Seeing Marijuana Law as a Gay Issue


By "Radical" Russ Bellville

Come out, come out, whoever you are!

Some may know that I occasionally blog for Pam’s House Blend, an award-winning LGBT blog written by an African-American lesbian from the South.  (I’m the tokin’ straight white guy from the Pacific Northwest, for diversity’s sake.)  Pam even brought me along as an accredited blogger at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.  I honed much of my blogging chops at “the Blend” as its first “guest barista” when Pam needed a break and allowed me to post on her front page a few years ago.

So I’ve always been paying attention to the intersection of gay and lesbian politics and the marijuana law reform movement.  We often use the metaphor of “coming out of the closet” to describe telling the truth to family and friends about our cannabis use, noting that gays and lesbians didn’t begin to win any political battles until their numbers were visible to the general public.  It is easy for people to be taught to hate mis-labeled abstractions like “homosexuals” or “drug abusers”; it is a lot more difficult to vote to discriminate against your gay cousin or marijuana-smoking nephew.

The website Queer Today recently took a look at the marijuana law reform movement.  It’s a great review of the history of the movement and shows how there would be no medical marijuana today without proud out gays and lesbians who fought for it in California:

The legalization of the medicinal and recreational use of marijuana was voted one of the Top 10 Ideas for Change in 2010, on, and will be presented to “relevant members of the Obama Administration and form the basis of national campaigns dedicated to advancing each idea.”

But what does this mean to you and to the LGBTQ Nation?

Imagine, if you will, a world in which AIDS organizations raise money by selling medical marijuana instead of used clothes and furniture? Currently any organization that receives any federal funding is prohibited from this venture. Gays and lesbians have been in the forefront of the fight to legalize marijuana and medical marijuana, and without the AIDS/HIV health concerns in the mid-90’s medical marijuana never would have passed in California.

The most profound case, having the longest and most wide-ranging effect on marijuana legalization efforts and on the Queer AIDS/HIV Community, was a program begun in 1976.

Due to a court settlement in a lawsuit brought by a glaucoma patient (U.S. v. Randall,S.Ct D.C. Crim. No. 65923-75Nov. 24, 1976), special single-patient medical marijuana studies were begun for 18 individuals based upon medical necessity. This program was closed to new applicants in the 1990’s when President George H.W. Bush slammed the gates shut after thousands of AIDS patients had begun the application process. That program, called the FDA “Compassionate Use Program,” still to this day distributes about 300 joints per month to each of the remaining patients (5) who were promised a lifetime supply of medical marijuana.

It is a direct result of President Bush’s closure of the FDA “Compassionate Use Program” in 1992, and feeling once again that the federal government has turned their back on them, that convinced AIDS medical marijuana proponents that a Medical Necessity system at the community level is the only alternative. San Francisco and surrounding communities, those hardest hit by the AIDS pandemic, became ground zero of the medical marijuana movement.

That, of course, led to Dennis Peron and others opening up compassion centers for AIDS patients to acquire medical marijuana and the growing movement in San Francisco led to the statewide campaign for Prop 215, and the rest is history.

The article also made a nice summary of the methods by which marijuana could be made legal:

Federal marijuana drug laws can only be changed in a few ways:

-- The U.S. Attorney General can initiate rescheduling “(1) on his own motion, (2) at the request of the Secretary, or (3) on the petition of any interested party,” or if obligated by international treaties. (21 USC Sec. 811 01/22/02);

NORML initiated that petition in 1972. It has been diverted, delayed, and denied at every turn. I don’t think Eric Holder is likely to act “on his own motion” and I don’t see any marijuana-legalizing treaties being signed any time soon.

-- The U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services can issue a binding recommendation to Attorney General to “initiate proceedings for control or removal, as the case may be.” (21 USC Sec. 811 01/22/02);

That would be former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who did not “endorse medical use of marijuana” while governor and has made no mention of it as Secretary.

-- U.S. Congress can amend the Controlled Substances Act it passed in 1970 to reschedule marijuana; and DEA and FDA together can reschedule marijuana if clinical trials show it is “safe” and “effective”;

I don’t see a Congress that just barely passed modest health care reforms passing a bill to reschedule marijuana. And even though we have the clinical studies showing marijuana to be both safe and effective, I don’t see the DEA jumping at the chance to reduce their budget and the FDA eager to anger pharmaceutical companies.

-- A definitive ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court, finding the current Drug Schedule for marijuana, or the Schedule in general, as somehow unconstitutional;

The Supreme Court that decided California marijuana grown by a Californian using California seeds, California soil, and sown using California implements, all for the non-commercial legal medical use of a Californian was somehow interstate commerce is not going to decide the CSA is unconstitutional.

-- The President of the United States can sign an Executive Order declaring marijuana removed from Schedule I, and changed to a less restrictive Schedule, or removed entirely from federal controls.

You mean that fellow who laughed at us when we suggested he legalize marijuana?

No, folks, the fight for marijuana legalization, like gay rights, is going to happen state-by-state, and most likely in California. 


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