CULTURE
Are 420-Friendly Queer Dance Parties the Key to Equality in Weed Culture?
The weed industry is a very white, straight place dominated by people with loads of corporate money. What’s happening in underground club and weed culture, however, may shake things up for a greener, more inclusive future.
Published on September 3, 2019

Photo Credit: Keegan Marling

The ring of smoke that hung around LA last 4/20 is the stuff stoner dreams are made of. But one hazy Arts District party hosted by 420 Queer showed promise for something much greater than getting blitzed-out-the-skull. DJs played bass-heavy grooves that connected house and hip-hop. The crowd — diverse in ethnicity and gender — dressed in club-kid-casual with flashes of sparkling glitter across day-lit faces. At the entrance sat a stack of information pamphlets branded with the words: "Did you know?" 

You couldn’t miss them. The fold-out pamphlet offered a few brief points about cannabis and social justice. It pointed to the work of Dennis Peron, the late, gay marijuana activist whose work led to the passage of Proposition 215 in 1996, California's medicinal marijuana law. A small collection of facts and stats highlighted devastating numbers, like the fact that over 600,000 people were arrested in 2017 for weed-related offenses; and, more than 200,000 students lost financial aid eligibility because of drug-related convictions. 

In fact, many people in the US — particularly communities of color — are still impacted by the War on Drugs. And 420 Queer's pamphlet was an important reminder that the fight isn’t over. It also drove home the fact that state-level cannabis regulation (meaning, the cannabis industry as we currently know it) is the result of LGBTQ+ activists, like Peron, Harvey Milk and Brownie Mary. Yet, that may not be popular knowledge among most Californians. 

Similarly, electronic music and club culture developed largely in LGBTQ+ communities of color, which is a history often lost on the dance floor. That these two movements converged on 4/20 is an incredibly poignant statement about social justice and the future of both weed and dance music events. 

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Courtesy of 420 Queer

Under the 420 Queer banner, Urs Mann and Irene U. plan on building a cannabis-centered social community with LGBTQ people at the front. They want to ultimately provide visibile representation for people who’ve been overlooked in mainstream cannabis narratives. It's a scene that the couple — who first met while working in different areas of the cannabis industry — thought was missing. 

"It was something that we talked about when we started going to events together — how we didn't see any gay representation, if at all, at typical industry events," said Irene, who’s been a DJ for about a decade. She was even a brand ambassador for the influential queer-centred dance party, Mustache Mondays. Now, she currently promotes the semi-annual event Lez Croix.

"I would go to the [cannabis] events and feel completely invisible as a queer person," said Mann, a videographer who produces for MERRY JANE. 

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Courtesy of 420 Queer

When they threw the second 420 Queer party in July, the thick crowd proved that Irene and Mann weren't the only ones craving this kind of space. But, 420 Queer isn't just a party.

"It was always an idea to create a queer collective," said Mann. That collective began to take shape on Instagram back in 2017 with a mix of historical posts, memes, and snapshots of stoner life. "I thought about it so much," he recalled. "What is it going to be? Should it be so obviously gay? Should we be literal?" 

That answer was yes. Mann explained that it became increasingly clear to him and Irene that they needed to make their collective intentionally queer so that the community knew it was the place to assemble. "We wanted to do it this way because the queer community is who we want to connect with."

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Liz Ohansesian
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Liz Ohanesian is an LA-based journalist covering arts, culture, and music. Her work has appeared in Billboard, Los Angeles Times, Playboy, and other publications.
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