Cannabis activists are those within each country who have fought for improved rights for cannabis consumers. Activists are led by their conscience and often face personal legal danger for taking a high profile public position. Cannabis activists have regularly been harassed by police and politicians. Some cannabis activists have paid a heavy personal price for their commitment to cannabis. But times are changing slowly as medical cannabis use is being accepted. Recreational cannabis is also legal in several USA states as well as Canada, South Africa and Uruguay. Much of the recent progress is thanks to cannabis activists who were persistent with the message that cannabis has many medical uses and is safe for many adults to use recreationally.
The history of cannabis activism
Cannabis activism started in different forms as soon as man first tried to regulate and restrict it’s use. The first activists may have been the workers and slaves from the Indian sub continent who took cannabis, and cannabis seeds, with them around the world. This allowed cannabis to spread to new countries. As cannabis prohibition really took hold from the middle of the 20th century, legal restrictions were placed on cannabis use. Shortly afterwards the hippy movement began in the 1960’s which produced many of the first cannabis activists and educators.
Cannabis activism in different countries
The USA has probably had the biggest network with organisations like Norml and the Drug Policy Alliance. And there have been numerous high profile activists, we mention some of these later.
The Netherlands have been a source of inspiration for many cannabis activists around the world. Although cannabis campaigners in The Netherlands want to see laws further improved to allow legal commercial cannabis production to supply the coffee shops with legal cannabis.
Spain enjoys some great cannabis laws, but these were won after much hard work. The Spanish cannabis social club system has been very popular but also controversial with several legal battles.
Jamaica has deep roots in cannabis culture. Cannabis came to Jamaica with Indian workers during British rule. Since then the Rastafarian culture and the reggae music scene have both popularised cannabis culture. The Rastafarians have been particularly active campaigners for the right to use cannabis.
Cannabis Rights Organisations
NORML stands for ‘National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws’. NORML have been around since 1970 and campaign for more humane drug laws and better treatment for users. Originally they were a US group, but now have branches in several countries. NORML are one of the best known cannabis campaigners and have a high profile with the mainstream media.
ENCOD stands for ‘European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies’. Encod was formed in 1993, it’s a group which unites European citizens who believe that current drug prohibition simply doesn't work. ENCOD are based across Europe, with NGO’s and individuals who are involved in drug policy and research.
The MPP, (or Marijuana Policy Project) from the US fights against marijuana prohibition. They lobby for legislation and a different approach to prohibition. They’re actively lobbying to point out the damage caused by current drug prohibition policies.
LEAP originally stood for ‘Law Enforcement Against Prohibition’. Nowadays the organization is known as Law Enforcement Action Partnership. Members are often from the Police, Judiciary etc and they campaign against the failure of modern drug policies and the damage that they create
Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) are also mentioned later, part-funded by George Soros they have been influential for many years in education, campaigning and lobbying.
Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) was founded in 1998 and based in Washington D.C. They are a non-profit group of mainly young people who are focussed on reforming drug policy. They represent thousands of students around the world that want a more adult conversation about safe and responsible drug use.
Each country has their own list of cannabis activists and heroes. It’s impossible to mention them all. Some like Jack Herer gained international fame for his efforts to legalize cannabis and re-introduce Hemp as a crop, fuel, fibre, paper pulp, medicine etc. His book, The Emperor Wears No Clothes, has been in continuous print for over 30 years. Willie Nelson remains a popular cannabis fan and uses his celebrity platform to endorse responsible use of cannabis
How to become a cannabis activist
You could join one of the Cannabis Rights Organisations (above) and find out more about cannabis laws in your country. You may be able to help the organization in some way. Usually there are groups and organisations in each country which are committed to campaigning, protesting (marches etc), lobbying and working with the media. A good first step is to find out which organisations exist locally and see if you can help them.
Comedians and cannabis
Tommy Chong is one of the famous cannabis loving celebrity comedians. He has done a great deal to help cannabis. Tommy served on the Director Board at Norml and writes for Cannabis Culture magazine. Norml is one of the worlds most successful cannabis activism groups. Tommy spent several months in prison after his Glass Bong business was raided by Police. Many felt that he had been unfairly treated by the US Criminal Justice system. One of the great benefits of activist comedians is their ability to make people laugh at the lunacy of prohibition. This allows cannabis use to be further normalised in society. The video below from comedy duo Penn & Teller is an entertaining review of the madness of cannabis prohibition.
