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A Queer Historical past of California’s Medical Marijuana Motion

We’ve come a great distance because the ‘90s, when California handed Proposition 215: the nation’s first statewide medical marijuana legislation. However as CBD turns into accessible in each nook retailer, canna-stocks take over Wall Avenue, and questions on weed spring up on Jeopardy, it’s straightforward to overlook how and why the hashish motion initially started. 

Bear in mind, it took off through the AIDS disaster.

The story begins in California, the place Dennis Peron, a homosexual man dubbed the “father of medical hashish,” noticed a lot of his mates die from AIDS. The epidemic worn out hundreds, and hashish was among the many few cures that supplied the struggling some reduction. However the drug legal guidelines of the time confirmed no mercy. If an AIDS affected person was caught utilizing weed by legislation enforcement, the affected person was arrested and put in jail — the place the extent of struggling elevated.

The unjust fuckery impressed Peron to steer certainly one of California’s most profitable advocacy actions so far: the reform of state hashish legal guidelines. Though his activism is known, he was only one man, a core piece to a a lot bigger, intricate puzzle of people who find themselves all equally answerable for the success of the hashish reform revolution. Most tales detailing the motion’s historic developments focus solely on Peron and the passing of his late companion, Jonathan West, in 1990. However in actuality, it took a village of individuals — from each race, gender, socioeconomic and well being standing — to catalyze the change. 

What follows is a historical past of California’s — and finally the nation’s — medical hashish motion by the lenses of a few of Peron’s closest confidantes and protégés, who collectively composed a military of LGBT activists and their straight allies.

Reagan and the ‘Homosexual Plague’

In 1981, scientists first recognized a brand new illness that appeared to solely afflict homosexual males. Initially known as “Homosexual-Associated Immune Deficiency,” or GRID, medical doctors initially had no thought what prompted it.

In 1983, Larry Kramer, a screenwriter, novelist, and founding father of the AIDS activist group Homosexual Males’s Well being Disaster, appeared on NBC’s At this time Present. He requested the present’s host, Jane Pauley, “Are you able to think about what it have to be like in the event you had misplaced 20 of your mates within the final 18 months?”

“No,” Pauley answered.

By the point Kramer appeared on nationwide TV, over 2,000 Individuals had died from AIDS. It could be one other two years after Kramer’s At this time Present interview earlier than President Reagan even mentioned the phrase “AIDS” in public.

The Reagan Administration took its bittersweet time responding to the epidemic as a result of, as stalwart defenders of Christian purity, it considered homosexuality as an ethical failing. Gay conduct was even outlawed in some states and cities on the the time. So the disaster was perceived as a legalistic failing, too. In keeping with Reagan’s cronies, a losing illness that resulted from homosexual intercourse wasn’t America’s downside.

In contrast to Reagan’s administration, nevertheless, AIDS didn’t discriminate. And it nonetheless doesn’t.

The virus initially unfold among the many homosexual neighborhood, notably within the San Francisco Bay Space, the place queer Individuals settled to keep away from harassment and ostracization. However as soon as AIDS started killing members of Reagan’s former ilk — like well-known Hollywood stars — and HIV appeared in different at-risk teams — like intravenous drug customers and hemophiliacs — the American public lastly took discover.


Clint Werner primarily based his landmark e book, “Marijuana, Gateway to Well being,” on his experiences serving to most cancers and AIDS sufferers in California.

The Sacred Band of Thebes: Clint Werner and Dr. Donald Abrams

Though a lot of California’s queer weed activists are now not with us because of the AIDS epidemic, some nonetheless are. Clint Werner is an creator and hashish activist primarily based in San Francisco. In 2011, he revealed the e book Marijuana, Gateway to Well being, which compiled probably the most up-to-date scientific data on hashish for that point. It detailed many years of his first-hand expertise witnessing the plant’s energy, notably in AIDS and most cancers sufferers.

