Daughter of AIDS Activist: Cannabis Has Always Been “Essential” During Crises
In a new personal essay for Salon, author Alia Volz reflects on the importance of the cannabis movement during the AIDS crisis, and stresses the value of medical marijuana access amid the current coronavirus pandemic.
Published on April 14, 2020

When cities around the US started shuttering businesses in response to the coronavirus pandemic, cannabis users stood in hours-long lines outside of legal weed dispensaries in an effort to stock up on marijuana. Now, about a month since those quarantine orders were first put in place, most legal weed states have kept their dispensaries open, with significant numbers of medical pot shops and adult-use stores now deemed “essential” by state regulators. 

But is this the first time that cannabis has proved crucial during a crisis? Not by a long shot.

In a new personal essay published by Salon, Alia Volz — author of the upcoming memoir Home Baked: My Mom, Marijuana, and the Stoning of San Francisco — writes about spending her childhood alongside her mother baking, wrapping, and distributing homemade cannabis brownies during the height of the AIDS crisis in the ‘80s and ‘90s, drawing eerie similarities to the current health climate.

“Given the prevalence of pneumocystis pneumonia, smoking marijuana was not a safe option for many people with AIDS,” Volz wrote. “They turned to underground bakers like my mom for relief; the edibles she had been selling for years took on new purpose.”

But while Volz and her mother were still breaking the law to distribute their brownies to bed-ridden and otherwise sick patients, it was the activism of those cannabis producers and sellers that tipped the Golden State’s first legal weed domino, eventually leading to pot reform across the country. And thanks to that evolution, America has come to realize the importance of marijuana access when it comes to health and well-being, including in the past month as the public and patients contend with the rapid transmission of COVID-19. And that includes unfettered access to safe, regulated cannabis products. 

“Given the facility with which casual contact spreads coronavirus, driving consumers to the black market for cannabis could only result in unsafe, unregulated transactions,” Volz wrote. “California and 15 other states have swiftly adjusted regulations to allow for curbside pickup, doorstep delivery, and/or telemedical prescriptions. Safe and legal access is a public health concern.”

And as more states continue to see the benefit of keeping cannabis dispensaries open amidst the global health crisis, the COVID pandemic has also called attention to pot reform in new states, as well as the federal government. 

“The world of legal cannabis didn't come from drum circles; it evolved out of a desperate response to a pandemic,” Volz wrote. “In allowing ongoing access, some state and local leaders are making it clear that they remember.”

Hopefully, those lessons — and marijuana’s essential status — won’t soon be forgotten.

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Zach Harris
Zach Harris is a writer based in Philadelphia whose work has appeared on Noisey, First We Feast, and Jenkem Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @10000youtubes complaining about NBA referees.
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