Harvey Milk and the Fight for Legal California Cannabis

May 20, 2021

Without the legendary cannabis legalization activists who came before us, People’s could not exist. Because visionary politicians and community members like Dennis Peron and the Figi family fought for the right to use this plant to its full potential, law-abiding citizens all over the United States can buy the legal cannabis they need.

Even though the end of California’s marijuana prohibition was pretty recent, things have changed radically. Just a few years ago, it seemed impossible that finding cannabis near you could be as easy as going into a store, showing your driver’s license, and walking out with a full bag of marijuana. Now, you can do all that and even get weed delivered to your house! It’s easy to take it all for granted.

First Gay Elected Official Harvey Milk Lgbt History | People's California

Image Credit: “Harvey Milk” by Son of Groucho is licensed under CC BY 2.0

How California Politician Harvey Milk Helped Legalize Cannabis

You may remember Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California, from the Oscar-winning movie made about his life, Milk. While the Academy Award-winning movie showcases his political journey, it doesn’t mention that Milk was a strong proponent of drug policy reform. His platform was very progressive for its day, with an emphasis on the importance of legalizing cannabis and making it more accessible to the community.

Lgbtq History Harvey Milk Gay Rights Activist | People's California

Image Credit: “Harvey Milk Terminal 1 Community Day – July 2019 (7247)” by varnent is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The fight for the right to smoke cannabis was important to Milk, even when he decided to quit cannabis in 1975 in pursuit of his political career. This was long before Barack Obama and Bill Clinton publicly admitted to their own cannabis use, and the stigma was much higher. “[T]his was all too important to have it get wrecked because of smoking a joint,” he decided.

Even after deciding to stick to legal vices, Harvey Milk remained a close associate of legendary cannabis activist Dennis Peron, whose efforts to legalize medical marijuana in California ultimately sparked the beginning of the end of cannabis prohibition. Milk supported political efforts to demonstrate the need for legalization up until his assassination, and he was a seminal figure in the passage of the non-binding policy initiative that got the ball rolling on legal weed (Proposition W).

The Legal Cannabis Movement: What Harvey Milk Achieved

While Proposition W did not change the laws around using or growing cannabis, it preceded the passage of Proposition 215 (California’s medical marijuana legalization bill). With the passage of 2016’s Proposition 64, recreational marijuana use was also legalized. The fight isn’t over until the federal government changes its policies, but we’re getting close.

Celebrating Harvey Milk’s Cannabis Activism

This May 22nd, it’s Harvey Milk Day. Because of Milk’s policy initiatives and support of activists like Dennis Peron, Californians get to enjoy easy, stress-free cannabis shopping. It’s no small feat. We wish the man himself were around to see his impact on California’s cannabis industry. We remember him fondly, and we commend his efforts to end marijuana prohibition.

Join us in celebrating your hard-won freedoms by lighting up or popping an edible gummy. Without Harvey Milk, we might still be fighting for our cannabis rights today.

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