What is a Cannabis Activist & How to Become One?
Published on 8/7/20
Updated: Mar 9, 2022
At first glance, it appears that the news surrounding marijuana these days is almost always positive. Legalization, decriminalization, and societal acceptance are carrying cannabis and cannabis-related products into the mainstream more than it literally ever has been before. There are now 38 U.S. territories and states where marijuana is legal for medical use and 19 states where residents can enjoy recreational weed, with a number of other states expected to join the growing list of recreational weed states in the near future. If you're willing to break out your analytical microscope and take a closer look at things, however, it becomes immediately clear that for all the gains that have been made over the past 25 years, a handful of dedicated legal marijuana activists have much to do to reach the goal of a system of equality.
Cannabis might be legal at the state level, but according to the Federal Government, it is still a dangerous Schedule I substance on par with the likes of LSD and heroin and therefore prohibited under federal law. Unfortunately, high arrest rates disproportionately affect the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) community and it is clear that a severe bias exists when it comes to arrests and incarceration of U.S. citizens for marijuana-related offenses.
According to a report from the American Civil Liberties Union, "on average, a Black person is 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though Black and white people use marijuana at similar rates." There are currently over 40,000 people in jail in this country because of marijuana offenses. Marijuana activism is as important today as it has ever been, especially as legal cannabis blooms into a multi-billion dollar industry across more than half the states in the union.
So with all of that in mind, we're going to take a closer look at some of the early and most influential legal marijuana activists, break down how and why their actions matter and impacted the legal cannabis community, and analyze the legacy that their work has left behind. So without too much further ado, let's get right into breaking down each of these interesting and varied legal pot icons.
The Role of the Marijuana Activist
Before we get into a detailed deep dive of each of these influential and important legal marijuana activists, however, it's valuable to define exactly what a legal cannabis activist is and what they do for the wider movement.
At their core, legal marijuana activists are individuals who are energetically involved in advancing the cause of marijuana legalization and legitimization. They seek to increase public awareness of the legislative issues surrounding the use of medical marijuana, remove regulations that restrict access to legal recreational and medical marijuana, or work to reform a broken criminal justice system that historically and prejudicially targets underrepresented or marginalized communities.
A legal weed activist can work alone or work with/become a member of any number of organizations that focus on the inequalities and erroneous information that still surround cannabis - organizations like NORML, National Cannabis Industry Association, and Marijuana Majority are all shining examples of organization that work hard everyday to build a more sustainable, equitable, and legal cannabis industry throughout the U.S.
Sometimes, however, individual people choose to step out and make a change for themselves. These influential figures in the world of legal cannabis are seen today as innovators, visionaries who saw the potential medical and recreational uses of cannabis before the wider public did. This article is going to highlight and showcase some of those notable legal weed advocates. Notable cannabis advocates include:
Known as the "Emperor of Hemp," Herer is the author of the influential book The Emperor Wears No Clothes and founded Help End Marijuana Prohibition (HEMP). Herer spent his career as an advocate fighting for the decriminalization of the cannabis plant due to its usefulness as a renewable fuel source, a food, medicine, even running for president twice under the banner of the Grassroots Party. Simply put, he's one of the first American cannabis advocates to rise to the mainstream and make a mark on the culture around cannabis. Herer's legacy is immortalized by the eponymous sativa-dominant strain and the now-famous Jack Herer Cup, a yearly cannabis competition that takes place in Amsterdam, Jamaica, Las Vegas, Thailand, and Oklahoma City to help honor his contributions to the cannabis legalisation movement.
Widely recognized as the modern-day "Father of the Legal Cannabis Industry," DeAngelo is about as prominent in the legal cannabis space as a marijuana activist can be. He spent his career organising grassroots community campaigns for cannabis legalization and appeared on national television networks advocating for legal weed, even going as far as to create a model medical cannabis dispensary. DeAngelo co-founded the first commercial cannabis lab and the first cannabis investment firm in the country, and worked tirelessly for decades to decriminalize and legalize cannabis. After all, there's a good reason he was named as one of the seven "most powerful people" in America's modern legal industry. DeAngelo is the real deal when it comes to legal marijuana activists.