Musicians and cannabis
As well as Willie Nelson there are numerous musicians that use their fame to spread the cannabis message. Bob Marley is one of many famous musicians that are also cannabis activists partly through their music. Spreading the message about cannabis to the mainstream public through great music and lifestyle is something that many people will always remember the great Bob Marley for. Snoop Dog is another musician famed for his love of cannabis, something he isn’t shy of mentioning in his music and interviews.
Cannabis activism and Cannabis entrepreneurs
Steve DeAngelo is a USA cannabis rights activist. In 1998 he led efforts to legalize medical cannabis in his hometown of Washington D.C via Initiative 59i. Steve is also CEO of Harborside Dispensary, one of the largest in the USA with over 300,000 patients. Steve is one of the authors, entrepreneurs and speakers who have successfully combined cannabis activism with a successful cannabis career.
Cannabis activists and lobbyists
Ethan Nadelmann is the founder of the Drug Policy Alliance who has worked tirelessly to end the war on drugs. The Drug Policy Alliance approaches drugs using the perspective of human harm minimisation, not from a criminal justice standpoint. He has done a great deal for the legalisation of cannabis and the acceptance of medical cannabis and has been extensively involved in efforts to legalise the use of cannabis. Nadelmann is friends with multibillionaire George Soros who helps fund the Drug Policy Alliance. Rolling Stone magazine described Nadelmann as “The driving force for the legalization of marijuana in America,"
The worlds best cannabis activists are?
Much depends on your own personal viewpoint and where you are from. Each country has plenty of cannabis activists, and many have cannabis celebrities who use their fame to popularise and normalise the use of cannabis. Some people feel the best activists are those that have sacrificed the most personally in order to highlight the injustices facing cannabis users. Many people in just about every country have been jailed for cannabis use and related activities. For some people these are the true cannabis heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice. For others, the most effective cannabis activists are those that can manipulate the political system to gain high level support for law changes. Often this work is slow and expensive, involving lobbying of key Government officials and influencers. Cannabis activists can come in a range of different appearances and with different approaches. What makes them so popular with cannabis consumers is that they champion the rights to use and enjoy cannabis whether that is as a medicine or simply for sheer enjoyment.
It’s worth adding that not all cannabis activists are universally popular. Within the cannabis community there can be disagreement about the best and most effective ways of campaigning. Some cannabis activists dislike the popular appeal of celebrity cannabis users and prefer other ‘underground’ approaches. Some people strongly dislike the hippy approach and feel that focussed political lobbying is far more effective than traditional campaigning. Cannabis activists come in many different forms and appeal to different people. One thing that is for sure, there has never been as much sympathy towards cannabis use as there is today. And we can thank the cannabis activists for much of that.
Cannabis activists and cannabis edibles. Brownie Mary.
Mary Jane Rathbun, or Brownie Mary, was a hospital volunteer and cannabis activist from San Francisco. She baked THC rich brownies and cakes and distributed them to AIDS patients. She also helped pass California’s Proposition 215, an important law for medical cannabis users. It’s unusual to see a cannabis activist so heavily specialised in cannabis edibles, but cannabis activism comes in many forms and they all have an important role. Chocolate cannabis brownies? Yes please!
Medical cannabis activists. The key to cannabis legality?
Many cannabis consumers feel the the most effective activists are those that have helped change laws regarding use of medical cannabis. Politicians in general feel little sympathy for those that want to see legal recreational cannabis. But objecting to medical cannabis is becoming a much more dangerous political gamble. Especially as evidence for the medical uses of cannabis continues to build up. For many cannabis activists it remains the case that medical legality needs to precede recreational legality. Sometimes the mothers of sick children getting on TV can be just as effective as several years of traditional campaigning. Once the prohibitionists can see that medical cannabis can be safely introduced with none of their feared calamities, recreational cannabis can be discussed with less hysteria. And that is exactly what has been happening around the world. Especially over the past decade.
Legal cannabis in the next generation
With the current rate of progress, it’s likely that many more Governments will be looking at legalizing medical and adult recreational use in the coming years. There is a strong financial argument. Governments could generate tax from money which is currently going tax free into the black market. It would create many new jobs and stimulate new economic opportunities. It would save €billions in policing, prison and judiciary costs. Even the United Nations is looking to change it’s archaic view on cannabis. Momentum behind medical cannabis is now so high that it is becoming very difficult for politicians to object to it. In the coming years Europe, North America, South America, Asia, Africa, Australasia and elsewhere should be able to look forward to more and more legal cannabis.