Pubdate: Thu, 25 Jun 2015
Source: SF Weekly (CA)
Column: ChemTales
Copyright: 2015 Village Voice Media
Author: Chris Roberts


The next time you relax over a glass, a joint, or a dab of your 
favorite recreational tonic, I want you to ask yourself a question: 
"Who had to die so I could have this?"

It will be an uncomfortable thought, but if your drug of choice is 
cannabis, it is necessary, whether your flower was sustainably grown 
in Mendocino or came from the cartel. For the experiment with ending 
cannabis prohibition in America to begin here in California and 
spread to most of the country, people had to die. In marijuana's 
case, those people were gay men - specifically, gay men dying from 
complications of AIDS in droves in apartments in the Castro, in an 
overwhelmed San Francisco General Hospital, and in childhood bedrooms 
in hometowns across flyover country.

Robert Jacob was one of them.

He was 15 in 1992 when, as a runaway living at a Larkin Street Youth 
Services shelter in the Tenderloin, he found out he was HIV positive.

Try to remember that era. The Tom Hanks movie Philadelphia, the red 
awareness ribbons, and the mainstream notion of AIDS as a real 
problem to solve weren't out yet. (For that matter, very few people 
were "out" yet.) Almost the entire country still thought of AIDS as 
something bad that happened to "other people." It wasn't quite the 
death sentence it had been in the 1980s, when American medicine 
didn't know - and the American government didn't care - what to do 
about it, but it also wasn't far off from those very early years of 
the AIDS epidemic.

Except Jacob didn't die. He's here today, running a business and 
sitting on the City Council in Sebastopol in Sonoma County. To get to 
this point, he had some help. It included retroviral drugs and a 
local medical profession that was engaged, yes, but something else, 
too: the same secret ingredient that was in the brownies a former 
waitress passed around the AIDS ward at SFGH. As if by magic, that 
secret ingredient allowed the men who were wasting away to eat a bit 
and suddenly find relief.

It's really very simple: Legal marijuana doesn't happen without the 
AIDS epidemic.

Millions of Americans thought outlawing a plant was a silly idea from 
the onset, but without gay men dying in the early years HIV/AIDS, 
fixing that mistake wouldn't happen. AIDS patients who swore cannabis 
helped them, and people like "Brownie" Mary Rathbun (her name ought 
to be a household word in every cannabis circle), who gave it to 
those patients despite busts and threats of prison are what led to 
today's multibillion dollar cannabis industry.

Along with death, real outrages were also required. A San Francisco 
police narc squad had to seize a 4-ounce stash of marijuana that a 
longtime San Francisco cannabis dealer named Dennis Peron had set 
aside for his dying partner. To acquit Peron, his partner, Jonathan 
West, had to drag his withered body into court to testify that the 
cannabis was his. It was one of West's last acts on earth before he 
died two weeks later.

That scene led San Francisco voters to approve a medical marijuana 
initiative, Proposition P, in November 1991, which - after Peron 
became even more open about giving marijuana to anyone who needed it 
- - led to the action (and inaction) in the state Legislature that 
preceded the passage of Proposition 215, the country's first law 
allowing medical cannabis, in 1996.

There's also a case to be made that only the gay community would have 
first embraced marijuana as legitimate therapy. "The gay community is 
one of the most liberal subcultures that we have," Jacob told me 
recently. "I don't know if cancer patients would have reached out to 
cannabis in the same way."

It's hard to find an LGBT presence in the cannabis industry now. The 
Castro has only one medical cannabis dispensary, and LGBT executives 
run only two of San Francisco's nearly 30 dispensaries (Jacob's SPARC 
and The Green Cross, operated by founder/CEO Kevin Reed). You'll find 
more Giants flags than rainbow flags at cannabis clubs.

Dab culture and discussion of the ways to separate THC from plant 
material into space-age substances of ever-increasing potency have 
eclipsed talk of helping patients. This change has been in the works 
for a while, but it took off right about the time people stopped 
talking about the marijuana movement and started referring to the 
marijuana industry - namely, in 2013, after Colorado and Washington 
approved recreational use of cannabis.

"It's all about the patients," Reed told me, "until it's about the profits."

At worst, marijuana is generally regarded in places like California 
as a relatively benign plant. At best, it is recognized as a wonder 
drug we're just beginning to understand - with still-untapped 
medicinal and psychological benefits for cancer patients, sufferers 
of PTSD, and people with chronic pain and other afflictions that suck 
the joy out of life.

But during Pride week and on Pride weekend, it's appropriate to give 
thanks where it is due. If you're high this weekend, remember who 
passed you that blunt.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom