LGBTQIA + and cannabis. One might think they are inextricably and harmoniously linked. Both communities have been stigmatized and marginalized, both have had to fight for their rights. However, such synergy within the cannabis industry has not always been the case. Heteronormative business executives are uncomfortable with those dressed in drag, and, for whatever reason, stigma seems to persist in all areas concerning gender and sexuality, including in the cannabis industry.
Johann Balbuena, BIPOC, LGBTQIA+ business owner and author of The Successful Cannapreneur - believes the issue in cannabis lies not in the stigma against LGBTQIA+ people - but in the lack of queer representation at the ownership and investor levels. Balbuena feels encouraged by what she described as “significant growth in the industry with respect to diversity and sensitivity towards gender inclusion.”
“As an industry that has come so far with respect to the criminalization of BIPOC individuals,” Balbuena said, “it behooves us to build systems that foster and empower diverse leaders, LGBTQIA+ included. Representation matters and it causes a greater impact when it starts in the ideation process.”
Queer influencers and consumers agree, that in order for cannabis branding to evolve, ganja executives need to engage the LGBTQIA+ communities, with queer-friendly branding, marketing and advertising. Moreover, they need to place LGBTQIA+ people in roles to oversee and develop such strategies so they can speak authentically to the communities they’ll serve.
With that in mind, we asked some of our favorite queer influencers to name brands meeting these standards and setting the bar.
The well-known luxury brand of vapes is a friend to all consumers and creatives. Recognized for their products’ appearances in a multitude of music videos such as “Figure It Out” (French, Kanye West, and Nas), “I’m the One” (DJ Khaled featuring Justin Bieber), and “Sharon Stoned” (Chanel West Coast), they have also been making strides in the interest of inclusivity. Collaborations with LGBTQIA+ artists such as Young M.A. and Gucci Mane have been on the forefront, and a new partnership with female illusionist and choreographer Laganja Estranja (of RuPaul’s Drag Race fame) was announced in January 2021.
"One of my favorite LGBTQIA+ friendly cannabis companies is Kandypens,” Laganja Estranja affirmed. “Not only do they have incredible products, but they also acknowledge the queer voice as strong and as important. I feel seen by Kandypens, and I’m so grateful to share their message of acceptance for all."
A company owned and run by LGBTQIA+ community members, this young brand, which launched in 2018, uses cannabis grown on family-run farms in Mendocino County, California by second-generation cannabis farmers. Plants are sun-grown and pesticide-free, cultivated with sustainable practices. Products include high-quality oil kits and sublingual “Space Crystals,” an infused adult take on the classic Pop Rocks candy.
“Sonder really captures the spirit of youth, psychedelic artwork, and social impact that aligns with my values,” offered queer artist / model Emily Eizen, whose favorite product is the citrusy "Cheers Queers" Space Crystals. “So much love went into the tangy pop rocks to celebrate chosen family, community, and fun,” she said. “They are the perfect joyful 4/20 treat.”
Known for “the most beautiful joints in the world,” the California-based Stone Road Farms highlights queer talent in its imagery, creating content that reflects the diverse spectrum of cannabis users in the LGBTQIA+ community. They have collaborated with queer creatives such as Aaliyah Ei, Jalen XX (aka Dominique), and Amanda Picotte. In addition to their celebrated content, Stone Road is recognized for top-notch flower and products made with heart. A famous stunt in 2018 of the biggest and most expensive joint ever rolled was created with a gold-covered “elephant tusk” that sold at auction for $24,000, all donated to an effort to end the poaching of wildlife. Stone Road enjoys such a devoted following because they truly operate from a genuine place of care.
Kush Queen is a women -owned brand that hires and supports the LGBTQIA+ community year -round. During Pride Month, they come out with popular Pride products and content to go with it. Last year, they launched a sparkly bath bomb, and partnered with the nonprofit AsylumConnect, which helps LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers find safety; their campaign featured all gender- nonconforming BIPOC.
“These brands don't just slap a rainbow in their profile picture the month of June,” Eizen said. “They are part of the community, and recognize the shared struggle and history of LGBTQIA+ and cannabis advocacy."
Based in San Diego, CannaPride is an LGBTQIA+ CBD brand that caters to all and brings awareness to the unique needs and voices of marginalized communities and LGBTQIA+. Founders Tara and Kayla Caruso started the business from the ground up almost two years ago, wishing to build a brand that represented their own lives. They have created a community centered around support, education and overall wellness through the benefits of cannabis, hemp and spirituality.
When cannabis industry insider Cynthia Salarizadeh and wine industry veteran Tracey Mason came together, they created an advanced luxury category of infused beverages that took “plant-based” to a whole new level. House of Saka produces THC “vinfusions,” or wine with alcohol removed, processed with cannabis oil through nano-emulsion techniques. The science is extraordinary, but even more amazing is the company’s all-female leadership, including an advisory board made up of some of the most outstanding women in cannabis: Mara Gordon (Aunt Zelda’s), Amber Senter (SuperNOVA Women), Tahira Rehmatullah (Akerna), and many more.
Co-founder and CEO Tracey Mason, who identifies as a lesbian, has spoken on being a queer woman in the industry. She said that as a founder she is particularly sensitive to BIPOC, LGBTQIA+ and female consumers because she “[knows what it’s like] coming up and coming through an industry that has oftentimes held us back.” But Amber Senter, who also identifies as a lesbian, has another take. “This industry was started by… misfits,” she notes, “people who didn’t fit into other industries, because people who use cannabis definitely march to the beat of a different drum.”
Balbuena’s own brand, Boycott Shitty Weed is a lifestyle brand that focuses on promoting the intentional use of quality cannabis to create; shedding light on the need for social equity and social justice; and to become a brand that maximizes the synergy of the cannabis culture, fashion and advocacy through the empowerment diverse voices. The brand is a movement for those who dare to be blunt… in every sense of the word.
Throughout history, both the Cannabis and the LGBTQIA+ movements have advocated for disenfranchised, marginalized populations. Without queer advocates willing to risk it all, like Dennis Peron, and allies such as Mary Jane Rathbun, cannabis medicine would not be as accessible as it is today.
“It was their efforts that helped propel Prop 215 in California, the very first law in America that legalized cannabis for medical use in 1996,” Balbuena said. “The queer community has a buying power of almost $4 trillion globally. Let’s intentionally invest in our own.”
What are your favorite LGBTQIA+ cannabis brands? Let us know in the comments!