Werner first got here to the Golden State from North Carolina whereas following the Grateful Useless on tour. However after making the Bay Space his house within the late ‘80s, he received a entrance row seat to what he describes as a real-life “horror film.”

“Younger individuals at present do not know of the trauma — the horror — of seeing AIDS sufferers strolling up and down Castro Avenue, trying like extras from some battle movie or horror film; gaunt [and] their pores and skin lined in Kaposi’s sarcoma splotches,” Werner instructed MERRY JANE over the telephone. “Males with canes, 35-years-old trying like they had been 80. It was insane. It was probably the most horrible factor.”

With none medical steering, the homosexual neighborhood resorted to an array of unconventional remedies, which is what led sufferers to hashish. It was the one drugs that relieved AIDS signs on a number of ranges: it helped handle the ache related to chemotherapy remedies that medical doctors tried off-label on AIDS sufferers; and it helped restore urge for food, even because the illness ravaged sufferers’ digestive techniques.

Werner met his companion, Dr. Donald Abrams —  a famend integrative oncologist on the College of San Francisco, who was among the many first to check the influence of hashish on AIDS — at a MAPS convention in 1994. It was there that Abrams publicly mentioned his work on AIDS and medicinal hashish, two new medical arenas wrought with controversy. 


Dr. Donald Abrams, in earlier interviews, has mentioned that he all the time recommends medical hashish to his sufferers.

After the American public started studying about medical hashish as an AIDS remedy, MAPS founder Rick Doblin noticed that the hashish iron was scorching. He coordinated with Abrams to plan a examine to definitively present that marijuana was a sound drugs. However with the plant’s Schedule I standing — and George H.W. Bush in workplace — getting the federal authorities to sign-off on the examine was past tough.

In 1995, Abrams requested permission from the DEA and the Nationwide Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) to check medical marijuana’s results on AIDS sufferers. NIDA rejected the proposal as a result of federal businesses wouldn’t help any analysis which may present the medical advantages of an unlawful narcotic. 

Abrams’s hospital supervisor cautioned him towards performing the examine as a result of it might wreck his profession. So Abrams despatched a letter to Doblin asserting his withdrawal from the challenge.

“Bullshit!” Werner recalled saying to Abrams. “Bull. Shit. What the fuck are they gonna do to you? You’re freaking Donald Abrams. They’re not going to fireside you simply since you submitted a protocol.”

Persuaded by Werner, Abrams revised the proposal to appease the powers-that-be. He tweaked it right into a “security evaluation examine” somewhat than one intending to indicate the medical advantages of the plant.

Everybody ready for an additional spherical of disapproval. 

However the technique labored. Abrams reframed his proposal so it appeared into the interactions amongst smoked marijuana; dronabinol, an artificial THC pharmaceutical; and the investigational drug Indinavir in AIDS sufferers. In 1997, NIDA lastly authorised the examine and supplied Abrams a $978,000 grant.

That very same 12 months, Abrams and the Nationwide Institutes of Well being held a press convention to announce the challenge. Mainstream media introduced further consideration to the problem, and American discourse slowly started to shift from weed being a drug that ruined lives to a pure treatment that relieved struggling within the terminally in poor health. Abrams additionally went public with how tough and sluggish it was to obtain approval for the examine, whereas the federal government gladly expedited anti-cannabis analysis grants. 

In 2000, Abrams and MAPS lastly concluded the challenge and launched the outcomes. In the end, the examine not solely confirmed that smoked hashish was a protected remedy for AIDS sufferers, but additionally that it might scale back HIV’s development towards the immune system. Different states took notice: between 1997 and 2000, Colorado, Nevada, Maine, Hawaii, Alaska, Oregon, and Washington state joined California by legalizing medical marijuana. 


Clint Werner with the illustrious Brownie Mary at Dennis Peron’s San Francisco Patrons Membership, circa 1993.

