Pride, HIV Activism and Cannabis - Part 1
Pride month is an onion of black and brown activists, HIV advocates, and cannabis. As a white, cis-gendered member of the LGBTQ+ community I did not always understand and appreciate the layered nature of Pride, and how much I owe to those who started the movement decades ago.
Pride month has always been a source of joy and celebration for me, and as I get older it is also a month of reflection. From joining a tiny GSA club at a Catholic high school, to advocating for Minnesota voters to reject a same-sex marriage ban, to seeing the US supreme court institutionalize marriage equality, to marrying my wife - the last 20 years have given me whiplash in the best possible way.
In reflecting on Pride this month, it is especially critical to highlight the roots of Pride in uprisings led by black, brown and trans activists - we would not have the world we do today without the dedication and sacrifice of activists like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera and Storme DeLarverie to name a few. For additional reading and listening on that history I recommend starting here, here, and here.
Another of the most noticeable themes of Pride is the visibility and work of HIV activists and organizations fighting the stigma of the virus, finding funding for a cure, and increasing access to healthcare, housing, support, and treatment. In this history another layer appears - the connection between these advocates and the adoption of state medical cannabis programs.
In this month's blog series I'll start by exploring the connection between HIV advocacy and medical programs, talk to one of the oldest HIV services providers in Oregon, and wrap with the current status of clinical trials for cannabis and HIV.
HIV and Medical Cannabis - Brownie Mary and Dennis Parron
One of the best known advocates in this space was Mary Jane Rathbun, or Brownie Mary. Mary grew up in Minneapolis, but lived in San Francisco most of her life, initially waitressing and running a side business selling marijuana brownies. In the early 1980s Mary was arrested twice and sentenced to community service at the Shanti Project, a nonprofit that supported those impacted by the emerging AIDS epidemic. In 1984 she began volunteering at San Francisco General Hospital's AIDS ward and supplying brownies to patients in the end stages of their disease(1). For a glimpse into what that ward was like during the AIDS crisis, listen to this episode of the Periodic Effects podcast with an interview of a physician contemporary of Brownie Mary.
In 1992 Mary, along with legendary activists Dennis Peron and his husband John Entwistle, opened The San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club to provide cannabis to people suffering from HIV, cancer, and other debilitating conditions. Peron helped author California's Proposition 215, and after the efforts of Peron and countless others it passed in 1996 making medical marijuana legal in the state (2). Reflecting on that moment to present day, where over 30 states have medical marijuana programs, Entwistle is quoted as saying "It wasn't the hippies per se, it wasn't the standard establishment marijuana movement players, it was the gay people who legalized pot in California because of the AIDS epidemic. That's been forgotten to some extent." (1)
Two years after California's Prop 215, Oregon passed ballot measure 67, creating its own medical program for patients living with a variety of illnesses, including HIV.
Next week's blog post we'll take a deeper dive with one of Oregon's oldest and largest provider of HIV services - Cascade AIDS project. I"ll talk with one of their peer support group leaders and hear how profoundly HIV still impacts Oregonians today, and how CAPS is adapting to offer support to survivors of the epidemic during the current pandemic.
1) Margolin, Madison (2019 April 29) Brownie Mary is the Reason You Can Get Medical Marijuana Today. Bon Appetit. Retrieved from: https://www.bonappetit.com/story/brownie-mary
2) Sandomir, Richard (2018 Jan 30) Dennis Peron, Early Medical Marijuana Advocate, Dies at 71. The New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/30/obituaries/dennis-peron-early-medical-marijuana-advocate-dies-at-71.html