Ganja, like gay rights, has fueled innumerable social battles, and both continue to inflame massive amounts of Americans.
In abstract terms, medical marijuana and gay rights aren't that different. They're both fine examples of federalism: gay equality has civil unions, employment non-discrimination, and a rare marriage law, while medical marijuana contest decriminalization, legalization, dispensaries and taxation.
For all these subtle parallels, though, these cultural campaigns have their fair share of differences. But those differences aren't insurmountable. They may actually be assets, and I bet that if gay and pot advocates threw into a coalition, both movements could reach new highs.
It's more than likely that medical marijuana will sweep the nation before same-sex marriage. There are a few factors playing into this prediction. Most obviously, influential baby boomers are changing their minds: according to a recent Pew poll, only 30% of people over 65 say they oppose medicinal legalization, and only 20% of Americans between 50 and 64 say the same. A whopping 73% of Americans answer in the affirmative when asked about potential reform.
The Internet also helps raise awareness and spread the word to younger generations. And then there's the business angle. "Business terms helps build reception for people," said Matt Brown, Executive Director of Coloradans for Medical Marijuana Regulation. "Build regulations on other business codes, like state alcohol codes." Yet, for all the proven economic benefits of gay marriage, they're not nearly as tangible, or plentiful, as those made by curative herb: legalization in California this November could bring in $1.4 billion. More notably, medical marijuana doesn't come with heaps of moral baggage.
The arguments about medical cannabis and gay rights are both culture wars, although of far different breeds. The war on drugs stems from what fellow Bilerico contributor Joe Mirabella described as "remnants of anti-war versus war establishment. The war on drugs is fueled by a military machine." Thus, gay policing often falls into the hands of the religious right, which are far more comfortable attacking same-sex affairs than bongs and blunts.
It's virtually impossible take down sticky icky from a moral perspective. Not that the right doesn't sometimes try: Evangelical leader Scott Lively told radio host and Fox News man Alan Colmes this year that homosexuality should be punished with small fines, just like "decriminalized" dope. It's a cumbersome fit, for no one knows how to scale from a hand-job up to intercourse.
Aside from the comparative argument's awkwardness, the humanitarian aspects of medical marijuana carry a lot of weight. "It's good that medical marijuana doesn't have religious blockade," said Brown. "Many Christians understand the 'compassionate' argument." It's certainly not very Christ-like to allow others to suffer when their pain could be remedied, and states can make a buck in the process. Still, that doesn't mean everyone wants to hop on the weed bandwagon.
As with homosexuality, there's still a potent taboo hovering above marijuana. People may support it, but that doesn't mean they're ready to come out and say it. "A problem with the marijuana movement is that previously it was a taboo subject: people didn't want others to think they smoked," asserted Mirabella. And this taboo has impacted potential coalitions. Asked whether he and his peers had reached out, Brown from CMMR said "yes," although didn't name any names: "A lot of people say, 'we appreciate it, but don't want to be a part of it." This shortsighted thinking only hurts gay rights.
The positive implications of teaming with marijuana advocates far outweigh the bummers. Again, young people are joining the first for marijuana reform, and those young people could help bolster the next generation of gay rights. "Progressives need to wake up and play nice with these coalitions," says activist and consultant Jay Lassiter. "It's strategically good because marijuana reform activists likely won't vote against us." Then there are the boomers and Christians: weed wafts between political circles and could very well bring divergent ideological groups together like a modern-day piece pipe. Geographic patterns too may be a boon. A number of states like Maine, New Jersey and California have simultaneously tackled both debates. And marijuana often comes out on top: last November, in Maine, reefer reform won on the ballot, while gay marriage lost. California, meanwhile, may very well pass marijuana legalization in a state that infamously criminalized gay marriage. But if there's strength in numbers there's even more power in the symbolic pragmatism.
I originally started this article back in December. Keeping with the spirit of the subject, I took some time to put "pen" to "paper," largely because my direction had completely changed over the course of interviews and research and I put it on the back burner. I had originally hoped to ruminate on the aforementioned federalism and the legal side of the gay and marijuana movements. The ties, I found, are far deeper, and frame the green stuff in a decidedly lavender lens. "Fostering ties would be good for both sides," insisted Mirabella, "especially in terms of HIV."
MPP's Mirkin also cited the HIV/AIDS link. "I had been a freelance health reporter and hung around with AIDS activists," he explained of his early days in the field. "As I got into the issue and looking at research, I became more and more appalled by how dishonest our government was being." Lassiter too referenced the nasty retrovirus: "A lot of activists cut their teeth during the AIDS crisis. Marijuana reform is part of that heritage, a growth." Joining the medical marijuana movement could be homage to LGBT pioneers who went before us and laid the ground for gay rights in the first place.
Weed may be a simple plant, but its influence shouldn't be discounted: it has been employed medicinally for centuries, inspired countless artists, visual as well as aural, and accounts for nearly half of Doritos's sales. Nor should pot's political heft go untapped: weed did, after all, contribute to an entire counter-culture that helped oppose the Vietnam War. It could again prove a potent weapon in social battles on the horizon. If administered correctly, of course, and with moderation: neither movement wants to lose sight of its ultimate goals. But that doesn't mean they can't get together for a progressive jam session every once in a while.
Image via Thor's Flickr.