The Sparks That Lit a Nation on Hearth: Brownie Mary and Dennis Peron

However whereas Werner and Abrams labored to show the scientific advantages of hashish, Mary Jane Rathbun, higher often called “Brownie Mary,” fought for medical hashish differently. An activist in San Francisco, Brownie Mary earned her nickname by handing out infused brownies to these affected by AIDS whereas volunteering at San Francisco Normal Hospital’s AIDS ward

Brownie Mary, who died in 1999, was one of many first hashish activists to rise out of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Whereas waitressing at IHOP, she perfected the artwork of baking “magical” brownies and bought them within the Castro District, San Fran’s traditionally homosexual neighborhood. So by the point AIDS ravaged San Francisco, Brownie Mary was already often called the Betty Crocker of laced treats.

And the cops knew it. Brownie Mary was arrested 3 times — all of which garnered huge media protection, notably as a consequence of her “little previous woman” look and (contradictory) illicit conduct. Her third arrest, nevertheless, was probably the most well-known and solidified her as a foremother of medical marijuana.

Werner explains that Brownie Mary was arrested by an “asshole, anti-cannabis, anti-hippie cop” infamous for busting defenseless marijuana sufferers and activists. It’s thought that her arrest could have been retaliation for serving to draft Proposition P with Dennis Peron, who was a good friend and political cohort of Brownie Mary, Werner, Abrams, and others within the motion.

Prop. P allowed marijuana sufferers to own weed and medical medical doctors to advocate it. However the legislation was solely relevant in San Francisco, and Brownie Mary’s arrest revealed the restrictions of the legislation. She was busted in Sonoma County, simply outdoors of San Francisco’s jurisdiction.  

Though prosecutors charged her with two counts of felony marijuana possession, she was acquitted beneath a “medical necessity” protection. By the point of her third arrest, she wasn’t seen as a “naughty grandma” anymore. She was acknowledged as an HIV activist preventing for sufferers’ rights to make use of and entry hashish. She embodied the compassion that the eventual Prop. 215, also referred to as the Compassionate Use Act, was based on, and helped unfold the message Abrams, Werner, and Peron additionally advocated.

LA’s Satisfaction: Paul Scott

At this level within the early ‘90s, Peron was serving to practically 11,000 sufferers throughout California. To handle such a widespread community, he wanted troops. He wanted to indicate others find out how to develop high-quality pot, educate the general public, and metal themselves towards the authorities within the occasion of a police crackdown.

Amongst these college students was Paul Scott, who described himself as “most likely Dennis’s solely black disciple.” The 2 met in San Francisco within the latter half of the ‘90s.

Scott moved to LA along with his mom when he was eight-years-old, and nonetheless resides within the Metropolis of Angels. A former US Navy Corpsman who later grew to become an AIDS ward nurse, Scott based LA’s Black Homosexual Satisfaction and served as town’s County Commissioner on HIV/AIDS from 2002 to 2008. He additionally owned and operated the Inglewood Wellness Heart, a medical marijuana collective, from 1999 to 2013.

By the Inglewood Wellness Heart, Scott helped AIDS and most cancers sufferers perceive how hashish might counteract the disastrous results of poisonous, standard medicines prescribed by medical doctors. The middle introduced in sufferers from throughout Southern California.


Paul Scott (proper) with Dennis Peron on the Large High Farm

Though the wellness middle was raided by cops, and he was arrested on three separate events for offering medical weed to sick individuals, Scott beat the fees each time. 

In a single occasion, a county prosecutor dropped a case towards Scott after NORML’s attorneys offered quite a few awards bestowed upon him and his wellness middle by varied metropolis officers. 

“I used to be official, and I used to be sick,” he mentioned, mentioning that he’s lived with HIV for a few years. “I wasn’t a dope seller.”

Because of this Scott insists his Inglewood location wasn’t a dispensary, however somewhat a tried-and-true wellness middle. The Inglewood Wellness Heart additionally hosted help teams for the terminally in poor health, particularly for straight black males combating the realities of an HIV prognosis. 

