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6 Most Influential Cannabis Activists You Need to Know

August 06, 2020 4 min read

6 Most Influential Cannabis Activists You Need to Know

The normalization of marijuana and sweeping legalization around the globe has taken decades of lobbying, protests, and jail time to achieve. Stoners are now able to legally partake in several U.S. states thanks to the numerous cannabis rights activists who have dedicated their lives to spreading awareness of the many positive aspects and economic impacts associated with legalizing pot. Even though cannabis reform has come a long way, it doesn’t mean that the fight is over. Hemp, a sustainable and fast growing crop is still not heavily utilized, prisons are full of people locked up for minor pot-related offences, and marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I drug on the federal level (the same as LSD and heroin). Not so long ago it was unimaginable to purchase pot legally at a store, let alone have widespread consensus that cannabis is infact a medicine. These are just a few of the influential cannabis activists we have to thank for spearheading the movement and making real change occur.

Jack Herer

You can’t talk about cannabis reform without mentioning the ‘Emperor of Hemp’ himself, Jack Herer. Some smokers may only be familiar with the award-winning sativa strain that shares his name, but there is a reason he was given that honor. Herer is most famous for writing the foundational text,The Emperor Wears No Clothes, which lays out the many uses of the cannabis plant such as for industrial hemp production and is still considered the best book about cannabis legalization and history. Herer also founded Help End Marijuana Prohibition (HEMP), an organization dedicated to decriminalizing and legalizing pot in the U.S. There would be no hemp activism or legalization movement if it wasn’t for Herer’s book that took decades of research to complete.

Marc Emery

Nicknamed ‘the Prince of Pot’, Marc Emery is a dedicated marijuana activist and cannabis business owner, who has been arrested on multiple occasions for his activism efforts. Emery has also dabbled in Canadian politics under the Marijuana Party of Canada and strives to bring about cannabis reform on the international level. His business ventures include the longstanding marijuana subculture magazine, Cannabis Culture; video platform Pot TV; and smoke shop, Hemp BC. He also ran an illegal dispensary franchise as an act of defiance, which was also called Cannabis Culture and was raided by the police. In the 90s, Emery was a key figure in the case to overturn Canadian prohibition laws for marijuana-related books and magazines. He also spearheaded “the Summer of Legalization” tour in 2003 to bring awareness to the fact that lawmakers were thinking about prohibiting cannabis.

Steve DeAngelo

Social activist and businessman, Steve DeAngelo is recognized worldwide as the premier advocate for cannabis reform policy. DeAngelo has always been at the forefront of the movement and was very close with Jack Herer, even helping him edit the original draft ofThe Emperor Wears No Clothes. Early on, he founded a hemp clothing line called Ecolution, and ran the first Hemp Museum and Hemp Tour in the U.S. He also owns an award-winning marijuana dispensary franchise, a non-profit medical marijuana dispensary, the first commercial cannabis lab in the U.S., and is co-founder of the first cannabis investment company. Most importantly, DeAngelo was a figurehead in passing laws legalizing medicinal cannabis in Washington D.C., and Prop 64, legalizing recreational use in California. DeAngelo will go down in history as the first person to make a legal pot sale in the Golden State. Most recently, he founded the non-profit organization, the Last Prisoner Project, which drives awareness to the multitude of prisoners doing time for unjust minor cannabis-related offenses. The ‘Father of the Legal Cannabis Industry’, was named one of the most influential people by theInternational Business Times and one of the seven most powerful people in American cannabis byFortune.

Ethan Nadelmann

Frontman of drug policy reform, Nadelmann is the founder of the Drug Policy Alliance and often criticizes the U.S. war on drugs and other drug policies at the global and national scale. The non-profit organization advocates for drug-related regulations and laws "grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights." While the Drug Policy Alliance tackles issues related to drugs in general, pot plays a big role in these discussions and legalization of marijuana is considered by members as "the beginning of the end for the costly and unjust war on drugs."

‘Brownie’ Mary Jane Rathbun

While volunteering at a hospital in San Francisco, Mary Jane Rathbun decided to assist AIDS patients with their pain by offering her services in the kitchen, hence her nickname Brownie Mary. Even despite three arrests for possession, Rathbun continued to distribute her pot brownies to AIDS patients in need. Her persistence paid off when scientists became interested in researching cannabis as a treatment for people with HIV, prompting one of the initial clinical trials on the subject. The medical cannabis rights activist has lobbied for the legalization of medical marijuana, and worked hard to pass California’s Prop 215. Rathbun can also be thanked for helping to establish the first legal medical cannabis dispensary in the country, the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club.

Keith Stroup

An attorney may not seem like the type of person to advocate for cannabis reform, but Keith Stroup has championed the movement since the late 60s, when he started a cannabis consumers group. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), was founded by Stroup in 1970 and remains a key organization fighting for legalization and the rights of pot smokers in the U.S. Stroup stepped down as executive director in 2005, but continues to provide legal council and often speaks publicly regarding his thoughts on marijuana reform.

Ways you can support cannabis reform:

  • Educate yourself and others - There are many sectors within the larger cannabis movement. Learn and teach others about marijuana’s medicinal properties, the benefits of industrial hemp production to the economy, legalization roadblocks, and state laws. 
  • Register to vote - Stay up-to-date with cannabis related ballot initiatives in your state and don’t forget to vote.
  • Join a cannabis rights organization or event - Check to see if there’s a local chapter of NORML or the Marijuana Policy Project. You can also check events on social media to see if there’s a grassroots campaign in your area.

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