Dubbed the "Martha Stewart of Marijuana," Jane West is far and away one of the most influential womenand business minds in the cannabis industry. Not only was she the main driver in founding Women Grow - the cannabis industry's largest professional female networking organization - but she also started the Jane West cannabis lifestyle brand that has turned countless suburban moms on to the health benefits of marijuana use. When it comes to doing the hard work of mainstreaming cannabis culture, a once blackmarket, illicit drug trade, to the mainstream, there are few better at it than Jane West. That's likely why she was recently named on an "InStyle" magazine list of women who "changed the world."
Dennis Peron was instrumental in California's medical marijuana legalization in the 1990s and co-authored California's groundbreaking Proposition 215. But Peron's actions were far more important than just penning legislation, he took action for communities in the most need. Peron made his name in the 90s because of his outspoken support for those afflicted with HIV. He sold medical cannabis out of a storefront in the Castro Distict of San Francisco and was an outspoken supporter of Harvey Milk, a gay activist who won an elected seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977.
Simply put, Peron is widely considered one of the most important figures in the push for medical cannabis legalization in California, which was one of the first dominoes to fall in the push for further legalization throughout the country. He's one of the eary cannabis industry innovators and OG legal marijuana activists and deserves to be recognized as such!
How to Become a Cannabis Activist
So now that you know exactly what a legal cannabis activist does and you have a few figures to look up to when it comes to actions, let's break down the best ways for you yourself to get involved.
There are several ways to become a marijuana advocate, support the movement for reform and reach the ultimate goal of federal legalization. As with any type of activism, it is important to be informed and stay up to date on the ever-changing cannabis landscape in the U.S. Follow the news, understand existing and potential legislation and get engaged!
With all of that in mind, however, here are some helpful tips for how to get and stay involved as a legal marijuana activist.
Find the Group That is Right for You
We mentioned a few organizations above, but take some time to investigate and decide where you want to focus your energy. Do you want to focus on cannabis legalization? Do you want to fight for those imprisoned for marijuana-related offenses? Looking for a local group of medical marijuana activists? Get online, do your research, and find the right fit.
Go to Local Government Meetings
Even within states where medical and recreational cannabis are legal, there are municipalities, counties, and territories where they are not. Regularly attending city council or county board meetings and making your voice heard can have a profound effect on local ordinances that might unfairly target minorities or prevent patients from accessing medical weed. Think micro instead of macro. Working to better things in your own backyard is a fantastic way of growing the overall cannabis legalization movement.
Become Educated on Political Candidates and Vote
It's not just a worn cliche - your vote counts. Use it to back pro-cannabis legislators and pro-cannabis legislation. Laws and statutes regarding marijuana are often written and championed thanks to strong public support and the will of the people. That's a key reason why the vast majority of states have legalized both medical and recreationally thanks to ballot measures. With how popular legal weed is with the general public, getting it onto the ballot is a massive step forwards towards legalization.
Attend an Event or Rally
Going to cannabis advocacy events is an excellent way to meet similarly minded people and champion the overall cause of legal marijuana. Local gatherings on a small scale are great for networking and larger marches and rallies can prompt the public and politicians to understand the strength of the movement. The legal cannabis community is still a relatively small and tight-knit one. If you're looking to network and get involved in legal marijuana activism or advocacy, your best bet is to go to where the other advocates, allies, and like-minded folks are!
While it's an unpleasant reality to most, we do still live in a capitalist society and money still does talk. Cannabis advocates and pro-marijuana organizations require funding to operate and effectively educate others, and for a cause as important as this one every little bit counts. A little research can go a long way to guide you and your dollars to a suitable group or association that will benefit from your philanthropy regardless of the amount of cash donated.
Are you a cannabis activist or have you thought about joining others in marijuana activism? Take a moment to let us know in the comments section what it's like where you live and the cannabis issues that you find to be most important.