The Inglewood Wellness Heart impressed others to determine comparable medical hashish shops inside metropolis limits, too. In spite of everything, if Scott might function in Inglewood with out a license, others might do the identical. And so they did.

However within the age of more and more heavy rules and fixed federal interference, Scott shut down his operation in 2013. He has since co-founded ERBA in Los Angeles – sarcastically, town he averted working in for years – which remains to be in enterprise to today. 


Andrea Tischler’s well-known “Nurse Mary Jane” hat.

Santa Cruz’s Andrea “Nurse Mary Jane” Tischler

Whereas LA was Scott’s territory, San Francisco served as Dennis Peron’s. In Santa Cruz, Andrea Tischler took Peron’s classes from the Bay Space and utilized them to NorCal’s Surf Metropolis.

Tischler, a lesbian, was recognized within the ‘90s as “Nurse Mary Jane.” Though she wasn’t an authorized nurse, her companion crafted a nurse hat for her with a glittery pot leaf on it. Tischler then put collectively a nurse outfit and started visiting sufferers and attending marches — and dishing out free joints to the sick and needy.

Tischler’s work on the grassroots stage complemented her successes on the legislative stage. With activists Scott Imler, Theodora Kerry, and several other others, she helped draft and move the Santa Cruz Medical Marijuana Initiative in 1993. Much like San Francisco’s Prop. P, the legislation paved means for the Santa Cruz Patrons Membership, town’s first medical hashish collective.

“I labored with most of them from the start,” Tischler mentioned, citing her alliances with Peron’s crew. “Bear in mind that there have been only some dozen unique hashish activists in Northern California within the early ‘90s who path blazed the motion.”

From 1995 to 1996, Tischler served as Santa Cruz’s chair for Proposition 215, which legalized medical marijuana throughout California in 1996. Within the 2000s, Tischler and her companion moved to Hawaii, the place they’ve since been working continuous to carry authorized weed to the Aloha State.


Members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a pro-cannabis transgender group, at a weed convention in 2005. Photograph by Chris Conrad and Mikki Norris.

Throughout her time as an activist in California, Tischler famous that the AIDS epidemic didn’t simply have an effect on the homosexual neighborhood. It affected the transgender neighborhood, too – particularly transgender ladies.

“Sadly, transgender individuals weren’t accepted within the homosexual neighborhood through the ’70s,” she mentioned, noting that a number of the first documented instances of AIDS had been earlier than the ‘80s. “At a time when gays and lesbians had been attempting to current themselves as credible, [transgender women] had been those with the outlandish make-up, dangerous clothes choices, and who had been usually unemployable.” 

Trans ladies, outcasted by society at giant, typically resorted to intercourse work to make a residing, which contributed to the unfold of HIV.

“A lot of my transgender mates are now not right here, having died within the ‘80s,” she mentioned, “which was properly earlier than the medical marijuana motion started.”

But it surely’s unfair to credit score the LGBT+ communities for the whole lot of California’s medical marijuana motion. Tischler famous that though Peron’s efforts perpetually modified the state’s authorized and cultural landscapes, he was only one (very important) issue within the a lot bigger, longer marketing campaign.

If she needed to choose who made the best contributions to the medical marijuana motion, Tischler mentioned she would choose a heterosexual married couple: Mikki Norris and Chris Conrad.


Chris Conrad and Mikki Norris celebrating the passage of California’s Proposition 215 in 1996.

Turning a Miraculous Leaf: Chris Conrad and Mikki Norris

Conrad and Norris’ contributions to the motion are (like everybody else talked about) too expansive to suit right into a single story. A few of their achievements embrace founding the American Hemp Council, designing and curating Amsterdam’s Hash, Marihuana, and Hemp Museum, and dealing as delegates to advise the UN on tolerant worldwide drug insurance policies. They had been additionally instrumental in Prop. 215’s marketing campaign.

