There’s a long, strong and colorful relationship between the LGBTQIA+ community and the legal cannabis movement. It goes back to the 1970s when Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California, proposed one of the first cannabis legalization bills weeks before he was assassinated. Fun fact: It was Milk who urged artist Gilbert Baker to design the rainbow flag, the official symbol of the gay community and a source
of global pride
Milk’s ally and friend Dennis Peron is regarded as the godfather of medical cannabis. The Vietnam vet turned political activist fought for the rights of both the gay community and cannabis legalization as the AIDS crisis ravaged San Francisco in the 1980s and ’90s. His legacy is Proposition 215, the Compassionate Care Act, which made California the first state to approve medical cannabis in 1996.
Fast forward to 2022 and the inextricably linked gay and cannabis communities are thriving, sharing a bond that comes from knowing the stigmas of marginalization handed down by an uninformed, prejudiced populace. But passionate activists in both communities have fought tirelessly for equal rights and an overhaul of society’s misperceptions. Today, compassion and acceptance run deep in LGBTQIA+ cannabis companies.
What follows are some of the best LGBTQIA+ founded, owned and/or operated brands that are changing hearts and minds, creating safe spaces and bringing some of the highest quality cannabis products to market.
Alexander Farnsworth: Co-Founder and CEO, Farnsworth Fine Cannabis
ALEXANDER FARNSWORTH BELIEVES that cannabis should be available for everyone, and he’s making it happen in a luxurious, inviting and educational way that exudes East Coast style. His high-end dispensary, located in Great Barrington, MA, nestled in the beautiful Berkshires, only stocks the finest cannabis products—including an eponymous line of pre-rolls and flower.
Farnsworth credits his Great Uncle Philo for his business acumen. Philo is best known for inventing the first fully functional and complete all-electronic television system. “We’re reviving the Farnsworth name, so we see ourselves as a legacy brand,” Farnsworth says. “We want to honor the legacy of Philo T. Farnsworth through cannabis.”
Farnsworth says he began smoking cannabis at a young age to help him manage the emotions he was dealing with as a closeted queer kid in a conservative state. “Like my love, and ability to marry (until 2015), I never believed in what society had to say, or believed the hype about cannabis being bad,” he says.
In an industry largely run and cultured by straight, cisgender men, Farnsworth believes there are plenty of challenges faced by LGBTQIA+ cannabis businesses. And while he has learned the entrepreneurial lingo, he doesn’t always speak their language. “LGBTQIA+ isn’t included as a minority in the New York cannabis regulations, which makes me feel like the system isn’t seeing me, that I have to speak louder to be heard,” he says.
With a belief that “we’re stronger together,” Farnsworth recently founded the Queer Cannabis Club, a network of artists, activists, advocates and brands, to create a community of other queer-owned-and-operated businesses in the cannabis industry.
Lex Corwin: Founder and CEO, Stone Road
STONE ROAD FARMS is a brand that genuinely reflects the modern cannabis industry. With a focus on sustainability, beauty and inclusion, the family-run, biodynamic farm is 100 percent solar powered, and the product packaging is 99 percent plastic-free and made of all recycled materials.
Stone Road’s Founder, Lex Corwin, has been drawn to cannabis from a young age when he started growing on his neighbors’ property—which was, yes, on Stone Road—and launched his company in 2016 at the age of 23. The company’s goal is simple: provide high-quality products at an accessible price point. Slow-cured and hand-trimmed, Stone Road cannabis exemplifies what it means to love cannabis.
Stone Road is helping change the stigma associated with cannabis “by creating beautiful campaign imagery and products so that more people see themselves as a part of the industry and the movement,” Corwin says.
The issues Corwin faced when opening Stone Road are similar to the struggles that many other California-based cannabis companies endure, including excessive taxation and banking challenges. However, he says there’s always a thought in the back of his head that perhaps another stigma is at play.
Cannabis is a highly regulated, competitive market. Corwin offers some sage advice for newcomers looking to start a cannabis business.
“It’s not for the faint of heart,” he says. “You must be able to wear many hats and be a talented fundraiser. If you aren’t already in the business, I strongly recommend against trying to start a new company, especially in California. If you’re really determined, I’d aim for a brand new market.”
Drew Martin: Founder, Drew Martin Gosselin
COMBINING HIS KNOWLEDGE OF HERBALISM with his love of cannabis, Drew Martin’s blended botanical pre-rolls are bursting with aromas and flavors—including Lemon, Passionflower and Ginger Root, Lemon Balm and Damiana—using sungrown cannabis from Mendocino County that’s grown on a small, queer, women-owned farm.
A “passion for crafting experiences and exploring social rituals” led Martin to co-create his eponymous line of curated cannabis products. The plant practitioner believes cannabis isn’t only a healing plant; it’s also a facilitator for connecting people, which led him to a new smoking experience that creates “ceremony around the ritual of smoking.”
Connecting people and building community is a cornerstone of the brand. “As a queer-owned company in the space, we feel we have a unique responsibility to fight for cannabis justice,” says Martin. “We get to enjoy working with and consuming this plant freely today because of the sacrifices of our queer forbearers.”
Providing education and demonstrating the incredible power that cannabis can have in people’s lives is the best method of deconstructing the cannabis stigma, Martin says. “For us, it means crafting low-dose products that feel safe and approachable—often for social and non-traditional cannabis users. We hear more success stories every single day.”
For those wanting to start a cannabusiness, Martin says he believes creativity and patience are undeniably two of the greatest virtues for working in a highly regulated industry: “High levels of both are needed to educate the community while maximizing brand visibility and awareness.”
Katie Stem: Co-Founder and CEO, Peak Extracts
FOUNDED AND OPERATED by Katie Stem and Kate Black, Peak Extracts is a semi-vertically integrated processing and manufacturing company in Oregon. Stem’s personal struggle with Crohn’s disease inspired her to launch the brand and its range of award-winning products. She credits cannabis as being “absolutely revolutionary” for controlling the disease—along with her degree in Chinese medicine.
“When cannabis became legal in Oregon, I decided to transfer my skills with infused single strain chocolates and pain-relieving topicals into a small business,” she says. Peak’s products are geared toward specific ailments with a focus on minor cannabinoids including CBG, CBC and THC-a, the latter of which, she says, has been instrumental in treating her Crohn’s symptoms for the last several years.
Stem believes products like Peak’s topical cream are helping remove the stigma around cannabis. “Since there are no psychotropic effects from our topicals, it’s a good place to start for most people to take the mystique away.” Her ten-year goal is for a cannabis topical to be in every medicine cabinet across the country—“hopefully, it’s our Rescue Rub.”
According to Stem, the extraction scene remains a “boys’ club,” and as the only woman-operated extraction company in Oregon, Peak faces repeated inequalities. She recalls being resorted to hiring a “hugely tall, stern and bearded” friend to pretend to work for them because the inspector didn’t think they’d be able to operate the extractor. (Full Story)