For cannabis advocate Jay Jackson, better known as female illusionist and drag queen extraordinaire Laganja Estranja of RuPaul fame, Pride is more than just a queer celebration–she’s determined to use her Pride platform to push the industry forward. “We’ve got to free our prisoners that are still in. jail because of cannabis, and we’ve got to get social equity in check and make sure those people are taken care of,” says Jackson. “I want to see the power dispersed–I just want the industry to keep growing.”
If her own career is any indicator, the cannabis industry has come a long way in recent years. Although her weed-centric stylings garnered her an avid fan base of cannabis enthusiasts, she felt marginalized by the industry. After the Pulse shooting in 2016, Jackson was struck by the lack of support. “Right after PULSE we reached out to a bunch of companies, including High Times and The Emerald Cup, to hire me to try to celebrate after this loss,” she remembers. Few took her up on the offer, though she was offered a conciliatory free booth. “I remember getting booed off stage at The Emerald Cup, which was pretty traumatic.” But a true diva never lets a bad crowd get her down, and Laganja kept her head held high. Now, her dedication is starting to pay off. “The cannabis industry really showed up and showed out for me in this year’s Pride, ” she says.
One her most fruitful partnerships has been with Moose Labs, a cannabis product innovation company that specializes in germ-prevention accessories. In honor of Pride month, they launched the Rainbow Sherbet MouthPeace, an accessory designed to fit a variety of smoking devices to help smoking circles spread love instead of germs; the proceeds will benefit the Trevor Project, a national crisis intervention and suicide prevention organization. It was important to Jay that her role in the partnership went beyond just good publicity; she says the company was also receptive to her feedback.
“They were just going to do a limited run [for Pride], and I really pushed back,” she says. “I understand that it is more difficult to produce because of the different layers and colors, however, you gotta put your money where your mouth is. If this really matters to your company you shouldn’t rainbow wash it for one month. You should make it available year round to show people you are proud 24/7.” Her suggestion was taken to heart. Three days later they called her back to report that they would follow her lead and continue to offer the Pride MouthPeace beyond June. “Ultimately I can tell it’s because they developed a relationship with me and because they really respect what I have to say,” Jackson says. “As someone who’s been in the industry for many years and never really received that, it’s very rewarding.”
In fighting for equality in cannabis spaces, Jackson feels she is joining the rich legacy of LGBTQ+ activists who have been on the front lines of cannabis access. “When I found out through research that there was this lineage, I felt so much more empowered to continue that fight and to continue making the landscape safer for queers.” She knows from personal experience that marginalized people have that much more need for plant medicine. “I grew up in Texas where it was called the Devil’s lettuce,” she says with a wince. “I stayed far, far away from it until my senior year when a dear friend convinced me as we were rehearsing for the presidential scholar of the arts award to go and get medicated before rehearsal.”
Adding cannabis to her natural talent as a performer proved to be a winning combination, and going forward she would see the two as indelibly linked. “Even then I was looking at it through the lens of the medicinal; it was helping me be creative. It’s not like we were going to a party and getting blitzed out of our mind–no, we were going to get this special magical plant to get creative.”
From the beginning of her drag journey, Jackson knew her character would be as committed to cannabis as she was. She wanted her name to rhyme, and she wanted it to “involve weed,” so LaGanja Estranja just clicked. Laganja Estranja’s drag debut came in 2011 at Micky’s West Hollywood. After winning their amateur competition, she continued to collect drag trophies all over Los Angeles. And in 2014, Estranja became a crowd favorite on RuPaul’s Drag Race, which cemented her reputation as a weed-smoking diva.
Cannabis is a full-service plant for Jackson, who also turns to it for physical help. As she puts it, “my heels are as high as I am, so a lot of the reasons I medicate before performances is my stunts and dips and twirls– it’s a lot on the body. After the performance comes CBD rubs for the knees, although I’ll be truthful: most of the creams I use have THC in them. I do really believe in having both. I absolutely feel the difference.” Sometimes sharing a joint is the key to a successful collaboration, like her recent music video “Hypeman.” She refers to her and the director Robert Hayman as “smoking buddies,” to which she credits the video’s ethereal aesthetics.
Round-the-clock cannabis use is one of the secrets to surviving her busy schedule, and she likes to keep some variety in the way she imbibes. “I am definitely a dabbing diva, for sure. I totally love my KandyPen. But I also enjoy me a good Wunderdrink. I love their Hibiscus drink! It’s amazing, especially the higher vibes which is 20 milligrams–of course you know I like to pack a little bit more punch.” When it comes to her favorite cannabis products she figures she could talk about that all day. “There’s Sonder who makes these incredible space crystals, which are kind of like pop rocks but way cooler cause they are cannabis infused, and they’re queer-run and owned, so I love that. Biko has my favorite joint that I’m smoking on right now; their blue package is a little bit stronger. I can literally go on and on.”
These products were a lifeline during quarantine, when Jackson had to drop everything and completely rework her performance model. With a calendar littered with canceled appearances, Laganja Estranja was forced to express herself in new ways. “It was definitely difficult to transition onto online platforms,” she says, “but I’m a creative force, and a drag queen, honey, and we always come to the scene with something.” She eventually found herself enjoying the opportunities that emerged out of such a strange time. “I really loved quarantine. I feel bad saying that because for so many it was such a tragic time, but for me I found a lot of truth for myself. I actually got to live in the city of Los Angeles, which I’ve been paying thousands of dollars a month to live in for years but have never really been able to inhabit.” She and her creative team went out into the abandoned city at night to do photo shoots. Dancing naked on Hollywood Boulevard was a big highlight.
Now, reflecting on the unique experience of celebrating Pride while emerging from such a long year, Jackson is remembering not to sweat the small stuff. “It makes me so happy to see fabulosity on the streets,” she says. But it’s about more than that. “Pride is about loving who you truly are,” she says. Which is something she has been reminding herself often in her recent process of coming out as trans. Throughout her performance career and advocacy work, self-love has always been the through line. “It’s one of the hardest things to do in life and if you’re smart it’s something that you work on your entire life.”