition 215 was gaining traction, the Buyers Club was operating out of a 30,000-square-foot building with somewhere from 8,000 to 10,000 customers weekly. 

Once the initiative made it on the state ballot in 1996, the federal government finally took notice of the Buyers Club and arrested Peron for possession and transportation of marijauna on Oct. 11, 1996. 

“That’s when the shit hit the fan,” Entwistle Jr. explained. “What they did was, they decided that the best way to keep Prop 215 from passing was to make the author of the initiative look like a criminal. So they went and busted Dennis and closed down the club.”  

While Enthwistle believed that the raid was intended to taint Proposition 215, the arrest and media attention ended up giving the measure a six-point boost in the polls. Less than a month later, on Nov. 6, 1996, Proposition 215 passed with 55.6% of the vote.  

“It started out as a eulogy for Jonathan and wound up to be a worldwide movement,” Peron said in the 2015 interview with KNTV. 

Key LGBTQ Figures in Fight for Legalization

Peron played a paramount role in the marijuana movement, but he was far from the only LGBTQ figure to contribute to the medical marijuana cause. Other gay and lesbian activists, many of whom were associated with Peron, were also instrumental in helping medical patients access cannabis and advocating for the passage of Proposition 215. 

Dr. Donald Abrams

Dr. Donald Abrams, an integrative oncologist at the University of San Francisco, was one of the first researchers to study the interaction between marijuana and AIDS. After meeting in 1994, Abrams collaborated with Rick Doblin, the founder of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), to outline a research project that would demonstrate the medicinal benefits of cannabis. The initial proposal was rejected by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), but after tweaking it into a “safety assessment study,” Abrams received approval along with a $978,000 grant. 

When the study concluded in 2000, the researchers found that cannabis was a safe and effective treatment for AIDS patients, reducing the disease’s progression against the immune system. Clint Werner, a fellow queer activst and husband of Abrams, is also a notable figure, having authored a compilation of scientific and medical information in 2011 entitled “Marijuana, Gateway to Health.” According to Entwistle, Abrams was instrumental in legitimizing marijuana as a potential medical treatment for AIDS and other conditions.

“If you want to make the point that someone is acting unreasonably, you got to have some concrete points, and Donald Abrams was really good at that,” he explained. “That helped set the stage for what was to come.” 

Paul Scott

Part of a direct descendant from Peron’s advocacy tree, Paul Scott operated a medical marijuana collective in Southern California called the Inglewood Wellness Center from 1999 to 2013. Similar to the San Francisco Buyers Club, this collective helped numerous AIDS and cancer patients gain access to medical cannabis, and also provided support groups for terminally ill patients to cope. Scott, who is African-American, also founded L.A.’s Black Gay Pride organization and was the Los Angeles County Commissioner on HIV and AIDS from 2002 to 2008. 

Valerie Corral, ‘Nurse Mary Jane’ Tishler, and Scott Imler

Also following in the footsteps of Peron was a group of activists from Santa Cruz, which includes Valerie Corral, the founder of the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM), a non-profit medicinal cannabis dispensing collective, and Andrea Tischler, a lesbian who advocated for medical marijuana and passed out free joints to sick patients throughout the small coastal city. 

According to Entwistle, Corral was one of the many activists to help with a language of Proposition 215. Tischler, who was known as “Nurse Mary Jane,” usually sported a nurse outfit with a hat featuring a glittery weed leaf on it. She worked with other activists to pass the Santa Cruz Medical Marijuana Initiative in 1993, a law similar to Proposition P in San Francisco, and also acted as the city’s chair for Proposition 215 from 1995 to 1996. 

Another important figure on the scene at the time was Scott Imler, who operated a Santa Cruz-based medical marijuana collective of his own. In 1992, Imler was convinced by Peron, his close friend, to file an initiative similar to Prop P in Santa Cruz called Measure A, which ended up passing and becoming the second local medical marijuana initiative approved in the state. 

Through the story of Peron and fellow activists of that era, it’s easy to see how LGBTQ rights and cannabis legalization have become so strongly intertwined. Not only did both movements start around the same time and strive to squash long-held social stigmas, but it was the AIDS epidemic that helped pave the way for medical marijuana and reshaped the way we see cannabis today.  

“Cannabis has always been a way to connect members of the ‘outsider community’ … people on the fringe of society. And that certainly has been part of the relationship between weed and members of the LGBTQ community,” said Carl Fillichio, Vice President of Policy Communication for Weedmaps.

“There is no doubt that people like Dennis Peron and Mary Jane ‘Brownie Mary’ Rathbun were instrumental leaders in LGBTQ rights and HIV/AIDS healthcare, but they also played a critically important role in the realization and acceptance of cannabis as legitimate medicine.”

To learn more about how the LGBTQ community revolutionized marijuana legalization in the U.S., check out the “Dose of Compassion” exhibit at the Weedmaps Museum of Weed. For ticket information, visit themuseumofweed.com.

Featured image illustrated by David Lozada/Weedmaps

The post We Wouldn’t Have Legal Weed Without These LGBTQ Activists appeared first on Weedmaps News.

Compassion Lives on in California as Governor Signs The Dennis Peron and Brownie Mary Act

After a multiyear effort by advocates, Governor Gavin Newsom announced over the weekend he had signed SB-34, The Dennis Peron and Brownie Mary Act, in support of medical marijuana compassion care programs

The Dennis Peron and Brownie Mary Act, named for San Francisco’s beloved pioneering medical marijuana activists, would exempt compassionate care programs from state cannabis taxes. For twenty years these programs have provided for low-income patients across the state their medicine for little to no money. 

In recent years the programs were devastated by the cost of doing business in California’s developing legal cannabis market. When adult-use sales began almost two years ago on New Year’s Day 2018, there was no mechanism to exempt these programs from the wild tax rates that have helped the illicit market in California grow to three times the legal one. Hence many programs disappeared or withered to a shell of their former selves. 

Even worse, many of those patients once participating in the programs lived on fixed incomes. They were likely forced back to the illicit market due to the regulatory overheard consumers are forced to cover in pricing schemes for California’s legal cannabis businesses.  

Advocates almost tasted success a year ago. But then-Governor Jerry Brown ended up vetoing the bill only 10 months after Dennis Peron passed away. At the time Brown feared the bill would somehow undermine the will of the voters. 

It’s not very difficult to argue that 2018 was the worst year for medical marijuana in California since Denis Peron, Brownie Mary, and their comrades passed Proposition 215 in 1996.

California to Continue a Legacy of Compassion With The Dennis Peron and Brownie Mary Act

But all those roadblocks are now a thing of the past and advocates and producers can now establish a plan to get these programs back to their once-robust levels. 

The bill’s chief sponsor State Senator Scott Wiener released a statement on the signing. 

“For decades, compassion programs have played a critical role in helping low income people with serious medical conditions access their medicine,” Wiener said, “Access to medical cannabis has allowed so many people living with HIV, cancer, PTSD, and other health conditions to survive and thrive. Taxing programs that give away free medical cannabis, and thus have no revenue, makes no sense and has caused far too many of these programs to close. SB 34 will allow compassionate care programs to survive and serve those in need. Many people will be healthier as a result of today’s action by the Governor.”

We reached out to the California Cannabis Industry Association to get their take on what the bill will mean for the industry

“The roots of our state’s thriving cannabis industry began in compassionate care,” CCIA’s 

Communication and Outreach Director Josh Drayton told High Times in an email. “Since 1996, compassionate care programs have been able to donate medicinal cannabis to low-income Californians with a valid medical recommendation, including veterans with PTSD, cancer patients, and individuals suffering from HIV and AIDS.

Like many, Drayton pointed to the ramifications Proposition 64 ended up having on compassion programs as unexpected. “Sadly, while Prop 64 did not intend to cut off medicinal cannabis access to compassionate use patients, by imposing all state taxes on donated cannabis products, licensed operators have been inhibited from donating product and as a result, patients have been forced to the unregulated, illicit market to get their much needed medicine,” he said. 

Drayton hopes The Dennis Peron and Brownie Mary Act signing will help the industry remember its roots. 

“As the passage of this bill provides a pathway for California’s most vulnerable cannabis patients to receive the care they need regardless of income, it reminds us all (business owners, consumers, and advocates alike) why we are here and why we continue this fight,” Drayton said. 

California NORML Deputy Director Ellen Komp told High Times the broad and dedicated coalition that worked to pass SB34 included compassion providers, veterans groups, and others. Komp was especially excited to see the bill’s namesakes be a part of something that would have been so important to them, “since compassion is what they were all about, and what first brought medical marijuana to all of us in California and the nation,” she said. 

While advocates have crossed off one of the major boxes in their plans for cannabis in California with the signing of SB-34, the road is still a long one.

“The struggle is never over when a law passes: implementation is key. Cal NORML will be watching and gathering input from those who require compassionate cannabis in the months to come,” Komp said, “Berkeley is the only jurisdiction I know of that requires compassion programs; I never heard any providers complaining about them when it was in place.” 

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