In 2008, Norris and Conrad co-founded West Coast Leaf, a newspaper that completely lined marijuana tales. They retired the print model of the publication in 2013 and introduced it to the net as The Leaf On-line. (Each Mikki and Chris have contributed to MERRY JANE, as properly.)

Conrad, an creator and professional witness for felony hashish instances, helped edit and revise Jack Herer’s groundbreaking e book, The Emperor Wears No Garments. He additionally taught weed historical past and politics at Oakland’s Oaksterdam College, the nation’s first faculty devoted completely to hashish.

Conrad instructed MERRY JANE that boiling down California’s medical marijuana motion to solely the AIDS epidemic doesn’t inform the entire story.

“I agree that the homosexual rights and AIDS points had been key to getting medical marijuana [legalized],” he mentioned. “But it surely was really most cancers sufferers that found and disseminated data about medical use on a large scale, notably in reference to chemotherapy unwanted side effects like nausea.”

Conrad does, nevertheless, view the AIDS disaster because the “fulcrum” that compelled the motion ahead. 

“The main focus shifted to the AIDS epidemic, and notably San Francisco, years later when chemo was getting used to combat AIDS,” he mentioned. “That’s the place the homosexual neighborhood, outlaw growers, and the medical neighborhood related on the problem.”


Chris Conrad and Mikki Norris campaigning for Proposition 215, the nation’s first state-wide medical marijuana invoice.

Conrad and Norris each labored alongside Dennis Peron and Terrance Hillinan, one other San Francisco-based activist. “Whereas [Peron and Hillinan] grew to become probably the most seen a part of the motion, we had been all the time pitching to individuals with much less flamboyant well being issues, like seizure ailments, digestive well being, traumatic accidents, et cetera,” he recalled. “These teams weren’t as unified or seen, however utilization amongst them grew at a speedy charge, as properly.”

It’s necessary to spotlight that the individuals included on this story are only some of the people concerned in making authorized weed a actuality. Others embrace Dr. Tod Mikuriya and Dr. Lester Grinspoon, who Conrad mentioned actually kickstarted the motion. Michelle and Michael Aldrich, Randall and Alice O’Leary, John Entwhistle, William Panzer, Thomas O’Malley, Dale Gieringer, Anna Boyce, Leo Paoli, Harvey Milk, Jonathan West, and lots of, many extra all lent their arms to the trouble.


Pot Medical doctors: Dr. Molly Fry (left) with Dr. Tod Mikuriya (middle) and Dr. David Berman (proper) at California’s annual NORML convention in 2005. Photograph by Chris Conrad and Mikki Norris.

No single demographic, group, or particular person can lay declare to the motion’s legacy. It occurred as a result of individuals from all walks of life — white and black and brown, homosexual and bi and straight, trans and cis, rich and middle-class and poor — united on a typical entrance.

“Tragic because the AIDS disaster has been, with out it, medical marijuana won’t have taken its nice leap ahead,” Conrad mentioned. “From all that ache has come a substantial amount of reduction to individuals all over the world. One can not overstate how necessary that has been for humanity.”

With the passage of Prop 215, and later SB 420 — which clarified the foundations set forth by Prop 215 — California grew to become the primary US state to get up from the fugue of prohibition. With out the AIDS epidemic and the LGBT+ communities’ efforts, weed activists — straight or in any other case — could not have had the massive push in 1996 that received legislators and the general public to deal with hashish as a drugs. In the end, it took the bravery of quite a few marijuana sufferers to come back out about each their sexual identities and their hashish use for the remainder of the world to lastly see that weed might save lives.

In fact, the street towards legalization proved to be a rocky one. Even at present, simply over 20 years since Prop 215’s passage, California nonetheless struggles to reconcile its authorized marijuana business with federal outlaw standing.

“In America, it’s all the time two steps ahead, one step again,” mentioned LA’s Paul Scott. “Progress in America is sluggish. It’s all the time been that means.”

Observe Randy Robinson on Twitter


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