Cannabis & Queerness, the Inextricable Link

Published Aug 4, 2022 05:23 p.m. ET

The True Colours Initiative, by Aqualitas and Reef Organic, ensures a portion of our profits goes to effect change, providing space and resources for impactful groups and people to flourish. Alongside donations, diverse voices are highlighted, elevated, and compensated to guarantee that the initiative provides a strong foundation for evolution with important context and education. Our ‘Allyship in Action’ series provides a set of tools, stories, insights and inspiration to ensure the intersection of Cannabis and Queerness is understood and respected, from those who can rightfully speak on their subjects of expertise.

In the first part of the series we discussed The Power of Inclusive Language.

Here’s why cannabis and queerness go hand-in-hand

By Hez Murphy

Queerness is something that is ever-present in the world we live in, whether we’re aware of it or not. In April of 2020, a Komodo dragon at the Denver Zoo laid a clutch of eggs resulting in two baby dragons through an asexual reproduction process known as parthenogenesis. In 2019, it was discovered that Solanum plastisexum, a bush tomato from the Australian Monsoon Tropics exhibits “breeding system fluidity,” or sexual fluidity: the same plant exhibits characteristics of the female reproductive system and the male reproductive system at different times. This discovery offers a powerful example of the diversity of sexual forms found among plants.

Cannabis follows suit with its tendency towards queerness. Chances are, if you haven’t encountered a queer budtender, industry professional, or customer, you’ve definitely encountered a queer plant.

Ask anyone who knows how to grow cannabis and they’ll tell you that under stressful situations the plant does something pretty remarkable: it transitions from one sex to another! Industry lingo still uses the word “hermaphrodite” to describe this phenomenon. When discussing humans born with both/varying sets of external sex characteristics, we use the term ‘intersex’ and intersex people are just as common as redheads.

When cannabis plants make this transition, it’s usually because of genetics or environmental stress. The most common stress factor is premature exposure to light, but it can also be caused by heat, lack of water, or a lack of nutrients. And while intersex plants are currently not often utilized, they can be very useful. These plants can be used to pollinate and feminize seeds, and can still be made into concentrates, although the THC content may not be as high.

Considering the cannabis plant is dioecious (meaning each plant displays a particular set of sex characteristics, just like most humans and animals) and it can transition from one sex to another, means that the plant has more in common with the queer community than initially meets the eye.

Intersectionality impacts mental health

While stress may be a transitional catalyst for cannabis plants, that’s not necessarily the case for trans people — though most of us do go through an ungodly amount of stress on a daily basis. Similarly,  in order for us to thrive and live to our full potential, the external conditions are very important for those who choose/can access transitioning. While a cannabis plant needs the right mix of water, light, and nutrients to thrive, trans folks need love, safety, comfort, and support in order to grow to our fullest potential.

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Queer people are as diverse as the Canadian population in their experiences of mental health and well-being, but they can face higher risks for some mental health issues. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, “there are multiple ways that intersectionality impacts the mental health of LGBTQ people. For example, LGBTQ people may experience other forms of marginalization – such as racism, sexism, poverty or other factors – alongside homophobia or transphobia that negatively impact on mental health. Additionally, an individual with a mental health condition who is also an LGBTQ person may face added challenges in accessing mental health services that are appropriate and inclusive and may face discrimination on the basis of both disability and sexual orientation.”

This also extends to the youth of our nation. In a recent study by Kira London-Nadeau, a doctoral student and CIHR Vanier Scholar in the Department of Psychology at UdeM and the CHU Sainte-Justine Research Centre, data was collected and analyzed from 1,548 adolescent boys and girls – including 128 LGB adolescents – as part of the Longitudinal Study of Child Development in Quebec. The study found that the association between depressive symptoms and increased cannabis use was five times stronger among LGB youth. According to London-Nadeau, this relationship may indicate that queer youth are self-medicating with cannabis to cope with depression and that other outlets for support are lacking for the realities of life as a queer youth today.

This is where cannabis and queerness often intersect. Cannabis may provide a level of comfort and relief that LGBTQ+ people are not able to find within the current healthcare system. While public healthcare in Canada does cover some medical expenses, seeking out that care can oftentimes be traumatic for BIPOC and trans people who have historically been disregarded and mistreated in medical settings. And while expenses like hospital visits are covered, medications are not. Filling prescriptions can become costly for those who don’t have insurance, and considering queer and BIPOC people are more likely to be unhoused or under-employed, cannabis may be a more accessible alternative than some pharmaceutical or over-the-counter remedies.

Our collective liberation

While the intersection of cannabis and queerness is not wholly defined by our collective struggles, there’s plenty of joy and things to celebrate, too. For instance, queer people are responsible for opening the first public cannabis dispensary in the United States. The San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club was founded in the early 90s by Dennis Peron, Brownie Mary, and John Entwhistle as a way for HIV/AIDS patients to access cannabis. The founders went on to lead the 1996 initiative “The Compassionate Use Act (prop 215)” legalizing the medical usage of cannabis in the state of California. They were even the first to use the term “budtender”.

Here in Canada, George Smitherman was the first openly gay Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) elected in Ontario back in 1999, and the province's first openly gay cabinet minister. Today he sits in the role of President & CEO of the Cannabis Council of Canada. In 2012, Renee Gagnon, a pioneer and cannabis executive, was one of the very first licensees under the original MMAR medical cannabis regulations through their company Thunderbird Biomedical Inc. (now called Emerald Health), making Renee the first trans CEO of a publicly-traded cannabis company. Today, we have folks like Andrea Smith-Meecham (AKA Andrea Flowers) who is a seasoned budtender, inclusivity advocate and founder of Terps Not Terfs, building Canada’s first nonprofit dedicated to helping the 2SLGBTQIA+ members of the cannabis industry. House of Flowers is committed to providing the members of our community with services through their four pillars of support: local programming, internal service development, and provincial and federal support.

It’s clear that cannabis and queerness are inextricably linked in past, present and future. It's high time we share some of the deeply held respect for this queer plant, with the queer people in this industry who have paved the way. The industry pioneers who fought for access and legalization, the growers, the budtenders, the sales reps, and those that still go unnoticed. Even the queer leaders at the top who had to fight twice as hard for a seat at the table.

The plant we all love isn’t biased towards whom it helps. Cannabis doesn’t judge users for being queer, and neither should anyone else – especially here in our industry. Regardless of the particular expression of a plant or person, all expressions and identities are valid, and queer people don’t have to present a certain way or be in transition to be valid in their identity. We are all beautiful in our own unique ways – just like the cannabis plant. It’s time to invest in creating safe spaces for our queer friends and colleagues in the Canadian cannabis industry, and facilitate more pardons for those BIPOC and queer folks who are still waiting to be free.


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